Posts Tagged Covent Garden
WALKS/Suffrage Stories: Suffragettes and Tea Rooms: The Eustace Miles Restaurant – and the Tea Cup Inn
The Gardenia Restaurant, subject of yesterday’s post, was by no means the only vegetarian restaurant favoured by suffragettes. Close by, at 40-42 Chandos Place, at the western end of Covent Garden, was the rather more famous – and successful – Eustace Miles Restaurant.
Eustace Miles was a Cambridge-educated health guru – a real tennis player – prolific author – and vegetarian. He opened the restaurant, with his wife, Hallie, – as a ‘Food Reform’ restaurant – in May 1906, a few months after their marriage. Among the restaurant’s shareholders were his close friend, the writer E.F. Benson, the headmaster of Eton, Bernard Shaw and his wife, Dr Helen Wilson, a Sheffield-based doctor and suffragist, and Mrs Ennis Richmond, a suffragette who ran West Heath, a progressive school in Hampstead.
Ellen Terry’s daughter, Edith Craig, who lived nearby in Bedford Street, sold Votes for Women from a pitch outside the Eustace Miles. It was a sensible spot to choose; vegetariansm and suffragism went hand in hand for those whom H.G. Wells characterized – caricatured – in Ann Veronica as ‘a small but energetic minority, the Children of Light’, for whom ‘ everything…was “working up”.. “coming on” – ‘the Higher Thought, the Simple Life, Socialism, Humanitarianism’.
Opening just as the WSPU arrived in London, the Eustace Miles grew up alongside the suffragette movement. In March 1907 the WSPU chose it as the venue for a breakfast celebrating the release from Holloway of the prisoners who had been arrested when taking part in the deputation from the first Women’s Parliament. Similar breakfasts were also held there– including, a year later, one for women who had taken part in the pantechnicon raid on Parliament. (another suffragette episode hijacked by Wells for use in Ann Veronica – see my article, ‘The Woman’s Bond of Freedom’: H.G. Wells, Ann Veronica and the suffragettes, published in the 2011 edition of The Wellsian, the journal of the H.G. Wells Society.)
As with Alan’s Tea Rooms and the Gardenia, so the Eustace Miles had a space to rent – an offer taken up, on occasion, by those giving women-related talks. The Eustace Miles, however, went one better than the other two, offering their ‘Simple Life’ audiences ‘ozonized air’ to breathe as they listened to, for example in 1912, Miss Hoskyns-Abrahall lecture on ‘The Religion of the Great Mother’, to the accompaniment of a lantern show operated by Vera Holme. In January 1910 the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement held its inaugural meeting at the Eustace Miles – the owner surely being a member of the MPU – and in October 1914 it was the venue for committee meetings of the United Suffragists.
The Eustace Miles was by all accounts an attractive place in which to lunch or dine; Kate Frye – by no stretch of the imagination a vegetarian – often ate there – as readers of my Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary will discover. The restaurant did very well during the First World War – when meatless cookery was more or less a necessity – staying in business for over 30 years.
Alas, Hallie Miles’ Untold Tales of Wartime London, the source of the words spoken by Alison Steadman in The Great War: The People’s Story, is out-of-print. But for much more about the life and times of Kate Frye do read Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette. In this I tell the whole story of Kate – and of John Collins, her soldier husband. For details see here. I hope you will find it a Good Read.
While not specifically a vegetarian café, the Teacup Inn, much frequented by suffragettes, made sure that its vegetarian credentials were mentioned in its advertisements in the WSPU paper, Votes for Women – ‘Dainty luncheons and Afternoon teas at moderate charges. Home cookery. Vegeterian dishes and sandwiches. Entirely staffed and managed by women.’ The café was opened in January 1910 in Bank Buildings, Portugal Street, just off Kingsway, in a new building in area that was, as I have stressed in recent posts, still under development
The Tea Cup Inn occupied a ground-floor shop and basement in the building – then, as it name suggests – mainly given over to a bank – and now occupied by the Chaplaincy of LSE. In this photograph, taken c 1915, I am sure, after peering at it with a magnifying glass, that a sign ‘Tea Cup Inn’ is visible, hanging just above the smart open-topped car.
When it opened its owners were Mrs Alice Mary Hansell (c 1859-1923) and Miss Marion Shallard. However Miss Shallard quickly disappears and the rate books from then on show Mrs Hansell as sole proprietor. She had been born in Yorkshire, was about 52, and long a childless widow when she opened the café. Her husband, a traveller for a coal factor, had died in 1897, leaving only £87. I do not know what Mrs Hansell was doing in the intervening years – the 1901 shows her a visitor, with ‘no occupation, in a household in the Lake District..
