Archive for category Walks
One day last week, while thunder raged outside, I spent some time researching an archive at the William Morris Society premises in Upper Mall, Hammersmith. Just before I left I remembered that close by was the home of Thomas and Anne Cobden Sanderson – the former a renowned Arts and Crafts bookbinder and the latter a campaigner for women’s suffrage, constitutional in the 19th and militant in the 20th century.
The rain had stopped by the time I emerged from the William Morris basement, but the sky was lowering and the Thames was high and rushing fast the other side of the embankment wall as I walked towards the alley onto which the Cobden Sandersons’ house fronts. Passing the Dove – the pub which gave its name to the Doves Bindery and later the Doves Press – I came to 15 Upper Mall and the gate through which so many radical worthies have passed.
Anne Cobden Sanderson was born in 1853 into a leading Liberal family – her father was Richard Cobden, founder of the Anti-Corn Law League – but by the end of the 19th century she had joined the Independent Labour party.
She supported the women’s suffrage cause from an early age but, in 1906, after Annie Kenney and the Women’s Social and Political Union had arrived in London, she joined the militants. She received her first term of imprisonment – two months – in October 1906 after organising a protest meeting in the Lobby of the House of Commons. At her trial she declaimed that ‘I am a law breaker because I want to be a law maker’.
However in 1907, perhaps dismayed by Pankhurst autocracy, Anne joined Charlotte Despard in the breakaway Women’s Freedom League. In January 1909 she and her husband did, however, present Emmeline Pankhurst with an address written on white vellum in purple and green ink and bound by the Doves Bindery to celebrate her release from prison.
Anne Cobden Sanderson proved to be one of the WFL’s most tireless campaigners, speaking at outdoor meetings and continuing to take part in militant protests.
She was arrested in August 1909 while picketing the door of No 10 Downing Street in order to present a petition to Asquith. During the ‘Black Friday’ demonstration in Parliament Square in November 1910 Winston Churchill, who knew Anne Cobden Sanderson well, encountering her during the fracas called a policeman and ordered, ‘Drive that woman away’!’. The structure of society must indeed have seemed perilously close to crumbling when such an action was deemed necessary against a friend of one’s family and erstwhile hostess.
Anne Cobden Sanderson continued to campaign for women’s causes for the rest of her life – and in the 1918 General Election supported Charlotte Despard when she stood as the Labour candidate for North Battersea. In 1926 she was present, a few days before she died, at a dinner given to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence.
It is sited in Christchurch Gardens, a paved turning running from Victoria Street, Westminster, towards Caxton Hall and was commissioned by the Suffragette Fellowship to commemorate ‘ the courage and perseverance of all those men and women who in the long struggle for votes for women selflessly braved derision, opposition and ostracism, many enduring physical violence and suffering.’ The Memorial was unveiled in 1970, on 14 July, Emmeline Pankhurst’s official birthday .
I find it interesting that it took nearly 60 years from the time that the WSPU had, to all intents and purposes, disbanded for the survivors to commemorate with a piece of public art (rather than a plaque, of which there are several related to the suffrage movement) any others than the Pankhursts (that is, Emmeline and Christabel).
I am not aware of any documentation associated with the decision to commission Lorne McKean and Edwin Russell, the young (husband and wife) couple who designed the memorial, although I have noticed that in most citations it is Russell alone who is usually named as its sculptor. I have been in touch with Lorne McKean (Edwin Russell died in 2013) and she comments:
‘Edwin (my husband) and I worked on many of our sculptures together. Usually one of us took the leadership on a particular sculpture and in the case of the Suffragette memorial this was Edwin. I do recall that the actual idea that developed from just the idea of a shape more like a memorial grave stone to the S shaped scroll that you now see developed organically between us. We have always been really bad at signing things as it always seems to us the least relevant part of the work. But have grown to appreciate that it is interesting to others’.
I like the hint that the scroll design may have evolved from first equating ‘memorial’ with ‘gravestone’.
However, the only other primary evidence I can show you of the event – and the thinking behind it -comes from the pages of the 1971 edition of Calling All Women, the Suffragette Fellowship Newsletter.
And yet…and yet….While the inside pages of the 1971 edition of Calling All Women were given over to reports of the unveiling of this new memorial – one intended to commemorate the involvement of all suffragettes – what was the image chosen for the cover? Yes, of course, Mrs Pankhurst. Once again, the power of her image – set so splendidly against the Palace of Westminster – had trumped that of the newcomer.
