Archive for category Suffrage Stories

Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links in Life And Literature (Part 4)

For my first two posts on the links between ‘Bloomsbury’ and women’s suffrage see here and hereIn ‘Bloomsbury Links’ (Part 3) I mentioned that in 1916  Ray Strachey took over the post of parliamentary secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and  moved to Westminster to be close to the NUWSS office. From 1916 until 1934  she was also chairman of the Women’s Service Bureau, which originated in the war work of the London Society for Women’s Service. In 1925, when the financial position of the latter society (now called the London Society for Women’s Service) was critical, funds were raised by the presentation at the Scala Theatre of two specially-staged charity performances of The Son of Heaven, a play written by Ray’s brother-in-law, Lytton Strachey.

The play – a’tragic melodrama’ -was set in China at the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. It’s director was Alec Penrose, whose  (first) wife was the production’s wardrobe mistress, Ralph Partridge played ‘The Executioner’, Geoffrey Webb, later Slade professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, played ‘Wang Fu’ and Gerald Brennan was among the extras.  Gertrude Kingston -now elderly and a one-time member of the Actresses’ Franchise League, was the only ‘professional’ member of the cast.

The accompanying music was composed and conducted by William Walton – his first commission for the stage. Of it Constant Lambert (who played the timpany in the production’s orchestra) commented – ‘So great was [Walton's] obsession with ragtime that he was unable to prevent some unmistakeable touches of Gershwin from entering the score!). The critic from The Stage described the music as ‘ambitious and decidedly heavy’.

Duncan Grant designed the costumes and sets. These included an Omega Workshop screen and a carpet designed by Vanessa Bell, who was also responsible for the cover of the programme.

Vanessa Bell, Original design for carpet for 'Son of Heaven' c 1924 (courtesy of Henry Sotheran Fine Prints)

Vanessa Bell, Original design for carpet for ‘Son of Heaven’ c 1924 (courtesy of Henry Sotheran Fine Prints)

Robert Medley, a painter and member of the cast, remembered the colours used –  ‘clear ochres and greys, offset by pinks, oranges and emerald greens’ (Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant). The costumes were painted in a decidedly Omega style by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and proved all  too much for Gertrude Kingston. She refused to wear her costume and the designers were forced to dress her instead in a black brocade ‘Manchu’ robe belonging to Lady Strachey. All in all it seems to have been a rather entertaining venture, although I cannot tell you how much money it raised for the LSWS.

WomensServiceHseIn 1930, when the London and National Society for Women’s Service (as it had confusingly been renamed in 1926) wished to publicise not only its existence but also that of their new purpose-built hall , ‘Although very doubtful of success, Miss [Philippa] Strachey undertook to approach Virginia Woolf, to ask if she would be willing to give a talk on ‘Literature’. In the event Virginia Woolf did agree to speak and on the appointed evening, 21 January 1931, shared the platform with her new friend, Dame Ethel Smyth, who spoke on ‘Music’.

The hall, with a library, restaurant and offices, was part of Women’s Service House, the  LNSWS’s new Westminster premises. Millicent Fawcett laid the foundation stone on 29 April 1929, barely three months before her death; the hall was intended as her memorial – rather more useful than a statue  but, alas, without a statue’s popular appeal (on this bee in my bonnet see more here). Known as the Millicent Fawcett Hall, it still stands at 31 Marsham Street, now put to good use by Westminster School as its drama centre.

Back in January 1931 the sub-committee of the London Society responsible for arranging the  evening’s entertainment felt obliged to install a microphone for Mrs Woolf – at the cost of £8; there was no suggestion that Dame Ethel required amplification.

The speakers attracted one of the society’s largest audiences and Virginia Woolf received a review in The Woman’s Leader (now, incidentally, edited by a niece of Mrs Pankhurst): ‘She “was with us, but not of us”. Her eyes are on the stars, as though she listens to some far-off song – but a song of which even an audience of modern and practical minded young women can catch an echo when Mrs Woolf speaks.’

ThreeGuineasThe ‘song’ proved to be the genesis for Three Guineas, and it was to the LNSWS’s library, adjacent to the hall, and to its librarian, Vera Douie, that Virginia Woolf turned when seeking verification of the facts, gathered into footnotes, that fuelled the book’s anger.

The Library at Women’s Service House, 1924 © & source The Women's Library

The Library at Women’s Service House, 1924
© & source The Women’s Library

In March 1938, for instance, she wrote enquiring about peace organisations and the numbers of women involved in working for peace. Vera Douie sent her a full reply, enclosing Mrs Fawcett’s pamphlet on ‘What the Vote Has Done’. A couple of months later , in gratitude for the help she had received, Virginia Woolf offered to supply the library with any books, new or antiquarian that it required. The offer was gratefully accepted; in 1938, for example, Virginia Woolf gave to the library both volumes of the newly published Miss Weeton. Journal of a Governess, a text from which she had copied quotations into her Three Guineas Reading Notebook, and in July 1940 paid for two books by Mary Carpenter, Juvenile Delinquents (1853) and Our Convicts (1864), that had appeared in the catalogue of an antiquarian bookseller. Both the latter are still part of the Cavendish Bentinck collection in the Women’s Library@LSE – although the name of their donor is not noted in the catalogue entry.

