Posts Tagged suffrage

Suffrage Stories: British Liberalism on Radio 4: Millicent Fawcett And Votes For Women

You can listen here as Anne McElvoy and I recreate the NUWSS’s February 1907 ‘Mud March’ in an episode of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘British Liberalism: The Grand Tour’.

Mud March

 

From the BBC website:

Millicent Fawcett and Votes for Women

Anne McElvoy retraces a votes for women march, led by the non-violent Suffragist movement, to rediscover the story of its liberal leader, Millicent Fawcett.

With Elizabeth Crawford and Ben Griffin.

Producer: Phil Tinline.

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Kate Frye’s Diary: 20 April 1915: Condemnation Of The Prattlers For Peace

Kate Frye coverIn April 1915 Kate Frye was still working with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage when it was announced that an International Congress of Women would convene at The Hague. Around 1200 delegates from 12 countries attended the Congress hoping that the women of the warring countries could be organized to exert a moral force for peace. The British government, however, prevented interested British women from attending by refusing them passports and suspending the ferry service across the Channel. The Peace Conference led to the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom but, as Kate relates, the issue divided suffragists.

‘Tuesday April 20th 1915 

Some office work then to finish off the Hall – put things out for Sale etc. I arranged a stall of Workroom things – haberdashery etc. Meeting at 3 o’clock. Afterwards there was a great disturbance. Mrs Cecil Chapman from the Chair condemned the Peace Conference which is to take place at The Hague. I agree with her. How can English Women at the moment go and prattle with German Women of peace when there will and can be no peace until Germany has withdrawn her hosts from Belgium, France and Poland?

At the moment when thousands are laying down their lives for women to talk like that is to my mind showing a tremendous lack of nationalism. We didn’t want to fight – we were totally unprepared – the more credit in one way to us – and if German women want peace let them begin to preach it in Germany. I very much suspect this talk.

However to go back. Miss Wiskemann, who is half German, didn’t like it – and, instead of publicly protesting, she was heard saying things to people by several of our members who are most fiery the other way and told Mrs Hartley we had a traitor in our midst, and Mrs Hartley, never too cool in an emergency, went for Gladys, whose friend Miss W. is – and I’m not sure didn’t go for Miss W. herself. Anyhow Miss W. is not coming amongst us again but going over heart and soul to the United Suffragists who I think are utterly mad and will do our cause much harm by pressing the question of ‘Votes’ at this minute. How can they – in this life and death struggle? If the NCS took that line I should have to leave them. I couldn’t bear it – it’s wicked and selfish and small – nothing matters except we beat Germany – but people are leaving us because we do not press Votes. It is a mad world.’

‘Miss Wiskemann’ was Eugenie Wiskemann, elder sister of the future historian, Elizabeth Wiskemann; Mrs Beatrice Hartley was one of the founders of the NCS, as was Gladys Wright.

Click here to see a short documentary, ‘These Dangerous Women’, about the 1300 women who held a Peace Conference at The Hague in April 1915. These were the women whom Kate condemned as prattlers for peace.

You can read about Kate Frye’s work as an organiser with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary. – for full details see here.

Copyright

All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere 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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Campaigning For The Vote: Kate In Kent: Folkestone

Kate Frye coverIn the course of the years 1911-1914 Kate Frye spent over 20 weeks organising the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage’s campaign in Kent.  She recorded every detail of her daily life in the entries she made in her diary and a selection, relating to the conduct of the campaign, are included in Campaigning for the Vote.

Kate spent time in Ashford, Folkestone, Hythe and Dover, canvassing house-by-house and organising meetings in drawing-rooms and public halls.

Below are three samples of Kate’s Folkestone experiences.

Saturday October 21st 1911 [Folkestone: 4 Salisbury Villas]

Quite a mild day and needed no fire till evening but inclined to shower. I wrote letters – then at 11 to Mrs Kenny’s – 63 Bouverie Road, Folkestone.  

The Kennys' house in Bouverie Road

The Kennys’ house in Bouverie Road

She had asked me to lunch but Mrs Hill wanted me back again so, as there wasn’t much I could do, I just had a chat with her and Mrs Chapman, who is staying there, and came back again. Changed and got back to Mrs Kenny’s at 2.30 for her party at 4. Miss Lewis of Hythe took the Chair and Mrs Chapman spoke. There were between 70 and 80 people – mostly very smart – a military set. Mrs Kenny is very nice and Colonel Kenny is quite sweet. Some of the men were very amusing. I got a golf ball from one and sold it for 2/6. And got one young officer to buy The Subjection of Women. There was a most gorgeous tea, which no-one hardly touched. Mrs Hill and I walked home together – got in about 6.30. Another evening of gabbling chat and to bed about 10 o’clock. She is very nice but so intellectual. I feel sorry for the child. A most terrific gale raged all night. I thought the house must be blown in. 