It is as though, even at this late stage in the history of the suffragette movement, there was a force at work intent on proving that maxim put forward by Thomas Carlyle (incidentally one of Mrs Pankhurst’s favourite writers – and she wasn’t a great reader) that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men’ or, of course, women. This is not a sentiment that appeals to me and may explain why I have devoted so many years to uncovering the lives of those suffrage campaigners who were by no means great. It is just these women – and men – that the Suffragette Fellowship Memorial is there to commemorate.
So -pay a visit to Christchurch Gardens, think of your favourite non-famous suffragette – and contemplate.
See also this Parliament and Women in the 20th Century blog post.
The Actresses’ Franchise League was founded in December 1908. Its purpose was to stage propaganda plays, the majority of which were specially written by members, hold meetings, sell suffrage literature and give lectures. Kate Frye, who considered herself a professional actress, attended her first meeting of the AFL on 23 March 1909.
The venue for this first meeting, 3 Bedford Street, Covent Garden – just a few steps from The Strand – was very familiar to Kate. For on 11 December 1901 she had gone through that door and climbed the stairs to the studio and office near the top of the building where actor/manager Ben Greet ran his Acting Academy. There and then Kate had enrolled as a drama student. The story of her time at the Academy and her subsequent stage career is told in The Great War: The People’s Story – Kate Parry Frye: Edwardian actress and suffragette – which ITV will be publishing as an e-book in August to coincide with their The Great War: The People’s Story series.
Of that first AFL meeting Kate wrote in her diary:
‘Tuesday March 23rd 1909
[Afternoon] went by bus to Bedford Street, Strand – the old Ben Greet Academy Room where we used to rehearse – to the Actresses’ League for Women Franchise meeting. Who should be there but Miss [Ada] Moore, who introduced me to Eva Moore and as she is going to be on our Dance Committee we shall meet again on Monday. She didn’t seem to like me much but I am used to treating all Suffrage women as merely women not little Queens. I had a long talk to Miss Moore who was charming as ever.
Kate had known Ada Moore quite well since the late 1890s – and was rather entranced by all the Moore sisters. During her time as a suffrage organizer, she often arranged meetings at which another Moore sister, Mrs Emily Pertwee, was the speaker. Eva Moore had obviously been a little too distant for Kate’s liking when they met on this occasion. She eventually resigned from the AFL after a play written for them by her husband, H.V. Esmond, was deemed too light-hearted for its propaganda purpose.
Although the lower half of the building appears to be empty at the moment – and a little sad – it’s not difficult to imagine the tyro actors and actresses – numbering among them Sybil Thorndike – climbing the stairs to the top of the building to be put through their paces by Ben Greet. Or the members of the AFL feeling at home in a building decorated with wreaths and swags.
A month later – in April 1909 – the AFL began to hold their meetings in the Criterion Restaurant. Kate was a regular attender at these meetings, often acted as a steward and faithfully recorded in her diary her impression of the occasions. For more about the AFL at the Criterion see here.
For more about Kate Frye and her involvement in the suffrage campaign see here.
Now that the Women’s Library Reading Room is open on the 4th floor of LSE Library, here is another idea for those who might want to stretch their legs during their visit.
Why not take a gentle meander along Fleet Street and visit Queen Elizabeth I as she stands in her niche over what was the entrance to the Parochial School attached to the church of St Dunstans in the West? Not only is this thought to be the only surviving statue of the Queen carved in her lifetime, but she has a very close connection to Millicent Fawcett, in whose honour the Fawcett Library (as the Women’s Library was originally known) was named.
It is thought that the statue was carved in 1586. It then led a rather adventurous life before coming to rest in this niche on the facade of St Dunstans in the West when the church was rebuilt here in the 1830s. Nearly a century later it was in a dilapidated state and its restoration was financed by Dame Millicent Fawcett and her sister, Agnes Garrett, together with ‘Miss Jones of Lincoln’s Inn’ and Gwen John. The latter was not, as is sometimes stated, Gwen John the artist, but Gwen John, playwright and actress, author of a biography ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and a play ‘Gloriana’. Gwen John, whose real name was Gladys Jones, lived with Winifred Jones (‘Miss Jones’), presumably her sister, at 9 Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn. See here for National Portrait Gallery of this Gwen John.