On 26 March 1941 Vera Douie wrote to Mrs Woolf to say how much she had enjoyed reading her biography of Roger Fry and asking, in her usual delicate manner, for two more books. This time, however, her request was in vain. Virginia Woolf was dead by the time the letter was delivered to Monks’s House.

 

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Suffrage Stories: ‘A Song Of Their Own’ – Ipswich Suffrage- And Ada Ridley In Particular

Song of their Own

I do enjoy reading studies of the work of local suffrage societies – and this is a good one.  Without over explaining the national campaign Joy Bounds neatly describes the particular work of Ipswich suffrage campaigners, setting their efforts in the wider context. Her research on Constance Andrews, the leading light of the Ipswich branch of the Women’s Freedom League,  is particularly welcome – and useful.

The delight of such studies is that names hitherto little known are brought to our attention. While it was outside the scope of Joy Bounds’ study to dwell in depth on the many individuals whom she highlights, it is now possible – in a blog such as this – to pick up the baton, as it were, and attempt to discover more about these women. Their engagement with the suffrage movement is, in a way, only an excuse.  I am still so curious about women’s lives.

In particular I am  interested in women who put their artistic skills to work for the suffrage cause and was keen therefore to discover more about the life of Ada Paul Ridley,who is mentioned in A Song of Their Own. She either designed or sewed (or perhaps  designed and helped sew) the banner (‘Be Just and Fear Not’) that the Ipswich contingent carried in the WSPU’s 1911 Coronation Procession. There is a suggestion that ‘her women’ worked it – I wonder who they were? The banner, alas, has long since disappeared.

Lisa Tickner includes Ada Ridley in her list of suffrage artists in an appendix to The Spectacle of Women, but mentions only her work on this banner and the fact that she had exhibited at the ‘London Salon’ in 1908. This was the first exhibition organized for the progressive Allied Artists’ Association Exhibition by Frank Rutter (a devout suffragist) – and held at the Albert Hall. I doubt that Ada Ridley was amongst the more progressive element, but she was keeping interesting company.

So who was Ada Ridley?

Well, she was born c 1864 and her sister, Elizabeth (Bessie), whom Joy Bounds mentions as also being  involved with Ipswich suffrage, was born in 1867. They were two of the four daughters (there were also two sons) of Albert Cowell Ridley, one of Ipswich’s leading businessmen. He was a wholesale druggist –  in partnership with Edward Grimwade (sometime mayor of Ipswich), trading as Grimwade, Ridley & Co. The firms premises were in Princes Street – and have long since made way for the iconic Willis building.

The Ridley family was non-conformist – Baptist. In the 1870s Albert Ridley was a member of the Ipswich Board of Guardians and in the 1880s, a Liberal,  was a elected to the Ipswich Town Council.

Formerly Helenscote, 73 Henley Road, Ipswich

Formerly Helenscote, 73 Henley Road, Ipswich9

The Ridleys  lived at Helenscote, 73  Henley Road, Ipswich – a large, gabled house. (The house, now known as Marlborough House was until relatively recently The Marlborough Hotel, but is now divided into flats.)

In the 1870s Edward Grimwade and his family lived close by – at 1 Henley Road. In April 1871 Grimwade chaired a meeting in Ipswich at which Rhoda Garrett was the main speaker, with her cousin, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and her uncle,  Newson Garrett, sitting beside her on the platform. The Ipswich Journal - not a supporter of the woman’s cause - gives a lengthy, somewhat jaundiced account of the meeting – but it is clear that it was actually rather successful.

Grimwade’s daughter, Harriet, became secretary of the Ipswich committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage that was set up in the wake of this meeting. This suffrage society doesn’t appear to have been very active – although Harriet Grimwade definitely was. She was a very active philanthropist as well as eventually, in 1883, being elected a member of the Ipswich School Board.  When she first stood for the School Board, in 1880, the Ipswich Journal  paid her the rather back-handed compliment of saying that it would be as well if she were not elected as it would be a pity to distract her from her all her charitable work.

There was no mention of Albert Ridley’s presence at the 1871 meeting- although he may well have been there.  In fact there was a direct Garrett/Ridley relationship. Millicent’s sister, Alice, was married to Herbert Cowell, a cousin of Albert Cowell Ridley (Herbert’s father was brother to Albert’s mother). Despite Herbert’s expressed distaste for the women’s movement, Alice more or less defied him to succeed her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, as the member of the London School Board for Marylebone. I imagine that Albert Ridley’s views on the Woman Question tended more towards those of Edward Grimwade than those of Herbert Cowell.

