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Alcester Court Leet says its no-women tradition can only be overturned by Lord of the Manor

WOMEN have once again been denied the opportunity to join Alcester Court Leet which remains a men-only association.

Amid growing concern over gender prejudice, a silent protest was staged at the Court Leet’s annual meeting last Thursday where protesters wore facemasks with the word ‘equality’ printed on them and held up paper with the word ‘Now’ written on.

Protestors at Alcester Court Leet's annual meeting want their voice heard over women joining the historic all male association. (52182288)
Protestors at Alcester Court Leet's annual meeting want their voice heard over women joining the historic all male association. (52182288)

Emotions were running high at Alcester’s Town Hall during the meeting which mirrored a similar protest two years ago over women being able to join the 800-year-old Court Leet, which manages local events and controls some charitable donations for the town.

Members are all men who are voted in by an all-male group of jurors.

Becki Hemming, who lives in Alcester and was among the protesters, told the Herald: “As a collective of women, we’ve agreed that we want to effect change in Alcester Court Leet for gender equality in all roles, including voting and engagement.

“We don’t want to disrupt tradition but rather keep it alive and relevant. This is not a private members club or a re-enactment society, but an organisation with power that affects town residents and local interest. However, in 2021 it still sees fit to exclude women from joining or engaging on equal terms with men.

“There are people raising boys and girls in Alcester; how do they explain that girls can’t join the Court Leet?” Becki, who was educated at Alcester Grammar School, added that the Steward of the Manor – Steve Brown – who chaired the meeting would not allow any change to the structure of the court or its traditions.

She continued: “Alcester residents supporting gender equality are angered and embarrassed by the Court Leet’s failure to update its discriminatory procedures and believe your gender should not decide whether you have the right to engage equally in an organisation of power in your society.

“We have tried numerous previous attempts to engage in discussion with the Steward, court officers and the Lord of the Manor, but so far these routes of engagement have been cut off.

“We staged a silent protest because it doesn’t feel as though there are any other options.”

Following the protest, the group has asked people to support the cause by signing an online petition which will be shared with the Lord of the Manor, the Marquess of Hertford.

Charlotte Parr, another Alcester resident and a mother of two
young girls, said she valued the work of the Court Leet but wanted it to send the right message to the town’s children.

“They are currently struggling for members and I feel that allowing women to join would help to ensure that the Court Leet is around for future generations,” she said.

“They are very high profile within the community and draw a lot of attention, particularly from children. My kids think they are pirates. The lack of women members sends a message to the youngsters in our community that discrimination based on gender is acceptable.”

Court Leets in other parts of the country allow women members.

However, ultimately the Marquess is the only person who can change the situation.

As the petition calling for change reached more than 600 signatures, Alcester High Bailiff David Henderson said in a statement the Steward told protesters at the meeting that the position about women had not changed since the last protest in 2019.

“The Steward made it clear that it was the Lord of the Manor that should be contacted regarding their views on non-inclusion of ladies on the Alcester Court.

“Several remarks were made by the Equaleety representatives that they did not accept Lord Hertford’s position. It was yet again made clear by the Steward that only the Lord of the Manor could discuss this with them.”

Alcester Court Leet has also highlighted that there are other, well established, associations which are governed by their own set of rules.

Mr Henderson asked: “Where does the Women’s Institute stand regarding males and do the Masons have women?”

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