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Posted in Suffrage Stories on September 25, 2017
When I gave a keynote talk -‘ Surrounded by Suffrage: Situating Shaw, Wells and the LSE in Suffrage Sites’ – at the joint H.G. Wells Society/Shaw Society’/ LSE Language Centre conference at LSE on 23 September 2017 the constraints of time meant that I was unable to include all that I would have liked to have said about this stained glass panel. I am, therefore, taking the opportunity my blog affords of relaying a little more of my research into this most interesting artefact.
The panel may be construed as a political allegory on the early years of the Fabian Society. Its artist was Caroline Townshend (1878-1944).
Received opinion has it that it was Bernard Shaw who designed the panel and I can find no original evidence one way or the other to back or disprove the claim. Received opinion – such as the article about the window on the LSE website – also has it that Caroline Townshend was commissioned to make it by GBS. However, I have discovered an item in the London Daily News, 8 November 1911, that explicitly states ‘The political allegory in stained glass which Miss Caroline Townshend, the well-known artist, has just completed for Mrs G.B. Shaw, conveys a good deal of humour and not a little kindly satire’.
It would hardly be surprising if it were Mrs Charlotte Shaw who had commissioned the work. The artist, Caroline Townshend, was not only a fellow Fabian but her own first cousin. Charlotte’s father, Horace Payne-Townshend, was half-brother to Caroline’s father, Chambrey Corker Townshend. Horace, as the first born, had inherited the greater part of the Townshend estate – allowing his daughters to be brought up in considerable comfort – while the family of Chambrey Townshend were very much less financially secure.
Both these fathers seem to have been rather ineffectual characters, married to very much more assertive wives. However, while Horace’s wife, Charlotte’s mother, was a frivolous termagant, Caroline’s mother, Emily Townshend, was much- admired, intellectually curious, and socially conscious. As Emily Gibson she had been one of the Girton Pioneers – one of the five first students at the college at Hitchen that later became Girton. One of her fellow Pioneers was Isabella Townshend, whose brother, Chambrey, Emily married in 1873. She had left Hitchen the year before without completing her degree course.
My researches (see here) indicate that Isabella Townshend had left Hitchen at the same time and then set up as an interior decorator with a Mrs Hartley Brown (whom I’ve so far been unable to identify). Emily Faithfull, when discussing new trade opportunities that were opening for women, mentioned in Three Visits to America (1884) that ‘Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend, soon after entering into partnership, were appropriately employed in decorating Merton College, and devised with much success some new stuffs for the chairs and sofas for the use of Cambridge girl graduates.’ (‘Merton College’ was an early manifestation of what became Newnham.)
Another of Chambrey Townshend’s sisters, Anne, was involved from 1888, when she was its first secretary, until 1910 with the Ladies’ Residential Chambers Company (the founders of which included Agnes Garrett and Millicent Fawcett – for more on the LRC see here). She had trained as a nurse, been a matron at the Hospital for Hip Disease in Childhood before by 1882 moving into philanthropic administration as secretary of the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants (MABYs).
These interesting women were cousins to Charlotte Payne-Townshend, the future Mrs GBS, although there is nothing about them in her biography by Janet Dunbar or, as far as I can discover, in any of the many biographies of Bernard Shaw. Charlotte fervently lamented the sterility of her early life and one wonders if she knew anything of the enterprises undertaken by her cousins. If she had, one imagines she would have rather envied them.
In the 1870s Isabella and Chambrey Townshend moved in artistic socialist circles, as close friends of Walter and Lucy Crane. Chambrey was an architect of whom his wife later wrote ‘Chambrey Townshend had little push and no business ability to back up his remarkable artistic abilities.’ He worked as an assistant for George Edmund Street but never set up his own practice. Emily eventually decided that the family could live cheaper abroad and this they did – in France and Switzerland – from 1886 until 1893.
Caroline was born in 1878, the fourth of Emily and Chambrey’s five children. After the family’s return from Europe she was for a time a pupil at Wycombe Abbey School before, by 1901, becoming a pupil to the leading stained-glass artist, Christopher Whall.