Whatever they were, Albert Ridley did ensure that Ada had a good education. She attended Ipswich High School for Girls and, while a pupil there, in 1879  passed the government examination in Freehand Drawing, taken at the Ipswich School of Science and Art , in 1880 she received the school prize for Needlework – a copy of In Memoriam – and in 1881 won a prize at the Art School (though still a pupil at the High School) for the best drawing of a plant. Her reward was to be given said plant – a begonia. In 1883 she matriculated from the High School –  in the first division (University of London) and in 1884  moved to  the Ipswich School of Science and Art, where she was awarded a first class certificate in Botany- Elementary Stage. Ada clearly remained close to Harriet Youngman, who was headmistress of the High School during the time she was there. When the 1901 census was taken Ada was staying with her as a visitor in the cottage near Saffron Walden to which she had moved on retiring as headmistress.

Although the only sightings I have of Ada during the next ten years are as a rather successful tennis player (mixed doubles matches at the Ipswich Lawn Tennis Club) and as a pianist at various local entertainments, she clearly maintained her interest in art, winning a second price in a Studio  competition in 1894. In 1893 she was the judge of ‘Plain Needlework’ at an Industrial and Art Exhibition held at the Gainsborough House headquarters of the YWCA.

Albert Ridley died in 1896, leaving c £25,000 – out of which Ada and her siblings were each to receive £1000  immediately. Her mother died in 1916, leaving £14,000 – so I think we can assume that the family lived reasonably comfortably.

In April 1911 a service at Llanaber Church near Barmouth was held to dedicate reredos that Ada Ridley had helped carve. They had been designed in the Celtic Arts and Crafts style by John Dickson Batten, who was an illustrator and one of the early members of the Society of Painters in Tempera. The founder of this society was Christiana Herringham, a suffragist who in 1908 had helped embroider banners for the Artists’ Suffrage League and the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, as well as one for the Cambridge Suffrage Society. The Battens must have known Christiana Herringham and as in 1904 their Kensington home was at 16 Edwardes Square, they must have known Laurence Housman, who lived with his sister, Clemence, writer and artist, at 1 Pembroke Cottages, on the corner of the Square. It’s not too wild a guess to suppose that Ada Ridley was brought into this circle.

Anti-suffrage Alphabet (courtesy of UCL Library Services)

Anti-suffrage Alphabet (courtesy of UCL Library Services)

There is no doubt that by 1911 Ada most certainly was well acquainted with Laurence Housman  because in that year she was a contributor to a lovely book – An Anti Suffrage Alphabet – designed by Housman and which Leonora Tyson (of the Streatham WSPU) printed to order by hand. Earlier in the year, on census night (2 April), both Ada and Bessie Ridley had been absent from home. Their mother was enumerated at Helenscote with their unmarried brother and one of their nieces – but of her two resident daughters there was no trace. Were they spending the night at the Museum Rooms, taking part in the boycotting party that Joy Bounds describes so well?

But that is all I’ve been able to uncover. How did Ada spend the rest of her long life?  I can find no trace of any further involvement with either art or the woman’s cause. She seems such a capable woman that I can’t believe she sat at home doing nothing for the next 40 or so years. She died in Ipswich in 1958 – leaving c £17,000 -one of her executors being the niece who was staying in the house while her aunts were out gallivanting on census night.

 

 

 

 

 

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Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links (Part 3)

I have written two previous posts about the Bloomsbury Group and Women’s Suffrage – see here and here, the latter one dealing with the involvement of Lady Strachey and her children. In this third Bloomsbury post I describe something of the importance of one of her daughters-in-law – Ray Strachey.

Ray Strachey

Ray Strachey

In 1911 Lady Strachey’s son, Oliver,  married, as his second wife, Ray, the daughter of Mary Costelloe (later Mary Berenson) and granddaughter of Hannah Whitall Smith, a Philadelphian Quaker and feminist.

The Costelloes’ association with the Cause stretched well back into the 19th century. In 1889 both Mary Costelloe and her mother had signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage organized by the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In the 1890s Mary, with her parents, her husband, and her sister Alys (who was later to marry Bertrand Russell), subscribed to the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In March 1890 Frank Costelloe, Ray’s father, was described as a ‘warm friend’ to the Women’s Franchise League. It is therefore not surprising to discover that Ray Costelloe while a student at Newnham (1905-08) was an active member of the Cambridge University Women’s Suffrage Society, probably to the detriment of her academic work.

