Posts Tagged collecting suffrage
A week of posts on ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ cannot end without looking at the tea rooms that the suffragette societies themselves ran – in their shops and at their fund-raising bazaars – and the china they commissioned in which to serve that tea .
The best known of the fund-raising events is probably the WSPU exhibition held at the Prince’s Skating Rink at Knightsbridge in May 1909. There the tea room was run by Mrs Henrietta Lowy, with help from her four daughters and another young upper-class suffragette, Una Dugdale. In the spirit of exuberance and professionalism that marked this the first of the WSPU’s fund-raising bazaars, a decision was taken – presumably reasonably well in advance of the Exhibition – to commission a Staffordshire pottery – H.M. Williamson of Longton – to make the china from which the tea would be served in the Exhibition’s Tea Room.
The white china has strikingly clean, straight lines, rimmed in dark green and with angular green handles. The shape is, I am sure, a Williamson standard – but how very different the WSPU pieces look from, say, Williamson’s Rosary design–in which pink and grey ribbons and roses are applied to the same shape and every edge is gilded. In contrast, the WSPU china design is pared back, almost stark.
It is more than likely that, from the range offered by Williamson, Sylvia Pankhurst chose this shape, keeping the design simple so that the ‘angel of freedom’ motif that she had designed specifically for the Exhibition should be shown to best effect. Each piece of the tea service carries this motif; behind the angel and accompanying banner and trumpet, are the initials ‘WSPU’ set against dark prison bars, surrounded by thistle, shamrock, rose – and dangling chains. At the end of the Exhibition, the china – tea pots, cups, saucers, tea plates, sugar bowls etc – was offered for sale, made up into sets of 22 pieces. Many years ago, early in my ephemera-dealing days I bought – and, of course, immediately sold – a comprehensive service. Although I have subsequently sold individual pieces of the china, I have never again seen such a complete set. Ah well.
Pieces of this design are held in archives such as the Museum of London and the Women’s Library – but one variation design is not, as far as I know, represented in any public collection.
This cup – its design based on Sylvia Pankhurst’s ‘portcullis’ motif which, used on the WSPU’s ‘Holloway brooch’, can be dated to the spring of 1909 – came from a collection that also contained items of the ‘angel of freedom’ china. I bought this wonderful haul some years ago at auction and, although the provenance was not divulged by the auctioneer, I am pretty sure that the china had once been belonged to Mrs Rose Lamartine Yates who held fund-raising teas for the Wimbledon WSPU on the lawn of Dorset Hall, her 18th-century Merton house. This ‘portcullis’ cup does not carry any maker’s mark but, as the shape is identical to the Williamson pieces, I think we can be pretty certain that they probably also made this. As, in the early 19th-century, when women set their tea trays with ‘anti-slavery’ china, so in the early 20th, suffragettes who bought these tea services could – like Mrs Lamartine Yates – use them as propaganda tools -promoting the movement, most elegantly, in a bid to convert their ‘anti’ neighbours.
I have only ever had in stock – and that only fleetingly – this cup and saucer (see left), part of the third identifiable range of WSPU-commissioned china. I believe, however, that the People’s Palace in Glasgow holds a similar two pieces . They formed part of the Scottish version of the Prince’s Rink tea service, commissioned from the Diamond China Co, another Longton pottery, for use at the refreshment stall at the Scottish WSPU Exhibition held in Glasgow at the end of April 1910. Here the ‘angel of freedom’ is allied, on white china, with the Scottish thistle, handpainted, in purple and green, inside transfer outlines. After the exhibition this china, too, was sold – Votes for Women, 18 May 1910, noting that ‘a breakfast set for two, 11s; small tea set 15s , whole tea set £2, or pieces may be had singly’. It will hardly surprise readers to learn that WSPU china – now so very rare – commands a very high price. But what a wonderful addition a piece would make to any suffrage collection.
Although the china they used was probably more basic, some of the shops and offices run by both suffragette and suffragist societies offered their members – and the general public – a tea room. For instance, the Birmingham NUWSS office at 10 Easy Row included a shop at which tea could be taken and suffrage papers read. And the Glasgow WFL shop, at 302 Sauchiehall Street, as befitting the city in which Miss Cranston perfected the art of the tea room, served tea in its ‘artistic hall’, decorated in the WFL colours. (By the way, when in Glasgow do not fail to visit the De Luxe Room in The Willow Tea Rooms, also on Sauchiehall Street, originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Cranston – it may be a reconstruction, but it’s lovely).