In a rather neat sequence of events, on 28 June 1928 Dame Millicent Fawcett presided at the Annual General Meeting of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, at which the preservation of old churches was the topic of discussion, on 2 July the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, for which she had been campaigning since 1866, became law, and on 31 July she unveiled the restored statue of Queen Elizabeth I. See the unveiling here, although Millicent Fawcett, modest as ever, cannot be seen. However the curtain she caused to be moved, moves. Which is sort of symbolic of the influence she exerted during her long life.
While the statue was undergoing restoration it was discovered that it had originally been coloured. So, the statue was repainted, following the original colours as closely as possible. The farthingale and corsage were white, the face was tinted a flesh colour and her crown was gilded. Alas, this colouring is no longer obvious to the passer-by and the Queen has rather faded back into the facade of the building.
Millicent Fawcett died just a few days over a year after unveiling the statue and in her will left £700 towards its upkeep, although that fund may now have been exhausted and wound up.
If you wanted to pause, you could combine veneration of the Virgin Queen and thoughts of the venerable suffrage campaigner with a coffee from the stall that is now a permanent fixture just below her niche.
Ever since the decision was made for the Women’s Library to move to LSE (now open as the Women’s Library @ LSE) I have been writing posts that draw attention to the many locations associated with the women’s movement in the area around Aldwych and the Strand. My hope is that researchers in the Women’s Library, when taking a break from their labours, will welcome some information that will allow them to see the surrounding area with fresh eyes.
Today I would like to direct your attention to the site between Portugal Street and Sardinia Street that now houses the Peacock Theatre. Many readers will have been to that theatre, rather oddly sited in the basement of a modern office-type block – if only to take younger members of the family to the annual Christmas treat of ‘The Snowman’. Have you ever wondered why there is a theatre there – in what is now a rather untheatrical area? The answer is related to the wonderful building in the photograph below.
The London Opera House, its rooftop adorned with figures representing Melody and Harmony, opened 102 years ago today – on 13 November 1911. It occupied an entire block of Kingsway, between Portugal Street and Sardinia Street, and was built for Oscar Hammerstein (Sr) , whose idea was that it should rival the Covent Garden Opera House. The building was opulent and enormous, capable of seating over 2600 people.
Its first season ran from its opening until March 1912, when there was then a hiatus. It was this lack of a follow-up season that, I think, accounts for the fact that on Friday 15 March it was available to be hired for a ‘Suffragists’ non-militant and non-party demonstration’ by the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. Kate Frye was its organizer and in Campaigning for the Vote you can read of her efforts, which included mustering the banners of the various suffrage societies – she collected that of the WSPU from Mrs Garrud’s gym – in order to decorate the auditorium. Eva Moore and May Whitty of the Actresses’ Franchise League were amongst the suffragists on the platform, very fitting in such a theatrical venue.
It was not the first time in its short life that the Opera House had held a suffragette meeting. The previous week, the police, on the hunt for Christabel Pankhurst who had given them the slip from nearby Clement’s Inn, searched the Opera House, where she was reported to be hiding. However the New York Times reported that all they found was ‘Oscar Hammerstein sitting alone in state at a big table in the vestibule, with a printed notice behind him reading “Subscriptions department for the Grand Opera Summer Season”.’ The reporter described how ‘Outside the Opera House were posters announcing tomorrow’s meeting’ ‘So you are a sympathiser’, said the correspondent to Mr Hammerstein. ‘I don’t know anything about it,’ he replied, ‘except that I let the opera house to them before they started on their stunts, and can’t break the contract, or else they might break up the opera house’.
The London Opera House was so well-placed in the middle of suffrage society territory – and right beside the Tea Cup Inn, a favourite haunt – that it was to be the venue for various other suffrage meetings.
Hammerstein’s Summer Season was his last at the London Opera House and in July he gave up and returned to America. The theatre re-opened in December, staging variety shows and showing films, but not before it had once again, on 4 November, been hired by the suffrage societies who held a joint meeting protesting at the proposed reform bill.
It was at the London Opera House on 8 September 1914 that Christabel re-appeared when her exile came to an end, beginning her speech by saying ‘It is very good to be back in one’s own country again, amongst one’s own friends’ – and ending by promising ‘[The war] will sweep away, it must and shall sweep away, the superstition, the narrowness, the jealousy, the suicidal folly which have made of our country two opposing camps – the enfranchised men in one, and the voteless women in the other’.