In the summer of 1908 Ray and her friend Elinor Rendel conducted a suffrage caravan tour of the Lake District. While on this tour the young women stayed at Keswick, at Hawse End, the home of Frank and Caroline Marshall, who had founded the local branch of the NUWSS, and who were the uncle and aunt of Ray (later Garnett) and Frances (later Partridge).

Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall

The Marshalls’ daughter, Catherine, moved to London and became parliamentary secretary of the NUWSS, in 1912 masterminding that society’s alliance withe the Labour party. Through family association the suffrage campaign drew into is maw the least likely followers; Julia Strachey, Oliver’s daughter by his first marriage, led an NUWSS procession in Littlehampton on 19 July 1913.

By 1913 Ray Strachey was chairman of the LSWS and Philippa Strachey was its secretary, the two forming an extremely affectionate and close working relationship that lasted until Ray’s death in 1940. A fellow worker for the Cause described how Ray Strachey was ‘someone who takes up lost causes and then they are no longer lost’ and particularly remarked how Ray always sought Pippa’s advice.

In 1916 Ray Strachey succeeded Catherine Marshall as parliamentary secretary of the NUWSS and in this capacity was responsible for supervising the passage of the Reform Bill that in 1918 at last gave women (over 30) the vote. Ray moved her household from Bloomsbury to Marsham Street in Westminster in order to be close to the society’s office.

strachey the causeAfter the end of the First World War Ray Strachey was editor of The Common Cause and then of its successor, The Woman’s Leader, 1920-23, and acted as political private secretary to Lady Astor after the latter’s election as the first woman member of the House of Commons. Ray Strachey was the author The Cause (1928) which stood for very many years as the only history of the ‘constitutional’ suffrage movement, and of Women’s suffrage and Women’s service: the history of the London and National Society for Women’s Service, 1927.

In 1938 Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press published Our Freedom and Its Results, a collection of essays edited by Ray Strachey, which charts the effect of women’s emancipation on politics, law, employment, morals and social life.

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All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Suffrage Stories: 100 Years Ago Today – 17 July 1914: The National Portrait Gallery and Thomas Carlyle

One hundred years ago today – on 17 July 1914 – a suffragette, Margaret Gibb, who also went by the name of Ann Hunt, took a cleaver to a portrait of Thomas Carlyle that was hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. See the damaged portrait here.

Margaret Gibb was held by an attendant, charged and, on 21 July, sentenced to six months imprisonment. She was released on 27 July – presumably under the Cat and Mouse Act, having gone on hunger strike. See here for a surveillance picture of Margaret Gibb taken in the exercise yard at Holloway. On 31 August she was spotted again at the Gallery and, although the WSPU had called a halt to its campaign, was refused admission then – and in the future.

One hundred years later the NPG has  mounted al display case exhibition – in Room 31 –  showing something of the effect of WSPU militancy on the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. Margaret Gibb’s story is related and includes a comment to the effect that it was doubted that the picture’s attacker knew that Carlyle was a particular hero of Emmeline Pankhurst – an aperçu I remember making when referring to the damaged portrait in the entry on Emmeline Pankhurst’ in my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide. I’d be rather thrilled if I was the originator of the comment – but I daresay others have thought of it independently. I was particularly struck by two small photographs of Mary Richardson in the display that date from 1918 and show her sitting, delicate and pretty, in a room neatly furnished with flowers and 18th-century furniture. This is an image far removed from the chopper-wielding attacker of the ‘Rokeby Venus’ – (see here for a post on Mary Richardson).

Christabel Pankhurst by Ethel Wright, 1909 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Christabel Pankhurst by Ethel Wright, 1909 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In the entrance – Room 30 – to the gallery that contains this display case the National Portrait Gallery has now hung the full-length  portrait of Christabel Pankhurst by Ethel Wright – opposite the Brackenbury portrait of her mother – Emmeline Pankhurst.  Christabel’s portrait, in which she is wearing a green dress – apparently a favourite colour – was painted in 1909 and first shown at the WSPU Skating Rink Exhibition. It was bought by Una Duval and remained in her family before being  bequeathed recently to the NPG.

Good as it is to raise the profile of the women’s suffrage campaign – all this attention on the WSPU only highlights for me the lack of attention given to the constitutional campaigners – those who worked for sixty years without wielding cleavers. So let me take the opportunity here of repeating my mantra  – and drawing attention to my post on the subject –  Make Millicent Fawcett Visible.

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All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

 

Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 17 July 1914

 

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman.

Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. John has a room along Claverton Street, at number 11.

Friday July 17th 1914

John arrived unexpectedly early, before I was up, but I just let him in to hear the news – he has had a letter from Benson saying he would see him, so was off. I had received a letter from Mr Dingle saying he could not speak – so as soon as I was up I went off to the Men’s League at Westminster and saw someone there who called Mr McKillop in from an office next door, and he like a lamb said he would come to Isleworth in Mr Dingle’s place. I expected to have to rush round London.