Once the cafe was opened – certainly by April 1910- Mrs Hansell lost no time in advertising the Tea Cup Inn in Votes for Women – taking care to mention its proximity to the WSPU office in Clement’s Inn. In 1912 the WSPU moved to Lincoln’s Inn House in Kingsway, making the Teacup Inn probably the nearest place of refreshment. I am pretty certain that Mrs Hansell was a member of the WSPU; in 1909 someone of that name advertised in Votes for Women a cottage to let in Henley, but I have not been able to find conclusive evidence. Unfortunately I cannot trace her on the 1911 census – perhaps this is an indication that she was taking part in the boycott, but it may just be that her name has been mistranscribed. After the 1912 Peth-Pank split, the Teacup Inn advertised at least once in the Pankhurst paper, The Suffragette – in June 1914 – stressing: ‘Kitchens open for inspection’.
Across Portugal Street, the Tea Cup Inn faced the London Opera House (now the site of the Peacock Theatre). This theatre had opened in November 1911 and, again, handily situated for the WSPU office, was the scene of many suffrage meetings. One can imagine that the Tea Cup Inn may well have benefited from the thirsts engendered by a rousing rally.
Mrs Hansell continued running the Tea Cup Inn until her death in 1923. Her estate amounted to £2098 – which might suggest that, as her husband had left so little, she had made some money from her business. It would be good to think so.
More ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ posts to come….
Here is the link to Woman’s Hour (4 Sept) podcast that includes the item on ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ (starts c 27 mins).
The Gardenia Restaurant, at 6 Catherine Street, Covent Garden – off the north-western curve of the Aldwych – was, between c 1908 and 1913, a vegetarian cafe much frequented by suffragettes. Unlike Alan’s Tea Rooms – in Oxford Street – and the Criterion – at Piccadilly Circus – the Gardenia was situated in the heart of militant suffrage territory. The Women’s Freedom League headquarters lay just south of the Strand in Robert Street and those of the WSPU just to the east of Aldwych in Clement’s Inn.
The Gardenia was opened c 1908 by Thomas Smith, a young man from Morpeth, who lived with his wife and two children in rooms above the restaurant. By early 1910 it would seem that the Gardenia was in some financial difficulty because it was then formed into a limited company with three additional directors. Two of these were from the Newcastle area – and were presumably known to Smith. One was Herbert Joseph Armstrong – a chartered accountant. The other, the major shareholder, was Godfrey Hastings, a photographer from Tynemouth, a member of a Quaker family, educated at Ackworth, the Quaker boarding school in Yorkshire. The third director was Richard James, who published – and sold – temperance and vegetarian books from the Central Temperance Rooms in Paternoster Row. It would, therefore, seem safe to deduce that those running the Gardenia were advocates of vegetarianism and temperance in particular – and of social reform in general.
As I emphasise in my post on the part played by the Aldwych Skating Rink in the 1911 census boycott, this area of London was undergoing extensive redevelopment at the beginning of the 20th century. No 6 Catherine Street, a tall, rather dramatic, building, had been erected in 1905 and it is likely that the Gardenia was one of its first tenants. Its frontage of stone-banded red brick echoes that used in the construction of no 2 – which was designed in 1902 by the editor of the Builder, as offices for the journal. By now this corner of Covent Garden was taking on a rather Arts and Craftsy look – making it just the place for a vegetarian restuarant.
Unlike the Criterion – or even Alan’s Tea Rooms – I have been unable to find any image to tell us what the interior of the Gardenia looked like. However the file in the National Archives giving details of the 1913 winding up of the company does contain a list of the company’s assets – including the restaurant’s fittings. From this I think it would be safe to say that the general impression of the interior was of mahogany and mirrors. – long mahogany serving counters and quantities of mirrors. The rooms were lit with electroliers – some four-branched and others three. Customers sat at tables, marble-topped on metal stands – rather like those used today by Pizza Express.
Having noted that the Gardenia’s financial situation was somewhat precarious, one imagines that the company’s directors would have been keen to develop a niche clientele to boost passing trade. And so it was; the company accounts reveal that they hired out upper rooms in the building to societies whoe interests would seem to coincide with their own – for instance, to the Syndicalists, to a Vegetarian Club, to the National Union of Shop Assistants, and to the University Fabian Society.