Kate spent two weeks in Folkestone on that occasion, returned for another two in February 1912 and that autumn spent a further three weeks attempting to galvanise the Kent campaign into a semblance of life.

Saturday October 5th 1912 [Folkestone: 33 Coolinge Road]

In my morning of calls, I only found two people at home. At 12.30 I gave it up. I did feel depressed. More so when, having met Mrs Kenny at the Grand Hotel at 3.30, where she was attending a wedding reception of a Miss Cooper, and whose good-byes I just came in for, Mrs Kenny and I called together upon the manager’s wife, Madame Gelardi, and to my horror I found that her husband would not contemplate for a moment letting us have a Suffrage At Home in the reception room. Well that does put the lid on things.The time is slipping away here – the days fly, I love the place and am very comfortable in my rooms but I cannot seem to work here and I feel utterly miserable about it.

Kate’s mention – in the entry below – of ‘this split’ refers to the announcement Mrs Pankhurst had made on 17 October at an Albert Hall meeting that the Pethick-Lawrences were no longer involved with the WSPU. The Pethick-Lawrences’ departure had been unilateral. Lady Irving was the – long-estranged – widow of the actor, Sir Henry Irving

Coolinge Road, Folkestone

Coolinge Road, Folkestone

Tuesday October 22nd 1912 [Folkestone: 33 Coolinge Road]

As for the work I am doing here I am clean off it – I am doing nothing towards ‘Votes for Women’ – what do the people of Folkestone care and what is the good of trying to make them care? Propaganda may have had its uses in the past, it may still please some people, but I don’t want to go on talking about the Vote – I want to get it! And I am wondering more than ever what is the way to get it. This split, if split it is between the Pankhursts and Pethick-Lawrences is depressing, but I am not at all sure there it not more in it than meets the eye. Anyway here one feels so out of things – the Vote seems a very tiny speck in an ocean of talk and twaddle.

Back to tea and to write letters, then at 8 o’clock I tidied myself and went off to call on Lady Irving by appointment at 8.30. I was interested and so much enjoyed the interview, and she joined us as a member. I had been told of her powdered face, how, like the cat, she always walked alone, that all Folkestone hates her. I liked her immensely, she seems the only real person I have met, the only understanding person. I am told her temper is abnormal, that may be, she was sweet to me, and, after all, these sweet-tempered creatures can be temper trying enough for anything. That she and Henry Irving could not get on together I can quite understand. ‘No surrender’ is writ large in her composition – and after all why should the woman always give way. I imagine she had very strong views as to what was fitting for a wife and probably he did not live up to these. I did not stay long but we got a lot in the time and I think she liked me. How wonderfully young she is. Suffrage to her finger tips, and Suffrage before it was passably comfortable to be Suffrage.

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – e.crawford@sphere20.freeserve.co.uk  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

 

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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Banner Bearer For The 13 June 1908 Procession

Asquith became prime minister in April 1908. In response to his claim that he needed proof that large numbers of women really wanted the vote, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies – and the WSPU – decided to mount a spectacular summer procession through London. The magnificent banners, such as that for North Kensington, carried some of the way by Kate, were the work of the Artists’ Suffrage League, in particular of Mary Lowndes.

Mary Lowndes’ design for the North Kensington banner – with swatches of suggested material (courtesy of the Women’s Library@LSE)

The design of the North Kensington banner, held in the Women’s Library, can be seen

Banners – 13 June 1908 (courtesy of Women’s Library@LSE)

 The banner itself was photographed during the course of the 13 June 1908 procession. ‘North Kensington’ is being held high; unfortunately the ‘Home Makers’ obscure the North Kensington banner bearers. Was one of them Kate?