From 1917 -1940 the building became a cinema – the Stoll Picture House – but from 1942 to 1957 reverted to live theatre – before being demolished in 1958. Planning permission for the replacement building required the incorporation of a theatre – hence The Peacock.
The office block has now, I see, been taken over by King’s College, which is marching up Kingsway into LSE territory. It is now known as the ‘Virginia Woolf Building’. Which allows my imagination another suffrage spin – to visualise Mary Datchet returning down Kingsway from her suffrage society office in Russell Square to her flat near the Strand. She glances at the poster outside the London Opera House advertising a suffrage meeting (perhaps her society, the PDS, would have been taking part but perhaps, as it probably supported adult, rather than women’s suffrage, not). Little did she suspect that her creator’s name would 100 years later adorn its – rather less – opulent – successor.
The copy of Christabel Pankurst’s 8 September 1914 speech, The War, referred to above will be for sale in my next catalogue.
For much more about the London Opera House and its successors click here.
Ever since the decision was made for the Women’s Library to move to LSE (now open as the Women’s Library @ LSE) I have been writing posts that draw attention to the many locations associated with the women’s movement in the area around Aldwych and the Strand. My hope is that researchers in the Women’s Library, when taking a break from their labours, will welcome some information that will allow them to see the surrounding area with fresh eyes. Today I would like to direct your attention to Craven House – on the north-east side of Kingsway.
I had long thought that I must find out more about the rather intriguing life – and death – of the woman whom I knew to have been in business there, but the building has spent a long time under scaffolding and it was only when it recently re-emerged that I turned my attention to it. To my pleasure – and rather to my relief – I then discovered that the research has already been undertaken. For Stephen Walker, of the Cardiff Business School, has published an excellent short study of the life of Mrs Ethel Ayres Purdie in Critical Perspectives in Accounting, vol 22, issue 1, 2011. I would most heartily commend this article to all those interested in practical suffragism. (I see that a copy of the journal is available for consultation in the LSE Library.)
It was in Craven House that around 1908 Mrs Ethel Ayres Purdie put up a brass plate to indicate that her accountancy practice was open for business. A few months later, in May 1909, she was elected a member of the London Association of Accountants and thus became the first woman in Britain to be admitted to an accountancy organisation. (The LAA is now subsumed in the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, based close to the Women’s Library at 29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields.)
Rather as Elizabeth Garrett was able to qualify as a doctor only by finding and exploiting a fault-line in the medical educational system, so Mrs Ayres Purdie was only able to obtain membership of a professional organisation because the LAA was recently formed and not yet entrenched in tradition. It had been called into being in 1904 to address the needs of accountants debarred for one reason or another – such as the inability to serve a long period of articles – from the senior organisations. Mrs Ayres Purdie had, of course, on account of her sex, already been rejected by the senior, more prestigious, accountancy associations. In fact even the LAA rejected her on her first application, but a few months later more enlightened elements persuaded the Association to accept her. Yet another barrier that convention had erected against working women had been breached and another, potentially lucrative, profession was now open to them.
Who was Mrs Ethel Ayres Purdie?
She had been born Ethel Ayres in Islington in 1874. The 1881 census shows her, the elder daughter of Henry William Ayres, an ‘engineer toolmaker’, living at 14 Owen’s Row on the borders of Islington and Clerkenwell – coincidentally only a few doors away from where I live and where I am writing this piece. No 14 is long-since demolished and the space it occupied is now the site of City and Islington College. As was the case with all the houses in Owen’s Row, no 14 was in multi-occupation – although the Ayres shared with only one other family (my own house, admittedly rather taller, was home in 1881 to 16 people). By 1893 the Ayres had moved down the road to the more leafy surroundings of 15 Northampton Square, the central area of which had been recently re-designed (1885) by Fanny Wilkinson for the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association. (For much more about Fanny see Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle and here.)
After leaving school Ethel Ayres was employed in the Telegraph Department of the Post Office, just the kind of occupation to appeal to a lively, ambitious girl. of the skilled artisan class.
In 1897 she married Frank Sidney Purdie, who lived in Coptic Street, in the shadow of St George’s Bloomsbury, where the couple were married. Frank Purdie was the son of a silversmith and worked as a commercial traveller. He was probably then employed by his father but later became a traveller in educational supplies. The couple moved out to Willesden – and when the 1901 census was taken were living at Sellons Avenue with their first son, 3-month-old Harold Ayres Purdie. A second son, Desmond Tremeer Purdie (Tremeer was Ethel’s mother’s maiden name) was born in the autumn of 1902. A year later the family had moved to 11 St Alban’s Road, Harlesden.
