Deakin Fanny

Fanny Deakin

Born on 2nd December 1883, Fanny Deakin spent her early years at her parent's farm on Farmers Bank, Silverdale, a mining village near Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. One of the first branches of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) was established at Silverdale in the 1890s by her brother Arthur and she joined, too. 

When Fanny married a miner in 1901 his average weekly wage was 18 shillings and he was on almost continuous short time working. The fate of her family was also typical of her class; of her six children, one died aged eight, another died as a baby and one was still born. Twins died at eight months, only Noah survived and he contracted TB in the mines. Fanny would later painfully recall how she helplessly watched the twins dying, knowing that “milk and proper medical attention would have saved them".

After the split in the SDF over imperialist war occurred Fanny joined the ILP.  In 1917, she was elected to Wolstanton and Stoke Board of Guardians and joined the fight against the hated Poor Law. In 1919 was a leading spirit in the founding of Silverdale Labour Party.

In 1921 a local Communist Party branch was established when Billy Brain and Tommy Jackson came from Birmingham at the invitation of Fanny's son, Noah, to help launch it.  Soon after, Fanny was elected as a Co-operative Communist councillor for Wolstanton Council, athough she did not formally join the Communist Party until 1923.

Throughout her live, she was noted for her campaigns for better nourishment of young children and maternity care for mothers. On leaving school, she worked on the farm where her family lived but her lifelong vocation came to her after being the first woman to be elected onto Wolstanton Council as a Labour member in 1923.

During the General Strike in 1926, she was a major figure in local activity in support of the miners. One observer recalled seeing her “coming up past St Giles Church in Newcastle at the head of these miners, 200 or 300 miners …Fancy, one woman - and she's leading them!” Fanny (used to say) `I'm fighting for the mothers. If she had a coat of/arms they'd put it in Latin: Fighting for the mothers."  The great miners’ march was accompanied by 14 brass bands on its way through Wolstanton and it was led by by A J Cook and Fanny herself. The miners’ leader stayed at her house.

In 1927 she retained her seat, this time dropping the Co-operative label and standing just as a Communist. She was a popular with local people, who nicknamed her "Red Fanny" after she visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and 1930.

Of her five children only one survived into adulthood. In an era of high infant mortality she campaigned for better maternity care of women and free milk for children under five. Along with unemployed miners, she went to Downing Street to see Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald to demand that local councils give free milk to pregnant mothers and children up to the age of five.

Around this time, when a comrade was found guilty of supposedly inciting a riot of the unemployed, Fanny gave him an alibi but found herself charged with perjury and spent nine months in Winson Green Prison.

Above: Fanny Deakin on a National Unemployed Workers Movement delegation to No 10 Downing Street in 1931
In 1933 she was elected as a Communist to Staffordshire County Councillor.  "Fanny recalled with pride that of the first three reforms she set her heart on when elected, all were achieved. These were, to raise public assistance to the highest in the country instead of second from the bottom, to raise the level of wages of council workmen and to make every councillor with a hospital in his area a member of the Hospital committee.” [Comment 25 May 1968]

Re-elected to the now merged Newcastle Council in 1934, she became a County Councillor. She played a key role in several committees relating to maternity and child welfare. During the war years she could be seen working with others in the Catholic Church showing children how to put on gas masks. In 1941, she became the first Communist in the country to be appointed an Alderman in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, with the honour being extended to Staffordshire county level in 1946.

In the 1950s right wing Labour councillors stopped her being elected as an Alderman of Staffordshire County Council.

The following year, she achieved what most local people remember her for when a maternity home was opened bearing her name for use by women in the Borough after she vigorously campaigned for it. It was in 1947 Fanny Deakin Maternity Hospital was opened in Chesterton; this is the only hospital in Britain to be named after a Communist. It had been her persistent advocacy of mother and child welfare issues that led to the Borough Council accepting the naming. She is still popularly remembered through the many children born there and also due to a GP ward named after her in a local hospital.

Fanny died on 24 March 1968. She is pictured right with Harry Pollitt

In 1991 Joyce Holliday wrote "Go See Fanny Deakin!", in which Fanny Deakin appears as heroine in a play centred on the mining community of Silverdale. It was subsequently been broadcast by BBC local radio. Joyce Holliday also wrote "Silverdale People" which includes a biography of Fanny Deakin. Fanny died in 1968.  

Staffordshire County Council holds a collection of Fanny Deakin’s papers in its Newcastle under Lyme Library. The archive includes material on rambling and a manuscript autobiographical notebook written in 1966-7.