Saturday June 13th 1908 [Bourne End]

Kate’s ticket for the June 1908 Suffrage Procession

The great day dawned at last looking rather threatening – dull and very windy. I did not know quite what to wear but chanced the day wisely as it fell out and wore my best cream linen skirt and embroidery blouse and made myself look nice. I took a coat with me. Down to breakfast, had a chat to Agnes, who was very disappointed not to be going but really she was not up to it and it would have been no use attempting such an exacting and arduous day. It took it out of me. I was ‘going’ inside all day. Went up to London by the 9.53 train wearing my decorations – my ‘Votes for Women’ disk – my National Union Suffrage brooch and my red and white ribbon – the one that went through that exciting evening at the Paddington Baths. I wore them all day and it was most amusing to see the looks given to them. I went shopping in Whiteleys. Then a bus to Bond Street, walked through Burlington and along to the Strand – there I began to see some of my fellow marchers and the Lyons where I lunched was crowded with them – every one agog, of course, to see us.

Then I went to the A.A. [the Actors’ Association] tidied myself up and went upstairs. Quite an excitement there to see me and I found Eve Erskine wavering as to whether or not she should join the march. She rather aggravated me by some of the things she said about it. Then she is so tactless and really doesn’t know. It was from her I learned that there would be a contingent of Actresses headed by Gertrude Kingston, Lillah McCarthy and Mrs Pat [Campbell] and I must own I did feel deadly disappointed not to be going with them. I am sure Miss Gladys [Wright] kept it from me on purpose as she knew how eager I was to get the theatrical people to go and I said how I should like to march with them. So for that reason she did not send me a plan of the order of procession, I feel sure. Not quite straight because, any way, if she had said they really needed my help in Kensington I should have gone. But she and Alexandra went with the graduates and they wanted me responsible for N[orth] Kensington. There was really no-one else. Mrs Wright could not have carried the Banner or any of the small women if they could have it would not have looked right and comfortable. So I was offered up as a sacrifice. I think it was only right a Frye should be the Banner Bearer for North Kensington and I loved to do it and felt very proud but at first I must own to feeling a bit sick over it. I had a few words with Mr Halliwell Hobbs, who was crimson in the face with annoyance about it all. I said ‘will you shake hands though I am going to carry a banner.’ He simply could not bear himself – it so upset him to see my decorations. Eve walked or rather ran – we got so excited seeing the crowds – to the Embankment and there I lost her. I suppose she found her Block and marched with them for I saw her no more.

Kate preserved her programme

The crowds and the excitement was terrific and I really didn’t know how I should find my banner in it all. First I saw Miss Corbett who gave me a plan. Eve had one so I am sure Gladys ought to have sent her Banner Bearer one. And then I found I should be Block 8 – and a nice scamper I had right up Whitehall before I came to my place. Whitehall was quieter, but the crowds on the Embankment were terrific. At last I came to the Block for the London Society and found a messenger boy with the little White and Red Banners we had before. He gave it up to me on hearing my name and I was left alone. As I got there soon after 2 o’clock it was alright but I longed for some friendly face. I had had a glance at some of the Banners as I sped along – they were lovely. At last one or two women whose faces I knew turned up and then three girls with a huge and beautiful banner – one of the Artist League ones – the one Gladys meant me to carry and take the responsibility of. They were in too much of a hurry, the girls, to be off to tell me how to manage it and I had my flapping coat and the wind was terrific. I got one of the others to hold the little one till Mrs Wright and a lot of other people came. Then a tall girl carried the little one at the back of the Kensington Block. Some one very kindly carried my coat and I got the frog fixed round the banner more comfortably. Miss Madge Porter carried one cord, Miss Meyer the other.

We were immediately behind the Holborn section and Lady Grove’s pretty daughters carried that Banner – a huge one – but, lucky beggars, they had two poles to support it. Mine was fearfully heavy, especially in the wind – but I was given a gift with it I think. It was a beauty  nauge cloth – brown and yellow silk and cloth of gold. Mrs Percy Harris was just behind. She had to fall out early as she went very strange and there were lots of people I know by sight. We were quite a smart collection – all in our best summer attire. The stewards marshalled us six abreast behind the Banner which had to stand out. The whole thing was most wonderfully organised.

Programme details for the procession

Before we moved off John [her fiance] arrived on the scene with Mr Andrews [a friend] and was most proud to shake hands with me and I think the whole thing quite converted him. They went off to see the Banners, then took up their stand in Trafalgar Square and watched us go. John watched it over an hour. He saw me but I didn’t see him. He says I was laughing away and looked to be enjoying myself. Some of the remarks were enough to make one laugh. I saw Mr Dickenson [the M.P.] go past and G.B. Shaw while I was waiting and there were all sorts of weird and curious men – one dressed up like a Jack in the Box to represent Adam, I think – but I couldn’t make him out.