So I walked up to the A.A. and found John just having lunch with a very pretty woman and joined them as I wanted to hear what Benson said, but it was a very short interview. John saw me to Charing Cross then went off to a meeting and I came back to Victoria and bought some food then came in and had a rest and fell asleep.

John came in at 5 and we had a meat tea and then off together, Bus to Victoria – train to Hammersmith – train to Isleworth arriving at 7.15 – at the Upper Square. There were hundreds of children ready to greet us, I got a friendly feeling and they were very good but a great nuisance. John went off to find the Lorry as it was not punctual, but he missed it and it arrived alright and I got it fixed up.

By the time the speakers, Miss Dransfield in the Chair, Mrs Merivale Mayer and Mr McKillop and Miss Fraser to help had arrived we were absolutely mobbed – and we got a huge gathering. The first Suffrage meeting of any kind which had been held in Isleworth.

Mrs Mayer as usual was very disagreeable when she arrived, but it was really such a magnificent meeting she was quite pleased at the end, and as usual she spoke splendidly and we quite got the people round.

Having settled up early well came away together – Mr McKillop left us from the train, we parted from Mrs M.M. at Hammersmith and Miss Fraser at Victoria.

John and I were starving and we went into a restaurant at Victoria. John had salmon and cucumber – at 11.15! It was a lovely day.

John Collins was ‘resting’ at the moment – as is clear from the amount of time he was able to devote this month to helping Kate with her suffrage work. He would have been very excited about the prospect of employment in Frank Benson’s Company. The A.A., where Kate surprised him lunching with ‘a very pretty women’, was the Actors’ Association, the club in Covent Garden to which they both belonged.

The Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage to whose office Kate went for help when her speaker had failed was at 136 St Stephen’s House on the Embankment. The massive building was demolished, apparently in the early 1990s. We have already met the obliging Mr McKillop, who had for some years earlier been librarian to the fledgling London School of Economics. Kate had warmed to him after he praised her public speaking.

Upper Square, Isleworth (image courtesy of Hounslow Local studies website)

Well, this must have been the site of Isleworth’s first ‘Votes for Women’ meeting – or, at least, the first of which Kate had heard tell. Presumably during her canvassing she had met with plenty of local people who would have given her this kind of information. By ‘fixing up’ the Lorry Kate meant that she decorated it with posters – inquisitive children were suffragettes’ constant companions.

Calra Merivale Mayer

You can read about Mrs Merivale Mayer in Campaigning for the Vote - suffice it to say that Kate found her a great trial and, I am sure, knew nothing of her somewhat scandalous history. If she had known she would doubtless have felt vindicated in her dislike for this most difficult of the New Constitutional Society’s speakers. But Kate gave credit where it was due and often commented, as she does here, that despite the ructions she caused Mrs Mayer was an excellent speaker.

 

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All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

 

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Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 2 July 1914

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. She was at this time living in Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins.

Thursday July 2nd 1914 

To office. Attended the Committee. To lunch at Harrods with Mrs Hartley, Alexandra [Wright] and Gladys [Wright] and Miss Bessie Hatton. Work at the office all afternoon. John arrived for me at 5.30pm. I left with him and we came back in a bus to Claverton Street.

I tidied myself and then by bus to Tottenham Court Road where we had a mysterious fish dinner. We liked the first half as we were extremely hungry and then it palled.

Then we strolled to the Scala Theatre and John got 2 dress circle seats for ‘La Dame aux Camelias’. Lydia Yavorska. Parts of it were a scream as all her things are, but she was very lovely in parts – and especially just at the end – she did look so dead. Some of the characters were vilely played. Ambrose Flower – he is rather winning – just like an Elenor Glynn [ sic] man – but just a prop for the dear Princess to fall up against – or on to. She looked a picture – but some of her frocks were hideous. Back by bus.’

The Scala Theatre was just behind Tottenham Road, on the corner of Charlotte and Tottenham streets. The theatre was only ten years old in 1914, built to the architect Frank Verity’s design in 1904 on the site of a series of older theatres. .

Kate doesn’t put the design of this production of ‘La Dame Aux Camelias’ in an artistic pigeon hole – but in the 15 July 1914 issue of  ‘Tatler’ it is described as ‘Futurist’. The article is titled ‘”Infernal Decorations or What Stripes and Squares a Love of Futurism is Leading Us.”‘ Perhaps it was the ‘stripes and squares’ that made some of the dresses appear ‘hideous’ in Kate’s eyes.

Lydia Yavorska

Kate refers to Lydia Yavorska (b. 1869) as ‘the dear Princess’ because the Russian-born actress had acquired by marriage the title Princess Bariatintsky.  Of her performance as Marguerite in this production ‘The Times’ critic wrote ‘she is not the actress to spare herself in the forcible delineation of the part’s emotion. Indeed her third act gave the opportunity for more tears and cries than we have ever heard or seen in a single act before.’ Kate had seen her playing Nora in ‘The Doll’s House’ on 30 March 1911 when she had described her as ‘a pretty creature and – in spite of her very broken English, excellent and so fascinating.’