Over the next four years, while caring for two young children and running her household, Ethel Ayres Purdie attended accountancy classes run by the Society of Arts, passing her final exam in 1906. By then she and Frank had left Harlesden and were living with her parents at 13 Stock Orchard Crescent, Lower Holloway. (This is evidenced in the London Local Electoral Register. On the night of the 1911 census Frank is at home with her parents – and there is no trace of Ethel, who was clearly evading the enumerator, presumably taking her young sons with her.) It may be that they moved specifically so that the children might have the care of their grandmother while their mother was studying.
Mrs Ayres Purdie certainly used 13 Stock Orchard Crescent as her first practice address before, very soon, becoming sufficiently confident of her professional future to rent an office (no 52) in Craven House. Kingsway had been formally opened in 1905 but building was slow to progress and the street was still lined with hoardings disguising unsold lots. Craven House was one of the first of the new – imposing – Kingsway buildings and by choosing to set up her office here Mrs Ayres Purdie was positioning herself at the heart of London’s most modern development. The choice of Kingsway may have also, of course, been influenced by its proximity to many of the women’s organisations in which Mrs Ayres Purdie was now interested.
Having personally advanced the woman’s cause in her chosen line of work, she was clearly a woman sympathetic to the newly-energised suffrage movement. In fact she was able to both provide financial advice and to earn fees by supporting a range of women’s organisations. For instance she was financial adviser to the Women’s Social and Political Union and, later, to the East London Federation of Suffragettes, auditor to the Women’s Freedom League, to Minerva Publishing (the proprietor of the WFL paper, The Vote), and, from the First World War to 1920. of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance. In addition she was a founder member and leading light of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, which held many of its early meetings in her Craven House office.
She wrote the text for several WTRL leaflets – including No Vote No Tax. For it was in the realm of tax law and advice that Mrs Ayres Purdie excelled – fighting against the unfair treatment of married women in the British income tax system. All her battles are clearly set out in Stephen Walker’s comprehensive article and illustrate how imperative it was (and is) to augment political campaigning with concrete action. Thus Mrs Ayres Purdie brought cases to court to test the boundaries of tax law, as well as representing individual women who refused to pay tax while they were denied the parliamentary vote. She was the author of a play, Red-tape Comedy, published in The Vote in November 1912, which was based on the case she had conducted for Dr Alice Burns, a married woman doctor.
Mrs Ayres Purdie advertised her services in suffrage-related papers such as The Common Cause ,The Vote, and The Englishwoman – the only woman entitled under the Revenue Act 1903 to appear on behalf of clients before the Special Commissioners of Income Tax. She named this part of her practice ‘The Women Taxpayer’s Agency’ to make her area of expertise quite explicit.Her practice was so successful that she was able to employ three or four clerks and In 1914 took on a female pupil who served five years’ of articles under her.
After the WSPU window-smashing campaign of March 1912, which affected businesses in the area, Mrs Purdie’s landlord objected to the notice advertising the Agency that she displayed in a window of Craven House but, rather than removing it, she merely moved her office across Kingsway to new premises in the most happily named, Hampden House (John Hampden being the ‘patron saint’ of tax resisters).
In 1914 she was personally involved in the case of Edwy Clayton, the scientist accused of producing explosives for the WSPU. Not that Mrs Ayres Purdie was a bomb maker – but she was accused of trying to help Clayton save some of his possessions and thereby deprive the Treasury of its dues – see The Times, 2 April 1914, for the delightfully intricate details of this trial. Amazingly enough she was acquitted. With the WSPU ensconced in Lincoln’s Inn House – very close by, on the same side of Kingsway – Mrs Ayres Purdie was conducting her business at the heart of militancy – both physically and metaphorically.
With the outbreak of war Mrs Purdie found new organisations to advise – for instance she was auditor to the Women’s Auxiliary force. In the post-war world she became auditor to the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries, whom we have already encountered on a previous Walk, and In 1919 appeared in front of the Royal Commission on Income Tax to argue that the income tax system was not fair in its treatment of married women. She apparently told the Commissioners that, as the letters about her business that the tax authorities sent to Hampden House were addressed to her husband, they remained unopened as he did not visit the premises. She was reported as saying that ‘I have never yet made a return of my income, and no tax has ever been paid on it’. I must say I do find this rather extraordinary – surely the tax authorities were not so lax as to ignore this potential windfall? I wonder what was the repercussion of divulging this information to the Royal Commission?