The militant suffrage societies also figure regularly in the Gardenia’s accounts as customers for the hired rooms. In her autobiography, My Own Story, Mrs Pankhurst refers to the Gardenia as a place where many WSPU breakfasts and teas were held – and the accounts show specific hirings of rooms by the WFL (for instance,7 March 1912, 5 guineas). In fact the Gardenia seems to have been a particular favourite with the WFL, which did its best to advertise the delights of the restaurant. The Gardenia was included in The Vote Directory –the WFL newspaper’s list of recommended retailers – and was written up in the 6 May 1911 issue when – in the course of a suffragists’ shopping day – the author has tea at the Gardenia – ’a fragrant cup of tea and some cress sandwiches made with Hovis bread’ – [Hovis was also advertised in The Vote]’ –reporting that ‘she would eat no other.’In 1912 the WFL rented a room in the Gardenia in which to hold its weekly discussions – on such subjects as ‘Jane Eyre and its relation to the Woman’s Movement’ and Mrs Brownlow on ‘Local Government’ and on 17 February 1912 three of the Gardenia’s floors were hired by the WFL for a fundraising sit-down supper, with dancing and performances by the Actresses’ Franchise League.
It was doubtless no hardship for suffragettes to attend such suppers; a vegetarian restaurant would have been particularly popular with suffragettes – many of whom had embraced this cause – and the associated anti-vivesectionist campaign – along with that of women’s rights. For Leah Leneman’s excellent article on the subject – ‘The Awakened Instinct; vegetarianism and the women’s suffrage movement in Britain’ – see here.
For its part the Gardenia management was clearly committed to the suffragette cause over and above its use as a source of income. The directors were prepared on occasion, to turn a blind eye to the use to which the WSPU put its rooms. Thus, on 2 April 1911 – census night – the Gardenia’s management allowed the restaurant to be used by suffragettes attempting to evade the enumerator. One census schedule for 6 Catherine Street shows Thomas Smith, the manager, in his flat there that night with his wife and two children, together with the restaurant manageress, two waitresses, a male chef, female cook, a male baker and a kitchen maid. But a separate Gardenia schedule, completed by the Census Office from information supplied by the police, shows that the restaurant was packed with 200 women and 30 men. These defiant evaders had moved to the Gardenia at c 3.30 am for breakfast, having spent the earlier part of the night in the Aldwych Skating Rink.
A year later the Gardenia again played its part in a dramatic WSPU publicity campaign when, on the night of 4 March 1912, women taking part in a WSPU-organinised window-smashing campaign gathered there. In her autobiography Mrs Pankhurst notes that the police thought that about 150 women went to the Gardenia that evening, arriving in twos and threes from a large meeting at the London Pavilion at Piccadilly Circus. They were followed to the restaurant by a number of detectives who then waited around outside in Catherine Street And what was it that the women were doing in the Gardenia?
At the ensuing trial Miss Jessie McPherson, a still-room maid, testifed that on the following day, 5 March, she found a dozen on so stones – on one of which was written ‘Votes for Women’ – lying in a grate in a big room on the second-floor. Godfrey Hastings, the Gardenia’s major shareholder, gave evidence that the room had been engaged by the WSPU for the afternoon and evening of 29 February and 1 and 4 March – at a charge of 45 shillings on each occasion.
The evidence pointed to the Gardenia as the WSPU’s ammunition arming station. Once they had received their supply of stones, the suffragettes led the police a merry dance.
One policeman testified that he followed Miss Wolff van Sandau and Miss Katie Mills as they left the Gardenia, went to an ironmonger’ shop in Covent Garden and then walked to Westminster, along Victoria Street to the Howick Street Post Office, where the former broke a window with a hammer and the latter with stones. It transpired in court that it was at the Covent Garden ironmongers, with the policeman in tow, that they had bought the hammer.
Another policeman reported that on 4 March he waited outside the Gardenia Restaurant for three women [Nellie Crocker, Miss Roberts and Miss Taylor]. When they emerged he followed along the Strand, to Charing Cross and then on District Line to Royal Court Theatre. A few minutes after the performance began they left and went along to 9 King’s Road – a post office – where they smashed the plate glass windows with three hammers.
Another policeman followed Elizabeth Thompson and another woman from the Gardenia to Parliament Square,where Miss Thompson threw a stone at a window of Home Office.
There does not appear to have been any legal repercussions for the Gardenia but, sadly, despite support from the suffrage movement, the business could not be made to pay and the restaurant closed in March 1913.
However 6 Catherine Street today still has a primary connection to the food trade – as the home of the Food and Drink Federation. The FDF were very generous in allowing access to their building in order to record a section of the Woman’s Hour item on ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ in the rooms where the WSPU plotted their militancy over tea and brown rice.