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ARSON AT LEVETLEIGH

In the early hours of 15th April 1913, a serious fire left 'scenes of desolation and ruin' at Levetleigh, a spacious mansion in Dane Road, St Leonards, between Cumberland Gardens and Markwick Terrace. The house, one of the largest and most handsome in St Leonards, had been the residence of Arthur du Cros, the Borough MP, who had vacated it on 25th March.








Daily Telegraph

The arson had all the hallmarks of a suffragette act: it was similar to other attacks across Britain; it was carried out on an empty house, and the WSPU policy was to damage property and never persons; du Cros was an outspoken opponent of the women's suffrage movement; and suffragette literature was found on the premises, including the postcard reproduced below.


The culprits were thought to have come by motor car from London. Years later it was discovered that Kitty Marion, possibly with an accomplice, was responsible, but no arrests were ever made. At the time, novelist Sheila Kaye Smith, who was not a suffragist, was blamed by some for the attack. She wrote:

I did not mind, for I was not opposed to Women's Suffrage - just not interested (I should think better of myself now if then I had at least done a little to help win that nothing which should have been so much). I did not really mind though my family did when I was accused of burning down Levetleigh, the Borough Member's house, which stood opposite ours.

It was destroyed one night, almost certainly by Suffragists, and I remember the bitter disappointment with which, on waking the next morning, I realized what a spectacle I had missed. I had never seen a fire, and this by all accounts had been a specially splendid and satisfactory one. I felt a little ashamed of having slept through it. Therefore great was my surprise when I heard that I myself had done the deed. The evidence was clear - I had sat at the window, mocking the efforts of the fire-brigade and shouting " Votes for Women!" The firemen themselves had seen me and had told the police.

For a time things looked unpleasant, and might really have been so if my father had not succeeded in establishing my innocence, at least in official quarters. Nearer to indignation than I have ever seen him in my life, he visited the police-station, he visited the headquarters of the fire-brigade, he visited his club, where the scandal died last of all if indeed it can be said to have died, for I believe that there are still people who think that I burned down Levetleigh. It is just the sort of thing a novelist would do.




Thanks to Miss Phillida Welch for this photograph.


Illustrations
Top -Levetleigh before the fire
Second - Levetleigh, roofless and gutted by arson
Third - A postcard found at the scene
Quote from three Ways Home by Shelia Kaye-Smith (Cassell 1937) p 62-3
Bottom - The site today. The remains of the ground floor have been converted into two bungalows

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