The McLarens of Bodnant Garden

Laura and Charles McLaren of Bodnant Garden

As the children of campaigning parents, both Laura Pochin and Charles McLaren were exposed from an early age to the ideas around women’s rights. When they married in 1877 the extended Bright-McLaren-Pochin family became an influential force in late Victorian and Edwardian society.

The spark lit by her mother became a torch for Laura. She dedicated herself to public speaking, writing and lobbying parliament for the suffrage cause, serving with the London National Society of Women's Suffrage, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and as president of the Women’s Liberal Federation. 

Charles Benjamin Bright McLaren (1850-1934) began his career in journalism before becoming a barrister. From 1880 he served as Liberal MP for Stafford, then Bosworth, and in 1897 was appointed a Queen's Counsel, being made Lord Aberconway in 1902. During his time as an MP, and throughout his life, Charles was a staunch supporter of calls for the electoral franchise for women and working men, pressing the arguments his wife was making in her speeches and writings to the male ears in parliament.

Carrying the baton

Charles’ brother Walter Stowe Bright-McLaren (1853-1912) a Liberal MP for Crewe also campaigned for suffrage alongside his wife Eva. Together they were powerful advocates for the women’s cause. Charles’ sister Helen Priscilla McLaren (1851–1934) was a philanthropist and campaigner for improvements in health, women's condition and political change.

Laura and Charles' children carried the baton for emancipation in their own lives. Following in his father’s footsteps Henry Duncan McLaren (1879-1953) was Liberal MP for West Staffordshire and Bosworth and served as Private Under-Secretary to the President of the Board of Trade, David Lloyd George, until 1908. He too was an advocate for the women’s cause.

Younger son Francis McLaren (1886-1917) was elected as Liberal MP for Spalding in January 1910. A promising young politician, and pilot in the First World War, he tragcially died in a flying accident in 1917.

Florence McLaren (Lady Norman 1883-1964) was an active suffragist like her mother and grandmothers and treasurer of the Liberal Women's Suffrage Union. She was also a keen horticulturist and developed the gardens at Ramster Hall, Surrey, as was her sister Elsie McLaren (Lady Johnson Ferguson 1884-1973).

After the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, the family continued to call for full representation for all women, which was finally granted in 1928. Their united stance is immortalised at Bodnant Garden today; in the commemoration to family members in The Poem mausoleum, and by the bust of Walter McLaren on the west terraces.