As a final thought, the WSPU not only sold their own china, but also their own tea – much advertised in Votes for Women. Unfortunately, the only reference I have ever come across to anyone buying the tea was an aside by Mary Blathwayt, who noted in her diary that she had had to return a bag that was ‘off’ to the Bath WSPU shop. But I am sure that merely reflects the fact that the hundreds of satisfied customers had no need to comment and I will end this sequence of posts by conjuring up the image of a WSPU tea party, cucumber sandwiches sitting delicately on the elegant WSPU plates, as the assembled company receive WSPU tea into their WSPU cups from the WSPU pot. How, then, could the ensuing conversation be of anything other than ‘Votes for Women’?
In a previous post on Suffragette Jewellery I commented on the danger of assuming that any piece of jewellery that a dealer described as ‘suffragette’ had, in fact, anything to do with the suffragette movement. However it is still possible to discover items the provenance of which cannot be doubted.
Below is one such.
The image for this original painted miniature portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is derived from the photograph of her by the Kensington photographer, Martin Jacolette (see below). In it she is wearing a Holloway brooch, which dates the photograph to no earlier than April 1909.
The portrait miniature is very pleasingly painted and, although no artist’s signature is visible, I did wonder if it might not be by one of the Brackenbury sisters (Georgiana’s much later portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is in the National Portrait Gallery). The portrait is set in a metal pendant, on the back of which is inscribed ‘Presented to Mrs Marie Leigh Drum Major by the N.W.S.P.U. Drum and Fife Band in memory of her courageous fight for woman’s freedom December 1909’.
In the autumn of 1909 Mary Leigh had been forcibly fed while serving sentences in Winson Green and Strangeways prisons and in December an action for damages was brought on her behalf by the WSPU against the Home Secretary. The WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, reported that, on 16 December 1909, ‘Ushered to the strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” , played by the WSPU Band, Mrs Leigh, the Drum Major received a royal welcome at St James’s Hall. Looking rather pale but as determined as ever, she delivered a stirring address.’ As Christabel Pankhurst, who was presiding, commented, ‘The Government did not know with whom they were dealing.’ The pendant was probably presented on this occasion.
The pendant, which has its original chain, has set around its edge three little stones – one white, one purple and one green. In this case the choice of stones clearly did have WSPU relevance. The pendant is in its original box – similar in material to that used for the hunger strike medals. Contemporary painted portraits of Mrs Pankhurst are exceedingly rare and with this particular provenance – unique. I have never seen another pendant like this, but wonder whether Mary Leigh was the only recipient of such an object. Might there be others waiting to be discovered?
These medals were first presented by the WSPU at a ceremony in early August 1909, given to women who had gone on hunger strike while serving a prison sentence handed down as punishment for an act of suffrage militancy.
The medals comprise a silver pin bar engraved ‘For Valour’, a hanging length of ribbon in the purple, white and green colours, and either a silver or a striped enamel bar, from which hangs a silver circle with the name of the presentee on one side and ‘Hunger striker’ on the other. If the ribbon terminates in a silver bar, this is engraved with a date denoting the day of the owner’s arrest. The enamelled purple, white and green bars are engraved on the reverse, for example sculptor Edith Downing’s medal that I once sold is engraved with ‘Fed by Force 1/3/12’. This was the date of her imprisonment that resulted in a hunger strike and forcible feeding.
Some medals, such as the one Emily Wilding Davison is wearing in my 6 August ‘Suffrage Stories’ post, carry more than one bar, indicating multiple hungerstrikes.
Each medal was presented in a purple box, with a green velvet lining. As can be seen in the photograph, a piece of white silk that originally went inside the lid was printed in gold with: ‘Presented to [name] by the Women’s Social and Political Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated’.
These medals were made by Toye, a well-known Clerkenwell firm, and cost the WSPU £1 each – the medals now sell for thousands of pounds. They were treasured by their recipients who , in their old age, still proudly wore them on suffrage occasions; they are treasured today by collectors who recognise the bravery of the women to whom they were awarded.
‘Not In Those Trousers’ is the caption to a hand-painted postcard (the artist has initialed it ‘K.S.’). The subject of the remark is a lady in a purple and green outfit – a long tunic over ‘harem’ trousers – wearing a green and purple hat and carrying an umbrella. The author of the remark, a dapper gentleman, stands in the background.
I think that, in this case, the deliberate choice of colours may indicate that a suffrage inference might be drawn. The style of dress is, again, very Paul Poiret – see this week’s ‘Suffrage Stories: ‘Madame Mantalini’ post.
Very good – unposted. The reverse of the card has a rectangle marked – in the top right – to receive a stamp ‘Inland Postage 1/2d. Foreign Postage 1d.’ £15 post free.
To buy: email firstname.lastname@example.org
[Woman and her Sphere logo on the image here is not, of course, on the original card]