I find it so satisfying when I am able to bring a photograph such as this to life. I acquired it two years ago but have not yet catalogued it because I could identify neither the banner nor the occasion. However, a little tenacity, a few idle lock-down hours and – EUREKA – I have found the answer.
The card came, with many others, in the collection of suffrage postcards compiled by the Hodgson Sisters . From this context I assumed the card had a suffrage connection, but I had never seen or heard of the banner. The photographer, as you will see from the imprint, was A. Dron of Brondesbury – so, as the Hodgsons were living in West Hampstead, I assumed the occasion pictured occurred in the area.
Even with a magnifying glass I couldn’t make out much more detail and it was only when I scanned the card and blew up the image that I found at the bottom right of the banner what seemed to be the artist’s monogram and a date – W E G S 1910. I felt I was making progress, but I’d never come across those initials when compiling my Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists – and so was not much further forward.
I had tried searching for variations of ‘The Old Order Changeth’ in the British Newspaper Archive, but nothing relating to a banner had emerged. It was only when I searched for ‘banner’ in what I thought might be the local paper for Brondesbury in 1910, that the answer emerged. And it all seems so easy now.
The newspaper report in the Kilburn Times, 17 June 1910, revealed that the banner, a present to the North West London Union of the Women’s Social and Political Union, had been unfurled by Mrs Saul Solomon and was to be carried in the WSPU ‘Prison to Citizenship’ procession on Saturday 18 June. The artist was William Ewart Glasdstone Solomon [WEGS] (1880-1965), Mrs Solomon’s son.
Mrs Georgiana Solomon (1844-1933) was the widow of the governor-general of Cape Colony and had for many years been active in social reform and suffrage movements. By 1910 she was living in West Hampstead and had already been arrested once. Five months after the photograph was taken she was assaulted in the course of the notorious ‘Black Friday’ debacle in Parliament Square and in March 1912 was imprisoned after taking part in the WSPU window-smashing campaign. Her daughter, Daisy, who was also an active WSPU member, featured in one of their publicity stunts, sent in 1909 as a ‘human letter to 10 Downing Street. She also served a prison term and by 1912 was organizing secretary of the Hampstead branch of the WSPU.
Given the family association, it is not surprising that Mrs Solomon’s son, who had been a student at the Royal Academy Schools, should have put his art to the service of the Cause. He later became director of the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay (Mumbai) before eventually returning to South Africa, the land of his birth. He is classed as a ‘South African artist’ but we can now appreciate that one of his earlier works was in support of the British women’s suffrage movement.
The newspaper article includes the information that the banner depicts ‘two life-size figures, a man and a woman, and the idea which the artist apparently means to convey is the dawn of a new era of political sex equality. The lettering ‘Political equality’ and ‘The old order changeth, giving place to new’ is conspicuous on the canvas’. I haven’t been able to spot the words ‘Political equality’, but perhaps they are on the reverse.
The Kilburn Times report tells us that the unfurling of the ‘Old Order Changeth’ banner took place at ‘Plympton House’, 154 Willesden Lane, which was the home of Mr and Mrs A.A. Jones, and that speeches were made by Helen Ogston and Flora Drummond. Mrs Eleanor Penn Gaskell was also present. Alas, I cannot identify the two young women holding the banner. Possible candidates that spring to mind are Daisy Solomon and Helen Ogston, but neither look quite like the women in the photograph. Nor are they, I think, any of the Hodgson Sisters.
I now see that the report for the WSPU N.W. London branch carried in the issue of Votes for Women for17 June 1910 declares ‘Let no local women miss the chance of walking in the great Procession under Mr W. E. Gladstone Solomon’s most beautiful banner’.
And there I rest my case…so pleased to have retrieved the story behind this most intriguing of photographs.