Lock-Down Research: A Hull Mystery. What Do You Think You Are Seeing Here?

I have had this postcard in stock for about 20 years but, because I couldn’t identify either the women or the occasion, I have never catalogued it. Now, however, ‘Lock-Down’ has given me plenty of time to puzzle and ponder.

The only clue is on the reverse, where the photographer’s name, ‘Duncan, 15 Anlaby Road, Hull’, is printed. William Harper Duncan photographed the people of Hull in the early 20th century, advertising that he specialised in ‘outdoor photography’. He was clearly the obvious man for this commission.

But who are the women? Where are they massed? And why?

When I bought the card I had no magnifying glass with me and had to rely on my eyesight to decipher the partial lettering on the poster on the left of the photo. The one very clear word is ‘Women’s’, while another looked as though it might be ‘Demonstration’. Anyway, the combination caught my attention and was sufficient to entice me to make a purchase, thinking I’d be able to puzzle out the story behind the picture.

Well, as I say, that was 20 years ago and it is only now that I’ve arrived at a partial answer. I’ve spent ages with the British Newspaper Archive trying to figure out what possible Hull Women’s Demonstration I was seeing.

From the weight of the costumes the women are wearing I deduced that it was taken in autumn/winter and from the style that it could be dated to c 1902-1908.

It was clearly an occasion that meant enough to the organisers for them to arrange for Mr Duncan to attend with his camera. However, although I investigated every women’s meeting in the period I couldn’t marry the season and time of day – for it was obviously not taken in  the evening – to any significant occasion. Of course I was hoping that I was looking at a suffrage demonstration but could not find evidence of any gathering that fitted into either the suffragist or suffragette campaigns. Nor was there any figure I recognised in the gathering – such as a visiting speaker sent to rouse the local society.

However, I had scanned the photo and blown it up to study the poster’s few visible letters and was once more wrestling with this puzzle when, yesterday, my eye strayed back to the figures wrapped in their winter coats and muffs and was suddenly caught by little dots of white that appeared on a fair number of breasts and lapels.

And there it was. The mystery was solved.

Those white ‘dots’ are in fact white badges – white ribbon badges – the insignia of the British Women’s Temperance Association. So this is a gathering – perhaps a Demonstration – of Hull Temperance women. Many of them may well have been supporters of the suffrage movement, but I think I can be fairly safe in assuming that they were gathered that day in Hull in a temperance capacity.

I have to confess that I’ve not been able to identify the building in front of which the women are standing. The obvious candidate would be the former Assembly Rooms, later rebuilt as the New Theatre, but the arrangement of pillars and steps doesn’t really fit. In the early years of the 20th c women’s groups met in a wide variety of halls and institutes around Hull, but this would appear to be grander and more municipal than most. Perhaps some Hull reader will be able to identify it?


And perhaps a reader, either from Hull or from anywhere else, might be interested in purchasing the card (£20 in fine condition, unposted) and carrying on the research. If so,  email me: elizabeth.crawford2017@outlook.com.


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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  1. #1 by theherstorianmum on July 6, 2020 - 1:50 pm

    Well done – love solving a mystery!

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