In 1919 Ethel Ayres Purdie moved her office further south down Kingsway, on the same side of the road, to no 84. She and Frank had moved during the War from Stock Orchard Crescent to nearby Hillmarton Road (no 34). Her father died in October 1922.
On 21 February 1923 Mrs Ayres Purdie gave a lecture – ‘If I were Chancellor of the Exchequer’ – at the International Women’s Franchise Club in Grafton Street, Mayfair. But clearly all was not well. Barely three weeks later, around 16 March, there was an incident at Gillespie Road tube station (now Arsenal) when she had to be restrained from falling in front of a train. Gillespie Road is a station on the Piccadilly line -the line that she would have used to travel to her office – but not the nearest to her home. Holloway Road station, also on the Piccadilly line, is very much closer to Hillmarton Road. This ‘incident’ was obviously not an aberration for ten days later, on 26 March, at Covent Garden station, the ‘work’ end of her Piccadilly line journey, Mrs Ayres Purdie, as her death certificate states, ‘jumped in front of a train’ and shortly afterwards died of her injuries at Charing Cross Hospital. An inquest was held on 29 March and a verdict of ‘Suicide while of unsound mind’ was recorded.
The inquest reports have been destroyed and the only information that can now be gleaned comes from newspapers. The Evening Standard reported, 29 March 1923, that Frank Purdie had revealed that ‘his wife had been suffering from nervousness and insomnia, and feared that she was losing her mental power, and would be unable to carry on business’. The Daily merely commented that tube stations were an incitement to suicide.
Who can know what was in Ethel Ayres Purdie’s mind? There is no mention of a suicide note. Was ‘business’ to her so central to life that the possibility of ‘failing mental power’ would be a total disaster. Possibly. She was only 48 years old, her mother was still living (d 1931) and her sons were in their very early 20s.
The Vote, 13 April 1923, devoted its front page to an obituary of Mrs Ayres Purdie – including the only photograph of her that I have seen – telling nothing of the cause of her death – only that it was ‘sudden’ and ‘to be deplored’ (but I think that what was meant that her death itself was deplored not its execution). In the general manner of such tributes the piece is relentlessly upbeat – describing her as having a ‘winsome, cheery personality’ (though one would have hoped that some of her fellow members of the WFL might have noticed that she had been less ‘cheery’ of late) and noting that she was a devoted mother and the “‘best of chums’ to her husband”.
Naturally one should not be purient but I could not help noticing that barely two years later Ethel’s ‘chum’ remarried – choosing as his second wife a young woman (Muriel) who, aged 25, was only two years older than the elder of his sons. However around this time the names of Frank and Muriel Purdie, together with that of Ethel’s son, Harold, are all listed together on the London local electoral register as occupiers of 84 Kingsway, Mrs Ayres Purdie’s former office, suggesting, perhaps, that the second marriage had not caused any family dissension. Life can be so much more surprising and shocking than a novel or a narrative history (suffrage or otherwise) that has all the players concentrating on the one goal little regarding the specifically personal factors that may, in reality, be overwhelming their thoughts.
Ever since the decision was made for the Women’s Library to move to LSE (now open as the Women’s Library @ LSE) I have been writing posts that draw attention to the many locations associated with the women’s movement in the area around Aldwych and the Strand. My hope is that researchers in the Women’s Library, when taking a break from their labours, will welcome some information that will allow them to see the surrounding area with fresh eyes. Or even, as in the case of Buckingham Street, draw them to an area they may never have thought of visiting.
Buckingham Street runs south from the Strand, parallel with Villiers Street, close to Charing Cross Station. In this picture Niemann positions us with our backs to the Strand, viewing the length of the street down towards the 17th-century Watergate which, before the building of the Embankment, marked the northern bank of the Thames. In the distance, looming over the Watergate, we can see the towers of Brunel’s Hungerford Suspension bridge, demolished in 1863. This view had, therefore, changed by the beginning of the 20th century, but from it we can glean an idea of the busy-ness of the narrow street,. There is probably less traffic now – at the moment, as London perpetually renews itself, this consists mainly of builders’ trucks – but the street still ends at the Watergate, by the side of which steps lead down into the Embankment Gardens.
