The Derby took place on June 4th 1913. Emily Wilding Davison was to achieve her place in history by giving her life for the Suffragette cause at this Derby – the world’s most famous horse race. Emily Davison suffered terrible injuries at this race and never recovered from them. She died in a local hospital four days after the race.

The Derby is not only a horse race. In some senses, the race is secondary to the social importance of this event. In 1913, it was a race where society’s elite turned up, including the Royal family who traditionally had a horse entered into it. Because of its importance, it attracted a very large crowd to the Epsom Race Course.

The race itself was a flat sprint. Epsom was shaped almost like a horse shoe. The start took the jockeys along a fast straight that lead to a long and gradual bend. The bend sharpened at Tattenham Corner where the horses slowed down before picking up into the home straight to finish in front of the Royal Box.

In the 1913 Derby, the king entered a horse called Anmer. The jockey was Herbert Jones. As today, all the jockeys wore their colours – a racing jersey that identified that rider to the crowd.

As the horses rounded Tattenham Corner, Anmer was third from last. Emily Wilding Davison got underneath the barrier and threw herself in front of Anmer. The horse went over and Jones came off. Davison took the full force of a sprinting race horse hitting her. The impact took her clean off the ground.


derby_2Emily Davison with Anmer on the right


Confusion reigned to start with. Some believed that Davison was trying to cross the race course and had failed to see that not all the horses had cleared the course. It was a tradition that once the horses had gone past, the crowd went onto the the course to walk down to the finish.

Other spectators claimed that they heard a woman shout “Votes for Women” before leaping out in front of the king’s horse. A crude black and white film was taken that caught the event ‘live’. On its own it shows little as it has poor clarity. It has now been enhanced and it shows clearly that Davison stopped in front of Anmer (therefore she did not want to simply cross the course) and it appears that she tried to make a grab for the reins of the horse but the speed of Anmer and the impact on her were so great that she took a terrible blow to her upper body.

Jones did what all jockeys are trained to do. Having come off his horse, he stayed where he was until all the back riders had gone past. He was taken off the course by stretcher and taken to the ambulance room at the back of the Grand Stand. His injuries included a fractured rib, a bruised face and slight concussion. He stayed the Wednesday night at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street, London, but by Friday was back in Newmarket where he was described as “quite cheery”. Jones did recollect that he saw Davison trying to grab his reins. Anmer, having gone over, got to his feet and completed the race minus his jockey. The “Times” the next day commented that the horse had suffered bruised shins.

Emily Wilding Davison was very badly injured. She was taken to Epsom Cottage Hospital. She never regained consciousness and it appeared that her heart was damaged in the impact. On the Wednesday evening, the king enquired as to Emily’s well being but the doctors there realised that she had been seriously injured. They called for Mr. Mansell Moullin, a consultant surgeon at London Hospital, to assist them. But it was to be in vain as Emily Davison died on June 8th 1913 from substantial internal injuries.

Two eyewitnesses made the following statements. The first witness is unknown.


I was watching the horses approaching Tattenham Corner, when I noticed a figure bob under the rails on the opposite side to which I was standing. The horses were thundering down the course at a great pace bunched up against the rail. From the position in which the women was standing it would have been impossible for her to have picked out any special horse. It was obviously her intention to stop the race. Misjudging the pace of the horses she missed the first four or five. They dashed by just as she was  emerging from the rails. With great calmness she walked in front of the next group of horses.The first missed her, but the second, Anmer, came right into her, and catching her with his shoulders, knocked her with terrific force to the ground while the crowd stood spellbound. The woman rolled over two or three times, and lay unconscious. She was thrown almost on her face. Anmer fell after striking the woman, pitching Jones, the jockey, clear over its head. Fortunately, Anmer fell clear of the woman, and the horses following swerved by the woman, the jockey and the fallen horse.  


John Ervine who stood near to where Emily Davison was said the following:


Ms Davison, who was standing a few yards from me, suddenly ducked under the railings as the horses came up. This was very near Tattenham Corner, and there was a very large crowd of people on both sides of the course.The king’s horse, Anmer, came up and Ms Davison went towards it. She put up her hand, but whether it was to catch hold of the reins or to protect herself I do not know. It was all over in a few seconds. The horse knocked the woman over with very great force, and then stumbled and fell, pitching the jockey violently onto the ground. Both he and Ms Davison were bleeding profusely, but the crowd which swarmed about them almost was immediately too much for me to see any more.I feel sure that Ms Davison meant to stop the horse, and that she did not go on to the course in the belief that the race was over, for, as I say, only a few of the horses had gone by when I first saw her leave the railings, and others had not passed when she was knocked down. I could not see whether any other horses touched her, for the whole thing happened so quickly, and I was so horrified at seeing her pitched violently down by the horse that I did not think of anything. The affair distressed the crowd very much.