‘La Dame Aux Camelias’ ran at the Scala from 22 June to 4 July 1914.

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Suffrage Stories: What Links Charles Dickens, The Rokeby Venus And The Number 38 Bus?

Mary Richardson, c 1913

Mary Richardson, c 1913. This image of her was included in the sheet of ‘surveillance photographs’ of known suffragettes sent to museums and art galleries

I was asked the other day to speak briefly on Woman’s Hour about Mary Richardson, the suffragette who took a hatchet to the Velasquez painting, The Toilet of Venus  -known as The Rokeby Venus ,  while it was on display in the National Gallery in March 1914. Rokeby-Venus-slashed-close-up-426x365 You can listen to the resulting piece – which includes a clip from a 1957 Woman’s Hour interview with Mary Richardson – here.

Looking again at Mary Richardson’s story – as she tells it in her suffragette autobiography, Laugh a Defiance –  I was interested in a brief mention she made of the house from which she set out for the National Gallery on that fateful day – Tuesday 10 March 1914. It was a house  in which she had been given shelter when she was let out of Holloway the previous October under the terms of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’,  after going on hunger strike. She continued to live there clandestinely – as a ‘mouse’ – evading the police.

As she tells it, this house in Doughty Street in Bloomsbury had once been the home of Charles Dickens but was now under the charge of a ‘Mrs Lyon’. Investigation reveals that in 1914  the house that was Dickens’ home from 1837-9 and is now the Charles Dickens Museum was, together with number 49, a boarding house run by a Miss Jane Lyons. J010106 Mary Richardson wrote that she knew immediately that it was to Dickens’ house that she had been brought. Indeed she would have, for as she left the motor car that had carried her from Holloway she would have seen this plaque, which had  been placed on the front of 48 Doughty Street by the LCC in 1903. Once settled into the boarding house doubtless she would have heard from Miss Lyons more about  the famous connection that gave cachet to the establishment.

Number 48 Doughty Street was acquired by the Dickens Fellowship in 1923 and opened as the Museum in 1925. Interestingly the Museum has quite recently acquired number 49 – so that the two houses are now interlinked as  they presumably were when Mary Richardson was given shelter in Miss Lyons’ boarding house. Charles dickens houseWhen Mary Richardson made her  acquaintance in 1914 Miss Lyons would have been 78 years old. She may well have been given the honorary title of ‘Mrs’ and it isn’t particularly surprising that Mary Richardson had, 40 years or so later, slightly misremembered her surname. The only information that Mary Richardson offers about ‘Mrs Lyon’ was that she had once been housekeeper to Benjamin Disraeli. Could that have been true?

Jane Lyons had been born in Plymouth in 1836, one of the eldest in a large family – of possibly 12 children. Her  father, Moses Lyons (who also gave his name on various censuses as ‘Lewis Lyons’ and ‘Morris Lyons’) was a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries – that is, he was qualified as a doctor and practised as both a doctor and as a dentist. He had been born in Coventry c 1811;  his mother had been born in Russia. The family were probably Jewish in origin – although there is no evidence that they practised that religion. One sister, certainly, was married in a Congregational church. In 1871 the Lyons family was living in the Islington area of Birmingham and Jane Lyons worked with her mother and five of her sisters in the family’s stationers shop.

By 1881 Jane Lyons had come to London and on the night of the census, 3 April 1881, was living in a boarding house at 72 Gower Street in Bloomsbury, described as an ‘annuitant’. So it doesn’t appear that  she was Disraeli’s housekeeper at the time of his death –  which occurred 16 days after the census was taken. But I suppose it is not impossible that she was so employed at some time during the previous decade.

By 1891 Jane Lyons was housekeeper at ‘Brunswick House’, 56 Hunter Street, Bloomsbury.  Here lived 45 boarders – all women – most of whom were working – as teachers, typists, clerks, and artists.

48 Doughty Street - post 1903

48 Doughty Street – post 1903

Ten years later, in 1901, Jane Lyons was the proprietor of a ‘Private Hotel and Boarding House’ at 48 & 49 Doughty Street.  Here, on the day of the census, she had 24 boarders – all women – again clerks, teachers and typists (and a stockbroking nephew). By 1911 Miss Lyons’ clientele had slightly changed – now numbering a good half-dozen men among her boarders.

Miss Lyons, as a single woman running her own business, was very much the type of woman we might expect to support the ‘votes for women campaign’ – perhaps as a member of the Tax Resistance League. But from Mary Richardson’s evidence she went that bit further and gave active support to those who were evading the police. According to Mary, while she was living at number 48 Annie Kenney, who was also on the run, stayed for a time in Miss Lyons’ boarding house. I wish I knew more about Miss Lyons.