Before 2.30 we were off to the strains of a Band and marshalled in order and we reached one side of the Embankment. We were given 2.30 to assemble – so those who turned up then must have had a difficulty in finding us. It took some time – then there was half an hour’s wait in line – then we began to manoeuvre about – the police directed us. I don’t really know what we did but we turned back round the road while a stream passed us the other way then round me went again over to the side of the trams which made some of them nervous. The trams were packed with people to see us. Then a long wait again – 3.30 I should say before we moved off – and then a very slow procession up Northumberland Avenue – halts of five minutes at a time, it seemed. We were in the middle of two Bands so we were never dull and sometimes with the clamour of the two together it was terrific but the marches helped me along and we three kept step. Oh the crowds – packed like sardines the other side of Piccadilly – some of the roughest of the rough on the Embankment but for the most part quite friendly and polite. There seemed so few policemen in comparison that if the crowd had liked to be disagreeable it would have been awful. The clubs and hotel windows and steps were thronged. Most of the people seemed interested – some were laughing. We only had passage enough just to pass along till we got to the Square then our pace mended till it grew terrific and had almost to run to keep up and going up Waterloo Place was a great strain. From the bottom we could see the Banners winding up and up.

We were about 10,000 with 70 Artist League banners – lots of others and hundreds of Bannerettes shimmering in the wind. For the most part after Piccadilly the crowd was quite a different class and quiet and respectful – many men raised their hats to us and ladies clapped their hands – lots of children? were in the crowd and ‘Mother’ made one clap his hands at me. One nice old clergyman bared his silver locks to each Banner Bearer. Of course it was a very different thing from last year [ie the February ‘Mud March’] – gigantic in comparison and, as for the crowds, I had never seen anything like them except at Royal Weddings etc and a good long route we had. Up Northumberland Avenue, Lower Regent Street, Piccadilly, Knightsbridge, Exhibition Road to the Albert Hall. The first part of them must have been in the hall soon after we left the Embankment. I was in the last section  – No 8, the London Society – but I could not see our end and after us came all the motor cars and carriages. The Social and Political Union people had a four in hand and were up and down distributing notices of their great demonstration on Sunday week in Hyde Park. The Graduates and Doctors looked simply lovely – I am sure they must have got some cheering ‘Well’ I heard one man say, ‘what I like about them is there isn’t one with a bit of powder on’.

‘Lucky you have dropped your garter’ ‘Have you mended the socks’ Have you washed the baby’ and such remarks as those were rife and, of course, lots of comments on one’s personal appearance – rather painful some of them –‘Oh look at this nice girl’ ‘isn’t she a beauty’ etc but really most of the people were quite kind and sympathetic. I think it must have been rather a stirring sight – it seemed to me ‘magnificent’. I felt it was moving the people. I heard people say in awestruck tones ‘I don’t believe it will ever end’ Miss Meyer took the Banner from me in Piccadilly and carried it to the end – she hadn’t had all that tiring first part and the long waits and she was strong and capable. I must say I was getting a bit done with it but I would have liked it again later only she seemed quite happy and I did not like to take it from her. Gladys had written to say she would help me with it. She took it in the hall and sat with it also.

The approach to the [Albert] hall was very slow again – but the pace all along Piccadilly had been tremendous. I think we must have been catching the first lot up where it had been broken at Trafalgar Square for the traffic. I got in the hall about 5.10 and they started the meeting just as I sank down. I must own to feeling completely done when I left the Banner. I got cramp in both feet at once and felt 1,000 but I dashed into the hall found the seat in my box with the Wrights and Alexandra, like an angel, got me a cup of tea. She, Gladys and another girl looking most awfully charming in cap and gown. Mrs Stanbury was there and Mrs Lambert and several people I knew. I had to keep my eye on the clock but I heard Lady Henry Somerset, Dr Anna Shaw, Mrs Fawcett and [then] Miss Sterling present the Bouquet to Mrs Fawcett – then the procession of Bouquets till the platform looked like a garden. They were just singing ‘For she’s a jolly good fellow’ when I came out. I got a cab, still very lame, and drove to Paddington. There I met John and Mrs Harris and the train was looking out for me – so we travelled down together, talking all the way…

The Actors Association, a club to which both Kate and John belonged, was at 10 King Street, Covent. Garden.