The Survey of London, published in 1937, gives a thorough building history of the street and today’s London guides – such as this one– mention that Pepys lived at number 12 and Dickens at number 15 (his house now bombed and replaced), but campaigning women, too, have a claim to the street’s history.
It was here – at no 18 (at the quieter, river-end of Buckingham Street) that in the autumn of 1907, after the dramatic break with Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, the newly formed Women’s Freedom League opened its office. This was always probably only intended as a temporary solution – the WFL moved to larger premises in nearby Robert Street the following year. I have always wondered whether billiards was not the reason for alighting on no 18 – which at this time also housed the office of the Billiards Association. Teresa Billington-Greig, one of those leading the break with the WSPU, had that year married Frederick Greig, a manufacturer of billiard tables – so, perhaps, when it was clear that they would have to depart Clement’s Inn in a hurry, it was through him that the rebels heard of an office for rent. I’ve not, however, been able to find any proof for this – doubtlessly wild – supposition. Perhaps, rather, the Strand Liberal and Radical Association, also tenants of number 18, effected the introduction to Buckingham Street.
The WFL lost no time in advertising their existence – issuing several photographic cards during the few months they were operating from number 18.
On the other side of the street the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement was based at number 13. The MPU had been founded at a meeting held at the Eustace Miles Restaurant (just the other side of the Strand) in 1910. One of the founders – and the hon. organising secretary of the MPU – was Victor Duval. The premises were also, I think, the offices of his family firm, Duval & Co. Victor’s mother, Emily Duval, had been one of those who transferred allegiance from the WSPU to the WFL and would doubtless have been a regular visitor to number 18.
Back on the eastern side of the street, number 19, now under scaffolding as it is remodelled as ‘luxury apartments’, is a considerably larger building than its neighbour, no 18. Among its many tenants was the Emerson Club which in 1908 was described as a ‘Ladies’ Club’ but from 1911 welcomed both men and women members. This was still rather unusual. The Emerson remained at this address until 1925 and numbered among its members the WFL activists Elizabeth Knight, Amy Hicks and Alison Neilans, as well as Mrs Pankhurst’s brother, Walter, and Margaret Bondfield, the future Labour cabinet minister. Sarah Bennet, the WFL’s treasurer, was one of the Emerson’s early shareholders.
By 1908 number 19 also housed the office of the architect Basil Champneys, while Thackeray Turner and Eustace Balfour (the latter the husband of the suffragist Lady Frances Balfour) had their architectural practice next door at number 20. All three architects brought to fruition – mainly in Queen-Anne style red brick – the dreams of campaigning women. Champneys was the long-time architect of Newnham College and In the 1890s Turner and Balfour designed the York Street Ladies’ Residential Chambers – one of Agnes Garrett’s projects (for which see much more in Crawford, Enterprising Women). Thackeray Turner was also secretary to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, at this time also based at number 20. The architects were working out of the type of late-17th/early-18th-century houses so much admired by Agnes and Rhoda Garrett in House Decoration.
Opposite, at number 12, were the offices of the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses, the premises of the Midwives’ Institute and Trained Nurses’ Club and the Association of Clerks and Secretaries.
So, a 100 years ago, many different types of women would have had many reasons to make their way down Buckingham Street, stopping off at any one of these addresses. Some might, of course, have carried on down the steps at the end of the street and into the Victoria Embankment Gardens – where two major heroes of the suffrage movement are commemorated.
The WFL, based on the south side of the Strand, was very well placed to honour, as they did every year, their particular hero, John Stuart Mill, whose statue is one of several in the Embankment Gardens. (Incidentally you will note from the caption to this card that the WFL had moved into the new Robert Street office by May 1908.) Well into the 1920s women laid tribute before the statue – one 1927 photograph in the Women’s Library collection shows Millicent Fawcett present on such an occasion.
And it is Millicent’s husband, Henry Fawcett, who is the other hero memorialised in the Embankment Gardens. The sculptor of the bronze bust was a woman – Mary Grant, the fountain’s designer was Basil Champneys and the whole was funded, as the inscription testifies, by Henry Fawcett’s ‘grateful countrywomen’.
For more information about the people and societies mentioned see Crawford: The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide.
And do consult the Women’s Library @ LSE online catalogue for details of primary source material.