In Laugh a Defiance Mary Richardson relates that she had planned her attack on the RokebyVenus in advance – presumably while living under Miss Lyons’ roof. Indeed she states that she had sought approval from Christabel Pankurst for her plan. But never once in Laugh a Defiance  can I find any mention of the fact that since March 1912 Christabel had been living in Paris. Mary Richardson refers to her as though she were living close by, convenient for consultation. I find it difficult to believe that in those febrile months in 1914 Mary Richardson was in such close contact with Christabel. Did she, 40 years later, feel it necessary to justify her actions by implying that she was always ‘acting on orders’?

The sequence of events ran like this. Mrs Pankhurst was arrested in Glasgow during the evening of Monday 9 March – after something of a battle with the police at a meeting in the St Andrew’s Hall. Around her was a bodyguard of women –  one of whom was Mrs Lillian Dove-Willcox, with whom Mary Richardson was closely associated.

Lillian Dove-Willcox (photo courtesy Bath In Time website)

Lillian Dove-Willcox (photo courtesy Bath In Time website)

After one of her hunger strikes Mary had recuperated at Lillian’s cottage in the Wye Valley and their friendship seems to have lasted all Mary’s life.  Symbol Songs, a collection of poems she published in 1916 contains  ”The Translation of the Love I Bear Lillian Dove’ – and it was Lillian (by now, after remarriage, Mrs Lillian Buckley) who wrote Mary’s obituary for the Suffragette Fellowship newsletter.   It wouldn’t surprise me that if the ‘Rokeby Venus’ plan had been shared with anyone, it had been shared with Lilian Dove-Willcox, who travelled back from Glasgow on the train in which Mrs Pankhurst was being escorted by the police.

However the train stopped at a station short of Euston and Mrs Pankhurst was taken off it and driven straight to Holloway in order to avoid the suffragette crowds that were awaiting her at the terminus. The news of her arrest was in the Tuesday morning papers. I don’t really want to add any (quite gratuitous) speculation to Mary Richardson’s already rather unreliable memoir, but I’m going to anyway.

Could Mary Richardson have seen Lilian Dove-Willcox early that Tuesday morning and  heard first-hand of the dramatic events in the St Andrew’s Hall? And dramatic they were. It was a violent scene – with clubs wielded by the women and a gun – loaded with blanks – fired by Janie Allan, a wealthy Scottish supporter. A report from the front line, made by a close friend, or even the knowledge that such a friend had been involved in such a battle could have been the real catalyst for choosing this day of all days for putting her plan into action.  Doughty Street is only a short distance from Euston. Although Mary Richardson says in a radio interview that she was in the National Gallery as early as 10 am, The Times report, Wednesday 11 March, mentions that she was there at 11 .

Mary Richardson is not explicit as to whether she had already purchased her weapon of choice – a butcher’s chopper – although she does state that she bought it in the Theobald’s Road – a main road close to Doughty Street .However, because, as she repeatedly explains, she fixed the chopper into her sleeve with a chain of safety pins (though I can’t quite work out how the first in the chain was attached to the chopper??) it seems unlikely that she would have undertaken this rather cumbersome exercise on her way to the National Gallery, suggesting that she had the chopper already primed, as it were, in her room in the boarding house.

In another BBC radio interview, broadcast on 23 April 1961 – click here to listen to it – Mary Richardson revealed that she had chosen the Rokeby Venus  because she hated women being used as nudes in paintings – she had seen the picture gloated over by men, and she ‘thought it sensuous’. In the 1957 Woman’s Hour interview she mentioned that she felt the painting was held in high regard because it was so financially valuable  (it had cost £45,000 when purchased in 1906), whereas Mrs Pankhurst’s life counted for nothing. Presumably she was unaware that it was a fellow suffragist, Christiana Herringham, who had been the driving force in the setting up of the National Art Collections Fund – the organization that bought the painting for the nation.

In the later interviews Mary Richardson doesn’t mention that Mrs Pankhurst had only just been rearrested – but tells the story as though Mrs Pankhurst had been held for a long time, on hunger strike,  in a damp underground cell in Holloway – and that her life was in danger. But, as we see, Mrs Pankhurst could have barely reached Holloway by the time Mary set out from number 48.richardson laugh a defianceI have mentioned that Mary Richardson’s Laugh a Defiance  is an unreliable memoir. At the most basic level the account she gives of her involvement in the suffragette campaign is not chronologically accurate – rather she presents a series of incidents, in each of which she takes a starring role. I have little doubt that the purpose of Laugh a Defiance was to raise funds.  It doesn’t appear that Mary Richardson was ever in full-time employment and, although she had presumably inherited some money from her family,  at the end of her life the income must have dwindled. At the time of her death in 1961 she was living in a single room – in Hastings. Obviously in order for such a book to sell it did have to be packed with dramatic incident.