Halliwell Hobbs, 30-year-old actor, was clearly a young fogey.

Margery Corbett (1882-1981- later Dame Margery Corbett-Ashby) was the daughter of a Liberal MP. At this time she was secretary of the NUWSS

Lady Henry Somerset (1851-1921) was a wealthy philanthropist and leader of the temperance movement.

Mrs Percy Harris, née Marguerite Frieda Bloxam, wife of Percy Harris (later Sir Percy Harris), who became a Liberal MP in 1916, lived in Bourne End.

Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919) US physician, temperance reformer and, at this time, leader of the National American Woman  Suffrage Association.

Frances Sterling (1869-1943) joint honorary secretary of the NUWSS.  

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – e.crawford@sphere20.freeserve.co.uk  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

 

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Kate Frye’s Diary: Learning the ‘Two Step’ for Suffrage

Another extract from Kate Frye’s manuscript diary. An edited edition of later entries (from 1911), recording her work as a suffrage organiser, is published as Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary.

Working for women’s suffrage involved taking part in many different kinds of social activities. In the first month of 1908 Kate danced, stewarded and was lectured by Ford Madox Hueffer – all in the suffrage cause.

The flyer produced – presumably by the Wrights – for the lecture that Ford Madox Hueffer gave in their house. I wonder if the error in the spelling of his middle name was pointed out to them?

Dramatis personae for these entries:

‘Mrs Wright and the girls’: Mrs Lewis Wright and her daughters, Alexandra and Gladys, who then lived at 10 Linden Gardens. It was under their influence that Kate had joined the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, a constitutional suffrage society.

Geoffrey Stanger: the son of H.Y. Stanger, Liberal MP for North Kensington, who had introduced a women’s suffrage bill into the House of Commons.

Miss Mason: Bertha Mason, honorary treasurer of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Socities – a suffragist of long-standing.

Miss Frances Sterling: joint honorary secretary of the NUWSS.

Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford): author, then living in Kensington with Violet Hunt.

Friday January 10th 1908 [London: 25 Arundel Gardens, North Kensington]

I sat over the fire and had another little rest and got dressed early in my white satin dress. It is pretty – a charming frock – the nicest I have ever had, it seems to me. I did my hair Greek fashion with a silver and turquoise band round it which I have made myself – and though it’s me what says it and shouldn’t ‘I did look nice’. Even Mother said I did, I heard after from Agnes. Agnes’s dress was pretty too. And Mother has made hers beautifully but it hadn’t on a trace of style and she really did not look very nice……We had a private omnibus to the Grafton Galleries and got there about 9.15. Met Mrs Wright and her party just inside but by the time our four men had helped themselves we hadn’t many dances left. The girls introduced me to a few but I thought theirs rather a scratch lot – one boy wasn’t bad and Geoffrey Stanger, but one or two others I had I lost as soon as possible. It was a great pack – too many people for dancing in comfort somewhere about 300 and they have made for the London Society of Women’s Suffrage about £70…We stayed to the bitter end and I danced every dance except a few extra at supper time .. I learnt to do the Two Step with Mr Stanger and loved it. We reached home at 3.20 and were able to stir the fire into a blaze. John went off before 4 o’clock but we four sat over the fire talking till 4.30 and it was 5 o’clock before I was in bed as I always like to put some of my things away and tidy the room.

Thursday January 16th 1908

Changed at 6.30 and Agnes and I went off at 7.30 to Miss Mason’s (9 Hyde Park Place) for a Drawing-room Suffrage Meeting at which we had promised to Steward and get there at 8 o’clock for 8.30. We started to walk but we were all in our best and it started to drizzle and we took a cab from the top of the hill. The speakers were the Hon Bertrand Russell, Mr Mitchell Morton and Miss Frances Sterling. She made a most excellent speech and it was a most successful meeting. We did much good work in the way of getting members for the Society and it was all most encouraging and enthusiastic. They had a meeting here last night too – 70 people – but Alexandra said they were a most cold unenthusiastic audience – they could not do anything with them. She has paid Agnes and me a great compliment in saying ‘ I always like to see Agnes and you come into a room – then I know the thing will “go”’. I suppose we have a lot of personality and a lot of electrical excitement and it does help. John is quite in the movement now – though still apt to go back on us in the society of his own sex. .. These meetings are so exciting. I never feel like settling off after them.

