Black Country man, Unison activist turned PhD student and Midlands Communist Party Chair, Andrew Maybury, on reading the bare bones of Councillor Fanny Deakin’s life felt that “it’s not possible to stop yourself from being amazed by it. Single-handedly, for a Communist to win over a whole community to the extent that decades after her death people are still wowed by her. She was clearly both single-minded and so full of integrity that people believed in her. What a lesson for today’s politicians!”
Born on 2nd December 1883, Fanny Rebecca Davenport spent her early years at her parent’s farm on Farmers Bank, Silverdale, a mining village near Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, which is today near to Keele Golf Course. She married Noah Deakin in 1901, when her address was “Racecourse Back Lane, Silverdale” and she and her husband moved to Wolstanton, today on the north side of Stoke-on-Trent.
Throughout her life, she was noted for her campaigns for better nourishment of young children and maternity care for mothers. On leaving school, she worked on the farm where her family lived but her lifelong vocation came to her after being the first woman to be elected onto Wolstanton Council as a Labour member in 1923.
During the General Strike in 1926, she was a major figure in local activity in support of the miners. One observer recalled seeing her “coming up past St Giles Church in Newcastle-under-Lyme at the head of these miners, 200 or 300 miners …Fancy, one woman – and she’s leading them!” She herself used to say: ‘I’m fighting for the mothers. If she had a coat of/arms they’d put it in Latin: Fighting for the mothers.” In 1927 she retained her seat, this time standing as a Communist. She was very popular with local people, who nicknamed her “Red Fanny” after she visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and 1930.
Of her five children only one survived into adulthood. In an era of high infant mortality she campaigned for better maternity care of women and free milk for children under five. Along with unemployed miners, she went to Downing Street to see Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald to demand that local councils give free milk to pregnant mothers and children up to the age of five.
Her selflessness was displayed when a comrade was found guilty of supposedly inciting a riot of the unemployed, Fanny gave him an alibi but found herself charged with perjury and spent nine months in Winson Green Prison. It only seemed to help her electoral chances!
Re-elected to the now merged Newcastle Council in 1934, again as a Communist, she became a County Councillor. She played a key role in several committees relating to maternity and child welfare. During the war years she could be seen working with others in the Catholic Church showing children how to put on gas masks. In 1941, she became the first Communist in the country to be appointed an Alderman, in this case for the Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough, with the honour being extended to Staffordshire county level in 1946.
The following year, she achieved what most local people remember her for when a maternity home was opened bearing her name for use by the women of the Borough. Her advocacy of mother and child welfare issues was marked by the naming of the Fanny Deakin Maternity Home by the Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council. She is still popularly remembered through the many children born there and also due to a GP ward named after her in a local hospital.
Although Fanny died on 24th March 1968, she is still regularly remembered locally. In 1991 Joyce Holliday wrote “Go See Fanny Deakin!”, in which Fanny Deakin appears as heroine in a play centred on the mining community of Silverdale. It was subsequently broadcast by BBC local radio. Joyce Holliday also wrote “Silverdale People” which includes a biography of Fanny Deakin.
Birmingham & District Plus CP branch
Sources include: Comment 25 May 1968, Fanny Deakin’s papers in Newcastle Library, including manuscript autobiographical notebook written in 1966-7, https://grahamstevenson.me.uk/2008/09/19/fanny-deakin/