Charlotte Shaw was twenty years older than Caroline Townshend and had been brought up in very much more financially secure circumstances – yet she, Caroline, and Emily came to share the same social and political philosophy. Whether or not there had been earlier contact it is certain that in the early years of the 20th century their paths most certainly did cross – all being early members of the Fabian Society. Even so, the names of Emily and Caroline Townshend do not occur in Shaw’s published letters, although the LSE archives holds a few photographs showing Caroline’s sister, Rachel, on holiday in Wales with Charlotte Shaw (see, for instance, here).
So, if the Shaws were thinking of commissioning a stained glass panel, they knew they had an artist in the family who could accomplish it. Or, could it have been the other way round? Perhaps having a stained-glass artist in the family was too good an opportunity to miss. Perhaps Charlotte Shaw thought she must put her cousin’s talent to use. Did she discuss with GBS how this might be achieved? And did he then sketch out that political allegory? There are so many mysteries surrounding the panel. What was the purpose behind the commission? Where had they intended to place it? In their London apartment at 10 Adelphi Terrace –or at their country home Ayot St Lawrence – or in the Fabian Office? Whatever the intention, the panel was still in Caroline Townshend’s possession at the time of her death in 1944. It seems very odd that it should have been discussed in the press in 1911 – and yet wasn’t claimed by one or other of the Shaws. Was Caroline paid for it?
Caroline also retained the original design for the panel – the cartoon – which in 1954 was given by Joan Howson, her artistic and life partner (they traded as Townshend and Howson) to Wimbledon’s William Morris House in memory of Emily and Caroline Townshend. Emily Townshend had lived in Wimbledon and, with Caroline, was a shareholder in Wimbledon Labour Halls Co-operative Society Limited – also known as William Morris House.
Information on the William Morris House website (see here) states that the Fabian Society panel was made at the William Morris Works at Merton. I think this is probably mistaken. Emily and Caroline Townshend had in 1931 given WMH two Burne-Jones windows. These had been given by Burne-Jones to Chambrey Townshend and would have been made at the William Morris Works, but Caroline Townshend’s panel was almost certainly made at the Glass House, Lettice Street, Fulham, where she had a studio from c 1910 until the 1920s.
The Glass House had been set up in 1906 by a stained glass craftswoman, Mary Lowndes, to provide facilities for other stained glass artists and had proved most successful in attracting young women to the craft. Mary Lowndes was one of the founders of the Artists’ Suffrage League but I’ve found no clear evidence that Caroline Townshend was a member. The ASL records (held in the Women’s Library@LSE) are scanty but, as Mary Lowndes’ involvement with preparations for suffrage events was at times overwhelming, Caroline Townshend must have been only too well aware of all that activity and it would seem likely that, even if she were not a formal member, she would have lent a hand on occasion. Anyway, if she wasn’t an active suffrage supporter, her mother and sister certainly were. In 1907, Emily Townshend, then aged 57, spent two weeks in Holloway after being involved in a suffragette protest and in 1909 was followed by Rachel, who spent two months in prison. Caroline was living at home during this time and could not but help be swept up in the drama. So, by the time Caroline Townshend received the Fabian commission in 1910, she was surrounded by suffrage talk and activity at home and at work.
Of the kneeling female figures that on the far right is Caroline Townshend and two of the other figures demonstrate a strong connection between Fabianism and suffrage. The figure third from the right is Mary Hankinson, who was a very active suffragette – and from 1905 until 1948 a member of the Fabian Society. A teacher of physical education, she was hired in 1907 to give instruction in Swedish drill and country dancing at the first Fabian Summer School – funded by Charlotte Shaw – and from then until 1938 she was general manager of all Fabian summer schools. She was also a member of the Women’s Freedom League, one of the militant suffrage societies, and was president of the Gymnastic Teachers’ Suffrage Society. Her brother was Unitarian chaplain to Holloway prison and was used by Christabel Pankhurst as a conduit of information to and from suffragette prisoners. The suffrage collection he amassed includes a copy of Saint Joan presented to Mary Hankinson by Shaw, who wrote in it a very Shavian inscription ‘To Mary Hankinson, the only woman I know who does not believe she was a model for Joan, but also the only woman who actually was.’