 Friday January 24th 1908

Changed after tea and at 5.30 Agnes and I went by motor bus from Notting Hill Gate to Oxford Circus and to the Queen’s Hall for the Liberal Federation Woman’s Suffrage Meeting. As we had been asked to act as Stewards and had to be there at 6 o’clock. We stewarded up in the Balcony but there was very little to be done. A good meeting, but not very full. But the audience was a very enthusiastic one and the speeches went well. Mrs Eva McLaren in the chair. Miss Balgarnie, Mrs Conybeare, Mrs Booth and the usual Liberal Women’s Federation people. It was a meeting for women only but there were a number of men stewards. The doors were opened at 7 o’clock and it commenced at 8 o’clock. Mother was there and we met at Oxford Circus and the three of us came home together by bus.

Wednesday February 5th 1908

They had quite a dozen awful Hampstead females there [at home] so we slipped quietly away and hurried to Notting Hill Gate so as to be at the Wrights (10 Linden Gardens) punctually at 4.45. Gladys had asked us to help them  I stood in the hall and looked at tickets and sold others etc and later went up to hear the lecture from 5 to 6 by Mr Ford Maddox [sic] Heuffer on the Women of the Classical Novelist of England. It was most interesting and a breezy discussion followed. We got in at 6.30 .. I was very tired but I worked till 11 o’clock directing envelopes for the South Kensington Committee of the L.S.W.S. for a meeting to be held at the Town Hall on the 25th inst.

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – e.crawford@sphere20.freeserve.co.uk  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

 

 

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WALKS/Suffrage Stories: The Suffragette 1911 Census Boycott: Where and What Was the Aldwych Skating Rink?

Roller skating was one of Edwardian Britain’s ‘crazes’ – to be enjoyed, as this comic card shows us, by all the family. One could, of course, as I did as a child in the 1950s, roller skate in the streets, but in the years before the First World War entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the craze ventured to erect roller skating rinks in towns the length and breadth of Britain.

While I am sure that many individual suffragettes and suffragists enjoyed a spin around their local rink, there was one episode of suffragette history that centred on a specific London roller skating rink. For on census night 1911 – 2 April – it was at the Aldwych Skating Rink that the militant suffrage societies – the Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Freedom League, together with related societies such as the Tax Resistance League – urged their supporters to muster. Here, out of their homes, they would escape detailed enumeration.

When interviewed in the 1970s by Sir Brian Harrison (Women’s Library  8 SUF/B/024)Marie Lawson, an important figure in the Women’s Freedom League, remembered that ‘We formed immediately a census resistance group – women who said ‘we don’t count; we won’t be counted’ – that they would stay out somehow – out of a house or roof during the period when you had to be recorded. Our group took the Aldwych skating rink for the night – we hired it. Nobody was supposed to be sleeping there. We had roller skates and we spent the night on roller skates and there was no-one to declare us and when we went away in the morning we were very weary, very tired with our roller skating but we felt we had done the government out of so many names on the census resistance. It wasn’t very useful really but it was something to do. We used to grab at every little thing, you know, that we could make a protest about. It was advertising really.’

So it was that, after a late-evening rally in Trafalgar Square,  the suffragettes promenaded down the Strand to the Aldwych where it was estimated by the Census Office that 500 women and 70 men gathered at the Skating Rink. Although the numbers were recorded, the identity of most of that 570 is lost – only those whose names are mentioned in the Votes for Women report (7 April 1911) can be placed there with certainty. These included Mrs Pankhurst, Ethel Smyth and, among members of the Actresses’ Franchise League who provided the entertainment,  Decima Moore and her sister, Ada, Adeline Bourne, Winifred Mayo, Inez Bensusan, Rosa Leo, Sidney Keith, Miss Laing and Natalia de Meix. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence was also there. She certainly did her bit to disrupt the census, being enumerated in three separate places- once in her Clement’s Inn flat, once in her Surrey country cottage and, again, here at the Aldwych. By way of contrast, no trace of a census paper for Christabel Pankhurst has been found – but she was there in the Skating Rink, bringing the entertainments to a rousing conclusion at 3.30 am.

Here is Decima Moore photographed that night inside the Skating Rink. I am pretty certain that she is captured doing her party piece -Laurence Housman’s  ‘Women This and Women That’. In the photograph we can see, behind the audience and the NWSPU ‘No Vote No Census’ banner, the walls of the skating rink – rather bare as one might expect. ‘What kind of structure was it?’, I wondered and, moreover, ‘where was it?’  ‘Aldwych’ was a rather vague address.

