Clash of political titans in Honiton

The election day that saw rivals literally crash into each other.

We are used to politicians clashing but a forthcoming book on the life of Honiton’s larger than life civic leader Juanita Phillips shows a striking picture of her literally crashing into her electoral opponent.

By the late 1920s, the former suffragette had been a record five times Mayor of Honiton - the first woman to hold such a position in the Westcountry.

After Honiton’s county councillor, E W Mathews, was made an Alderman, Juanita decided to stand for the all-male county authority, citing her interest in public health, roads, education and maternity and child welfare.

Author Dr Julia Neville, who discovered the astonishing ‘crash’ photograph among Mrs Phillips’ papers, said: “Unfortunately, the other candidate standing in the election was Major Weldon, of Tracey House, a countryman, local landowner and JP.

“He was a prominent Conservative and his campaign material featured the powerful slogan ‘He fought for you, now vote for him’, though Juanita had actually served at the War Office.

“His principal proposer was Dr Duncombe Steel-Perkins, Honiton’s medical officer of health.”

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Juanita was proposed by Alderman Mathews and his wife and she won the support of the Farmers’ Union, but it was an uphill struggle.

For a first attempt by a woman, she did extremely well - losing by only 74 votes.

The crash occurred on election day, in March, 1928, when two of the rival cars ferrying voters to the poll collided.

The incredible picture clearly shows the Weldon and Phillips’ election placards on the two cars, which are shown smashed together.

Car enthusiasts will delight in recognising the classic makes of car.

Tony Simpson, who has researched Juanita’s life, said: “There is no report of anyone being hurt but political feathers must have been more than ruffled, especially as Major Wheldon’s car seems to have come off worst.

“Three years later he stood down and Juanita was elected unopposed, on February 23 in 931, the first woman county councillor in Devon.” Another remarkable photograph in the forthcoming book shows Juanita among her 60 or so male colleagues.

It was not long before she would clash with them too - as she battled to uphold the interests of women, children and those less well off. “Given her background, she could hold her own with anyone,” said Mr Simpson.

A book launch, exhibition and coffee morning, with author Julia Neville signing copies, will take place at Honiton Methodist Church at 10.30am on Wednesday, September 12.

Copies of the book will be available at Honiton TTourist Information Centre at a special, pre-launch price of �9 until September 8.

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