On the stained glass panel between Mary Hankinson and Charlotte Townshend is the figure of Mabel Atkinson, who was a postgraduate student at LSE, a member of the executive committee of the Fabian Society from 1909 until 1915 and chairman of the Suffrage Section of the Fabian Women’s Group when it was formed in 1911. She was involved with Mary Hankinson in the development of the Summer School and was also a donor to and speaker for the WSPU.
In passing it’s worth noting a little remarked fact – that Charlotte Shaw was one of the WSPU’s most generous benefactors: for instance in March 1908 she gave them £100 and on 21 June took part in a spectacular WSPU procession – walking with the Fabians under the Society’s banner, which was carried by Maud Pember Reeves. Shaw watched from the pavement as she passed.
You can read more here about the iconography of the Fabian stained glass panel and of its rather idiosyncratic history between 1944 and 2006, when it finally came to rest in the care of LSE. There it has most appropriately been installed in the Shaw Library, a room that commemorates not GBS, but Charlotte Shaw, who was a most generous benefactor to the LSE.
Charlotte Shaw was a very interesting woman – who evaded the limelight. At the Shaw/Wells/LSE conference we were treated to an excerpt from ‘Mrs Shaw Herself’ – a one-woman show – with musical accompaniment- about her. I thoroughly enjoyed this and thought I must let you all know that there will be a full perfomance next Saturday (30 Sept 2017) in St Lawrence Church in Ayot St Lawrence, the village where she and GBS made their home.
Posted in Suffrage Stories on July 24, 2017
When the film ‘The Suffragette’ was released in 2015 there was a minor furore over the fact that no black and minority ethnic women were represented in the story. As one of the consultants on the film, I was asked to comment on this and, indeed, at the event held at LSE at which the director and one of the producers talked about the film, the first question from the floor was on this point. For a podcast of this event click here.
My message then was that the film was indeed a true representation of the ethnic demographic of the British women’s suffrage movement, which overwhelmimgly was comprised of white women. However, finding the subject so interesting, over the last couple of years I’ve done more research on the subject and, although I have nothing startlingly new to report, thought it might be interesting to set out my findings.
There’s no doubt that the birth of the women’s suffrage campaign is closely linked with the anti-slavery campaign, and hence with race. The first spark that ignited the American suffrage campaign, which pre-dated the British one, was actually struck in London, in the entrance hall of the British Museum. For more information on this aspect of the campaign, do read an article I wrote for the BBC website – From Abolition to the Vote. For my extended article on the subject see here.
When the British suffrage campaign was launched in 1866, as far as we know only one woman of colour signed the first suffrage petition. She was Sarah Remond, an African-American who lectured on anti-slavery and women’s rights. There is, however, little evidence of the subsequent involvement of black and minority ethnic women in the suffrage campaign. This is really not surprising since, although people of colour had long settled in Britain, they constituted a very small percentage of the population until after the end of the Second World War. Moreover during the period of the suffrage campaign men were disproportionately represented in this community, by, in particular, Chinese, West Indian, and African seamen who settled in London and other port cities and were then absorbed into British society. Women of their families tended not to travel with them.
It may be that black and minority ethnic men and women did support the women’s suffrage campaign but, because it is difficult to discover an individual’s ethnic origin, they are now ‘hidden from history’. At the time of the suffrage campaign census records only documented a person’s place of birth and this is no guide to ethnic origin because so many white British men and women were born in Africa, India, or the West Indies. It is necessary to search for other clues, such as the form of a person’s name. However no suffrage campaigner with, say, an obviously African or Chinese name has been noted and research is complicated because migrants from the Caribbean had, for reasons associated with the unhappy history of the islands, acquired surnames that made them indistinguishable from white British men and women. Only in newspaper reports might an individual’s ethnic origin be mentioned and, although the suffrage campaign occupied so much newsprint over the years, no such comments have been uncovered.
