Clare Balding’s Channel 4 documentary about Emily Wilding Davison was well researched. I had never seen the close-up photograph of her being attended to by the police as she lay on the ground at the Epsom Derby 1913. A few things about her death that need further analysis are as follows. Firstly, there is a significant side camber towards the rails at Tattenham Corner which tends to have the horses take the bend a little tighter than might be imagined, so it may be that in the split second Emily had to decide where to stand, she thought she was standing just to the side of the oncoming horse, but tragically it turned out that she was standing immediately in its path. Secondly, from her position on the rails at Tattenham Corner, Emily would not have been able to see the first mile of the race. This is partly because the Derby is run on an aptly horseshoe-shaped course, so being on the inside of the rails at Tattenham Corner, which is essentially at a seven o’clock on the horseshoe, it was difficult for Emily to see behind her up the course, partly because of the dozen deep crowd immediately behind her, but more significantly because there was a tightly packed stand behind her (which was conveniently ignored by the TV programme’s analysts), which completely blocked her view of the rest of the course. Her original plan appears to have been to use two big Votes for Women flags (which were found on her pinned to the inside of her coat) to disrupt the race by walking on to the course at some point waving these. One wonders whether having got her place on the rails and seen the runners in the first two races gallop by, she realised that it might be possible to target a particular horse, and therefore changed her tactics to try to thrust her Votes for Women scarf into the bridle of the king’s horse. This said, she couldn’t possibly have known exactly where the king’s horse was in the field until she actually saw it, so even with the longer line of sight that the TV programme has calculated giving her four seconds to react to seeing the horse, she needed some ‘luck in running’ for her plan to work. For example, what if Anmer had been running well and been in amongst the main body of horses, with other runners either side of him? Or in the lead with the whole field right behind him? Her plan was probably to target the king’s horse if possible, but if need be target another horse. Another point is that she was wearing unseasonably heavy and cumbersome Edwardian ladies’ clothing so that she could hide her Votes for Women flags and scarf inside her coat, so she was not set up to move overly quickly so her options in four seconds were limited. A final point is that the programme wrongly claimed that she was acting alone. Her flatmate, Mary Richardson was with her. It is unknown what Mary’s role was that day. Perhaps the two of them were supposed to leap out before the field came round the bend to flag the horses down and have the race stopped or disrupted? Maybe Mary loses her nerve so the chance goes, so Emily only has time to duck under the rail as the field come past her? Who knows?
But the programme correctly stated that this was no suicide attempt. Emily died because as the horse somersaulted, one of its hooves caught Emily in the head, and it was this kick that killed her rather than the initial collision.
And the poilce certainly didn’t think she had attempted suicide at the time. Suicide was an offence and it was originally thought that Emily would survive, and plans were already in place to charge her with disturbance of the peace rather than attempted suicide.