Emily Caroline Langton Massingberd 1847-1897


Emily Langton Massingberd was a prominent member of the British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA) during its heyday at the end of the 19th century.

She was a member of the National Executive and Sub-Committee of the BWTA and took an active interest in the Industrial Farm Colony at Duxhurst (CLICK HERE) in Reigate. Duxhurst was founded by BWTA President Lady Henry Somerset in 1896 and provided treatment for the rehabilitation of women experiencing addiction to alcohol. Emily was Hon Treasurer for Duxhurst and one of the cottages where the patients lived in this village community was gifted by her.

Emily’s husband died at a young age leaving her with four children and when she succeeded to the family estate of Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire, she returned to her maiden name of Massingberd by royal license.

In line with her teetotal principles, Emily gave up the licenses on her properties and turned the public houses into coffee taverns and temperance hotels. On her Lincolnshire estate, Emily re-opened the Massingberd Arms public house as a temperance hotel.


Speaking at a meeting for the BWTA in 1887, Emily advocated the opening of temperance hotels all over the country. She related her experience as a coffee public-house keeper, and suggested methods for ‘carrying on coffee houses to the best advantages and making them as attractive as possible.’

Emily also had a home in Bournemouth where she opened a temperance hotel in Holdenhurst Road, the Massingberd Arms Temperance Hotel.                                                                                                         

Pioneer Club

As well as being a temperance activist, Emily was also a campaigner for women’s rights and was founder of the Pioneer Club. This was a progressive club for women, founded in 1892 ‘with a view to furthering all movements to the advancement and enlightenment of women.’

In the April edition of the Woman’s Herald, Mrs Massingberd announced her proposal to open a women’s club in May of the same year, as a headquarters which would connect the ‘the many and varied movements for improving and advancing women’s work….It would be convenient for Women’s Progressive, Educational, Political and Philanthropic Societies of all kinds; the qualification for membership being an active interest in one or other of these movements.


Applications for membership were to be forwarded to Mrs Massingberd as ‘a long list including many distinguished names has already been filled up.’ One of these distinguished members was Viscountess Harberton, campaigner for women’s dress reform and President of the Rational Dress Society. Members of the Pioneer Club were known only by their membership numbers so there could be no differentiation in social status between them. Men could only be admitted to the club as guests.

Premises were found at 180 Regent Street, London, where evening meetings, lectures and debates on current topics such as women’s dress reform were held but the club was to remain neutral in respect of party politics. There were tea rooms, dining rooms, reading and working rooms and also bedrooms which could be utilised by members staying in town.

By 1893 the club had moved to Cork Street and had nearly 250 members. Lady Henry Somerset, BWTA President, was in attendance at the first anniversary of the club, presenting Emily Massingberd with a silver tea service. The club was a place where women could meet and exchange ideas and make themselves a centre for reform. It was run on strictly temperance principles with only tea, coffee and waters permitted.

Membership had increased to nearly 500 by 1894 and the club had moved to larger premises again in Bruton Street. The club was said to have everything a ‘pioneer’ could want including debates, ‘At Home’ suppers, a library and a Shakespearian Society.

Individual Style

Emily Massingberd was known to wear her hair in a short style and a masculine style of dress, which sometimes drew criticism in the press. This would include a waistcoat with shirtfront and tie, along with a skirt which was five inches off the ground, in line with Viscountess Harberton’s ‘Short Skirt League’. Emily stated that she had worn her style of dress for 20 years as it was ‘clean, neat, sensible and comfortable’. She wore a ‘pioneer’s’ axe badge pinned to her lapel, which was the emblem of the Pioneer Club and was worn by members.

She was on the Executive Committee of the Women’s Liberal Federation and in 1889 she came within 20 votes of being elected as a County Councillor for Partney in Lincolnshire. Emily was a trained speaker and a strong opponent of vivisection, giving speeches on the subject. She was also described as an excellent amateur actress.

Image source – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/637639


St John’s Memorial Service  

In January 1897, just five years after establishing the Pioneer Club, Emily died following illness and an operation. Men and women packed out her memorial service held at St John’s Church, Westminster, but ‘especially women— to whom her name was as a light shining in darkness’.

Representatives from many women’s organisations, including members of the Pioneer Club attended. Included in the floral tributes was a cross of white lilies and rosebuds sent by the BWTA. Unfortunately, Lady Henry Somerset, President of the BWTA was too unwell at the time to attend the service. Other tributes included those given by the Anti-Vivisection Society and the Humanitarian League.

Coincidentally, a debate on the Women’s Suffrage Bill took place in the House of Commons on the very same day as Emily’s memorial service. The Bill passed its second reading with a majority declared, causing great excitement in the House. The press recorded that it was ‘beyond women’s wildest hopes, and the excitement was so great in the House that women waved their handkerchiefs and kissed each other with tears, men rushed out like schoolboys to congratulate them….’.

After Emily died there was a split in the members of the Pioneer Club, with some relocating to new premises at Grosvenor Crescent whilst others remained at Bruton Street. The press reported that ‘the once ridiculed but now respected Pioneer Club….is recognised as one of the most active and sensible associations of secular women that modern life can now show.’

Sources include –

British Women’s Temperance Association Archive – White Ribbon Association

British Newspaper Archives – www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Alliance News, Friday 05 February 1897

The Woman’s Herald, 2 April 1892

National Trust website – Gunby Hall

British Newspaper Archives:

Gloucester Citizen – Thursday 27 October 1887

Lincolnshire Free Press 22 Jan 1889

Woman’s Signal 4 February 1897

Evening Mail 5 February 1897

Evening Mail 29 Friday January 1897

The Star 11 February 1897

Woman’s Signal Thursday 11 February 1897

Herne Bay Press – Saturday 11 January 1896

The Woman’s Herald, 2 April 1892, 16 April 1892

Illustrated London News, 6 February 1897