The only individuals of (part) Caribbean heritage whom one could say were to some degree supportive of the suffrage campaign were two men, Donald Adolphus Knight and John Richard Archer. Both were born in England to black sailor fathers and white British mothers.
In 1906 Knight stood by his wife, Adelaide, when she went to prison for demonstrating outside a politician’s house. Adelaide was white British and a member of the Canning Town branch of the WSPU. See here for a photograph of Donald and Adelaide Knight.
Twelve years later Archer, elected mayor of Battersea in 1913, the first black person to hold such a position in London, acted as election agent for Charlotte Despard, the leader of the WFL, when she stood as the Labour candidate for North Battersea in the 1918 general election. Actually I’m pretty certain that his support was more for Mrs Despard as a Labour party member than for her as a suffrage campaigner. I can find no evidence of Archer or his wife, Bertha (who was a Canadian of African descent) attending any suffrage meeting in Battersea nor is Archer mentioned in either of Mrs Despard’s biographies. It may be, however, that close scrutiny of local papers around Battersea just might uncover some direct connection between Archer and the suffrage campaign. I understand that a researcher, commissioned relatively recently to comb through Despard’s diaries by an author interested in Archer, found no mention of him. What a pity.
It is likely that Archer did come into contact with another suffragette – Mrs Beatrice Sanders, the WSPU’s financial secretary. She lived with her husband at 18 Brynmaer Road, Battersea; Archer at no 55. Beatrice’s husband, William Sanders, was a LCC radical alderman and would surely have known Archer, with whom he worked closely in the Battersea Labour party many years later.
Historians have searched for visual evidence of the presence of black or minority ethnic men and women in the many hundreds of photographs that chronicle the suffrage campaign. Of these only a handful, featuring a few Indian women, demonstrate such an involvement. Of the women whose names we know all were of high social status. One, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, was an active member of the WSPU, and is now the subject of a biography. The others, who were probably members of the WFL, include Mrs P.L. Roy (Lolita Roy), the wife of Piera Lal Roy, the director of public prosecutions in Calcutta, and her daughter, Mrs Leila Mukerjea.
Mrs Roy had come to London with her six children in 1901, apparently for the sake of their education, and lived at 77 Brook Green, Hammersmith, close to St Paul’s School, where her sons were pupils. Her eldest daughter, Leilavati, married Satya W. Mukerjea in 1910. Both women, along with Mrs Bhagwati Bhola Nauth, are definitely known to have taken part in the Indian section of the 1911 ‘Coronation Procession’. Indeed Mrs Roy was one of its organisers. It is likely that the other two young women in the photograph are Mrs Roy’s younger daughters, Miravati (aged 21) and Hiravati (aged 15).
In 1910 Mrs Roy was president of the London Indian Union Society (an Indian Nationalist organisation) and ‘Mrs Mukerjea’, presumably Leilavati, succeeded her in 1911. Mrs Jane Cobden Unwin, who was a co-organiser with Mrs Roy of the Indian section of the ‘Coronation Procession, also attended Indian Union Society functions.
At the end of the 19th century another Indian, Dadabhai Naoroji, elected in 1892 as Britain’s first ethnic minority MP, had been wholly supportive of women’s suffrage and was a member of the council of the Women’s Franchise League. Conversely, many British suffrage campaigners, like Jane Cobden Unwin, supported the nationalist movements in India and Africa.
Apart from this photograph and those in which Princess Sophia Duleep Singh appears I have seen no evidence of the presence of BAME women in attendance at any suffrage event – either as protagonists or as onlookers. However, I hope that, as the spotlight is shone more intensely on local histories of the suffrage campaign, something more of the involvement of BAME women and men will be revealed. Do let me know of anything you uncover.
