Metalwork and Miscellanea " under a heading of such cold abstraction was a remarkable life subsumed. And someone bought it yesterday for just pounds 840.
The catalogue of the auctioneers, Bonhams, summarised it thus: 'Of Suffragette Interest: the evocative Holloway Prison badge awarded to Kate Harvey, circa 1870-1946'. In that footnote to history an extraordinary story lies, only half uncovered.
The badge is cast in the form of a shield on which is depicted the entrance to Holloway Prison. On the reverse is a card inscribed in a faint hand: 'Given to Mrs K Harvey By Women's Suffrage After She Had Been In Prison For Tax Resistance.'
Kate Harvey was a remarkable woman, even without the incident which lies at the heart of the commendation. She was, for a start, a professional woman in what was very much the man's world of late Victorian Britain. She was, moreover, a professional in that most daring of new disciplines " physiotherapy " about which the British Medical Journal was raising concerns. To many respectable Victorians this biomechanical view of the body in health and illness sounded uncomfortably like a euphemism " physical contact which might get rather too close to the sexual " a view which altered only after spinal injury units and orthopaedic hospitals were introduced after the First World War.
But she was not just a physiotherapist, she was also deaf.
Search the archives of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscript and you find reference to Ms Harvey not under politics or medicine but under the British Deaf History Society.
Yet the medal was in connection with none of this. The mother of three daughters, Mrs Harvey was widowed early and took up good work among the poor. She opened a home for handicapped children in Bromley. There she came into contact with another young widow, Charlotte Despard, who had taken a similar turn towards good works after the death of her husband, opening a social services centre for the needy in Wandsworth.
Now, the women might have been described as a couple, though such things were not spoken of in those days. In her diaries Despard recorded their first meeting on 12 January 1912 and later characterised the date as 'the anniversary of our love'.
Despard is the better-known of the two figures. She was born in Kent but developed radical political views when she moved to London and was shocked by the poverty she saw. She made her living writing romantic novels until she penned A Voice from the Dim Millions, which dealt with the problems of a poor young factory worker. But when no-one would publish it, she dedicated herself to the poor. She left her luxurious house in Esher for London where, in 1894, she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian in Lambeth.
Over the next few years she became friends with George Lansbury and Keir Hardie, two of the Labour Party's earliest and most radical leaders. Into this world she drew Kate Harvey and inevitably the pair became involved in the movement to win votes for women.
But, like all movements driven by idealism rather than political pragmatism, the movement was prone to fracture. Charlotte Despard had been a big figure in the Women's Social and Political Union, led by the prominent suffragettes Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Despard was arrested and imprisoned for her activities, but she was too radical for the autocratic Pankhursts. In 1907 she led 70 other women in breaking away from the WSPU in protest at the Pankhurst's high-handed and dictatorial style.
They formed a more democratic organisation, the Women's Freedom League, with Despard as its President and Harvey " playing Alastair Campbell to Despard's Blair " its Honorary Press Secretary. The new organisation took a more militant, though non-violent approach.
In 1909 Despard met Gandhi and fell under the influence of his theory of 'passive resistance'. …