I can find no reviews of the book in contemporary newspapers or magazines – or, to be accurate, in ones that are now digitized. The only quote used in its publicity by the publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, was a remark by C.V. [Veronica] Wedgwood who on the radio programme, The Critics, described it as ‘A document – ingenious and absolutely genuine’. Well, yes, ‘ingenious’ is perhaps the word to describe Laugh a Defiance  for although Wedgwood was an historian she clearly had not interrogated the accuracy of the ‘document’.

Leaving aside quibbles about who did what, when or where, the book contains laughable examples of  ‘cod history’ – such as when Mary in Holloway describes her view onto what she describes as the site, in Elizabethan times, of the banqueting hall of the Earls of Warwick. Doubting very much that those Earls had ever had a London home in Parkhurst Road, Holloway, I did a little research to try to discover what had been in Mary Richardson’s mind. The answer: that when the prison was built in the mid-19th century the architect copied the design of the gatehouse from Warwick Castle. Such is the way that the most innocuous facts  become corrupted and I’m certain that Mary Richardson’s suffragette autobiography contains many more such elisions and half-truths.  Rubbed up and polished, they presented a dashing and easily digested history designed to appeal to the general reader.

I have always wondered what her fellow suffragettes made of Mary Richardson’s  Laugh a Defiance - and of her two broadcasts. The Suffragette Fellowship, the organization to which many former members of the WSPU and the Women’s Freedom League belonged, was by no means devoid of factional infighting. Certainly she appears to have felt quite at ease when, a couple of years after the book was published (but before the radio programmes were broadcast), she attended a Suffragette Fellowship reunion at Caxton Hall (you can watch her here on a Pathe newsreel as she shows her very distinctive hunger-strike medal to a policeman. I wonder if any comments were made about the accuracy of her recollections?

For instance, as far as I can discover,  no member of the WSPU ever mentioned that Mary Richardson was, as she claimed, at the Derby watching Emily Wilding Davison as she stepped into the path of the King’s horse. Why was such a valuable first-hand account not written up in The Suffragette  or Votes for Women? Why was she not called as a witness at the inquest? In her telling the expedition to Epsom was not clandestine –  rather she was following an order from Headquarters to go there to sell The Suffragette.  She doesn’t go so far as to say that she accompanied Emily Davison but somehow out of the seething Derby crowd – the hundreds of thousands that swarmed over Epsom Downs –  she was able to spot Emily and position herself at the opposite side of the track at Tattenham Corner. Exciting reading – but is it history?

However, Mary Richardson’s account in Laugh a Defiance of her attack on the Rokeby Venus  accords very accurately with the contemporary newspaper reports.  There was, of course, no need to dress up that drama – for she was (with Venus) undoubtedly the star of that particular episode.

As this is a blog post – not an academic article – I will allow myself another flight of fancy. I live not far from Doughty Street and am a regular passenger on the No 38 bus that runs along Theobalds Road.  By 1914 this bus route had been in operation for a couple of years and, unless Mary Richardson walked to the National Gallery, may well have carried her as far as Cambridge Circus, bringing her within striking distance, as it were, of the Gallery. It is these gossamer connections – the layers of history through which we pass – that continue to amuse me. If I were sufficiently fanciful I could link Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus  to both the number 38 bus, on which, incidentally, I travelled part of the way to my date with her in the Woman’s Hour studio, and to Charles Dickens, the shade of whose footstep she touched as she made her determined way over the threshold of 48 Doughty Street that March morning.

P.S. Coincidentally another nude, George Clausen’s Primavera,  attacked by Maude Kate Smith in the RA Summer Exhibition in 1914, was sold by Christies on 17 June 2014, the day after my Woman’s Hour piece – for £92,500. You can listen to Miss Smith describing how she attacked the painting in a recording held by the Women’s Library@LSE.

PPS Readers who have been kind enough to visit from the Persephone Books website and are of a ‘Persephone mind’ (although equipped with non-Persephone technology – ie an e-book reader) will, I hope, find a GOOD READ in the life of Kate Parry Frye – who was very much a ‘Persephone’ woman. Read all about her here.

Kate

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Suffrage Stories: Emily Wilding Davison: Centennial Celebrations

WHRThe Women’s History Review asked me to write a ‘Viewpoint’ about the 2013 100th anniversary commemoration of the death of Emily Wilding Davison.

EWD Funeral Procession Programme

The resulting article – ‘Emily Wilding Davison: centennial celebrations’ – is now available to read online at the WHR website. The first 50 viewers can access it free here. After the 50 viewings are exhausted, access, I’m afraid, is charged. But you can, of course, always read a print copy in your library!

EWD funeral

 

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