I discovered that the Aldwych Skating Rink was first listed in the rate books in 1911, provisionally numbered 10 Aldwych. The Kingsway/Aldwych area that to us today looks so solidly Edwardian was, in 1911, still in a state of flux.

Looking up Kingsway from the Aldwych, 1905

Kingsway had been driven through – it was formally opened in 1905 – and the curve of the Aldwych formed, but it was not until well into the 1920s that all the plots were  sold and developed. Thus, from the rate book, I could see that no 10 Aldwych was surrounded by vacant lots enclosed in advertising hoardings, the hoarding company paying a rent for their advertisements.

But I was still unclear as to precisely where no 10 was. However, the rate book came to the rescue, recording that on one side of no 10 the lot was owned by the London County Council and was ‘used for advertising station on frontage line from Houghton Street to roller skating rink. On its other side –provisionally numbered no 8 – was an advertising station north-east on the frontage line east of the roller skating rink. So this seemed to establish that the skating rink was on the north-east curve of Aldwych, to the east of Houghton Street. Clement’s Inn, the WSPU headquarters, virtually abutted the rear of the plot. What more suitable venue to book for such an evening than this, probably the nearest large hall?

The owner of the skating rink was Edward Johnson Wilson who had formed his company, ‘Rinkeries’, in 1909. In 1911 the company also ran ‘ideal skating palaces’ on the Holloway Road, as well as in Exeter, Plymouth and St Leonards.  Like many other roller-skating rink companies, whose liquidations, as recorded in the London Gazette, are a sad testament to so many lost hopes, ‘Rinkeries’ does not appear to have been very successful; Edward Wilson was doubtless glad of the windfall of a night’s rent from the WSPU.

But I still did not know what the skating rink looked like. It is difficult now to conjure up the appearance of that Aldwych curve before the arrival of the imperial solidity of the buildings we see today. From looking at contemporary photographs of Kingsway, dominated by empty plots and high advertising hoardings, I could imagine that the area must have felt strange and impermanent. The old higgledy-piggledy rookery streets around Holywell Street and Houghton Street – that many of the suffragettes would have remembered – had been swept away, but the new order had not yet arrived. In this aerial photograph, probably taken c 1918 after the completion of Australia House (in the centre foreground), the Aldwych Skating Rink would have been – and perhaps still was – one of the low buildings in the bottom right of the picture.

But in 1911 the southern side of the road had not been developed at all. With few buildings to throw out light, the area was doubtless rather dark. What kind of building was it that the suffragettes waited outside that night – surrounded by, in effect, a building site – while posses of hooligans attempted to storm the rink’s doors?

I have not been able to locate a photograph, but, as luck would have it, I found the answer in the ‘Rinkeries’ file in the National Archives – its presence there a consequence of the company’s eventual liquidation. There, as a heading to ‘Rinkeries’ notepaper, was an engraving of the Aldwych Skating Rink. I could now see that it comprised four linked, gabled structures –chalet-type – single storey. The effect, for all the panache of many flying union flags, was somewhat temporary – as it was no doubt in reality. What a contrast to its successors.

During the First World War the Aldwych Skating Rink was used as a clearing house for Belgian refugees. This  watercolour, in the Imperial War Museum collection, shows the building after it was hit in a Zeppelin raid on 13 October 1915.  The church in the background is St Clement Danes. The Rink must have been swept away by the end of the war, to make way for the monumental buildings that still occupy the central section of that Aldwych curve. It takes an effort to reimagine its former appearance – but to do so helps us to enter the 1911 worldview of the census evaders.

To listen to a talk I gave on the suffragette boycott at a National Archives conference on the 1911 census click here

Copyright

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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Collecting Suffrage: Victory 1918

Women Suffragists’ Celebrations

Flyer for the celebrations held at Queen’s Hall, Langham Place on Thursday 21 February 1918 – ‘To Welcome the Extension of the Franchise to Women’. The flyer includes the long list of societies that were taking part – the WSPU was a notable exception. On the list was the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage – and this flyer bears the annotation in ink ‘Please get tickets from’ followed by the NCWS’s rubber stamp with their address in Knightsbridge.

The leaflet is in very good condition and is rather rare. £55 post free.

[The ‘Women and her Sphere’ marking is not, of course, on the original]

 

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