‘Hunger Striking For The Vote’: An Afterword to ‘There Are Five Ways Out Of This Room’ by Michelle Green
Posted in Suffrage Stories on July 6, 2017
PUBLISHED TODAY – 6 JULY 2017
A few months ago I was pleased to be asked by Comma Press to provide an Afterword to a short story by Michelle Green to be published in this most interesting collection of short stories. The premise behind the book is that each story highlights an episode of protest in Britain’s history and that each story is then, in an Afterword, set in its historical context. The result is a most satisfying volume – fuelling the imagination while also throwing light on the circumstances that led the characters, both real and fictional, to act in the way that they did.
For instance, Michelle Green’s story, There Are Five Ways Out of this Room, has as its central character a hunger-striking suffragette based, to a degree, on the figure of Annie Kenney. Michelle’s lyrical prose enters so perceptively the suffragette’s mind, capturing the surreal atmosphere produced by starving incarceration. I was bowled over by it. My task was merely to provide the historical backdrop – setting out the sequence of events that led such women to undergo such terrible suffering.
The historians include Prof Sally Alexande, on ‘Women’s Liberation in the 1970s’, an Afterword to Maggie Gee’s story on ‘May Hobbs’, leader of the Night Cleaners’ Strike; Lyn Barlow on Greenham Common, an Afterword to Joanna Quinn’s Story The Stars are in the Sky; Prof David Waddington on The Battle of Orgreave, an Afterword to Withen by Martyn Bedford; Dr Gordon Pentland on The Scottish Insurrection, April 1820, as an Afterword to Laura Hiind’s story Spun; Dr Katrina Navickas on The Pentrich Rising, 1871, an Afterword to Trying Lydia by Andy Hedgecock; Dr Ariel Hessayon on Venner’s Rising, 1817, as an Afterword to A Fiery Flag Unfurled on Coleman Street by Frank Cottrell-Boyce; Russ Hickman on The Grosvenor Square Demo, 1968, an Afterword to Banner Bright, by Alexei Sayle; Dr John Drury on The Poll Tax Riot, 1990 as an Afterword to That Right to Be There by Courtia Newland, and Prof Laleh Khalili on The Anti-Iraq War Demo, 2003 as an Afterword to The Turd Tree by Kate Clanchy.
All the stories are memorably engaging and the Afterwords free of academic jargon.
Published by Comma Press – for full details see here
Comma Press were last week declared Northern Publisher of the Year at the Northern Soul awards and in the same week were awarded funding by Arts Council England.
Posted in Suffrage Stories on June 13, 2017
Having had occasion recently to study this photograph, I felt compelled to attempt to deconstruct its meaning. Why should a young woman, chained to a row of railings, be photographed in an otherwise empty street?
I know, of course, that suffragettes, chains, and railings are a well-known trope – although am unsure how often that ploy was actually used during the Edwardian suffragette campaign. But why was this woman photographed in this particular place? If she was actively protesting one might expect her to be surrounded by policemen or, at the least, crowds of onlookers.
I believe that this is, in fact, a staged event, re-enacting an earlier chaining that took place when there was no photographer to capture the scene. An artist did, however, reconstruct the protest.
Some time ago someone – and I can’t remember who – mentioned to me that they thought the woman was Helen Fox, a member of the Women’s Freedom League, who, with the intrepid Muriel Matters, chained herself to the grille in the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons on 28 October 1908. You can read about the incident here.
Moreover, my informant suggested that the photograph may have been taken very close to the Women’s Freedom League office at 1 Robert Street, just south of the Strand. I had a hazy memory that the person who might have told me this was Naomi Paxton, whose research centres on the Actresses’ Franchise League, which had its office at 2 Robert Street. When I put my query to Naomi she replied that she doubted that she was the source of my information but most kindly suggested that, as she was working in the Strand, she’d take a detour to Robert Street. And this is the result.
I think that there is no doubt that it was at this street corner that Helen Fox stood in order to have her photograph taken. Photographs, interior shots, also exist of her sitting with the chains wrapped round her waist; presumably the purpose of this street photograph was to demonstrate more clearly what could be done with a length of chain and a padlock. As well as, by association, immortalising Helen Fox’s action in the House of Commons. I imagine that, as the site was adjacent to their office, the Women’s Freedom League had arranged for this photograph to be taken as fuel for their propaganda campaign.