Posts Tagged suffragettes and tea rooms

Suffrage Stories: Suffragettes and Tea Rooms: From ‘Sheltered Anonymity’ to Sites of Protest

Advertisement for Alan’s Tea Rooms in ‘Votes for Women’.

Last week’s posts on ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ were based on the research I had done for the item that aired on Woman’s Hour on 4 September. The posts gave details of a few of the London tea rooms and restaurants – – some of them vegetarian – that we know were favoured by suffragettes. I had been curious to know more about the reality – the geographical position and the look of the interiors – of the cafes whose names are scattered through the columns of the suffragette newspapers. I had wondered ‘Why were suffragettes attracted to one place rather than another?’ ‘Whose businesses were they?’ – and hope that in last week’s posts I have, at least partially, answered these questions. In the absence of any other information, I was pleasantly surprised by how much detail could be gleaned from such superficially dull sources as rate books and the files of liquidated companies. I now have a much clearer image in my mind – as I walk around London – of the places in which militant activity was discussed – and indeed practised – by suffragettes a hundred years ago.

Corner of Alan’s Tea Rooms – as pictured in ‘The Idler’, 1910

For political movements need sheltering spaces – of all sizes – in which those involved can exchange views. In the 19th century women could attend the hundreds of formal suffrage meetings and conscious-raising talks that were held in Britain’s town halls and assembly halls – or, if suitably couth,  the ‘drawing-room’ meetings held in the houses of the better-off. But until the late 1880s there were very few places outside the home in which respectable women could congregate – for refreshment  – to meet their friends – or to discuss politics. The coffee houses, chop houses, ale houses and public houses that had for centuries enabled men to congregate, do business and eat and drink – had been socially barred to respectable women. It was only towards the end of the century that middle-class women were able to move independently– without any vestige of social censure – out of the home and around the streets of the metropolis.  One practical element lining the path to freedom was a new type of business – the café, tea room or restaurant designed with women in mind. These were places that women could visit – either alone or in company – where their presence was not seen as an invitation to molestation –  where they could eat and drink – and, most importantly, use the lavatory –  without breaking any social taboos.

Kate Frye – suffrage organizer and frequenter of restaurants and tea rooms

That there were indeed still taboos around the presence of a woman in some places of public refreshment, even as late as 1911, is evident in one of the entries from Kate Frye’s diary. (My edition of her suffrage diary, Campaigning for the Vote, will be published in the autuimn). She is staying in a hotel in a small Norfolk market town, while organising meetings for a suffrage society. :

22 March 1911 ‘Came in, had my lunch [in the hotel dining room] in company with four motorists. It is funny the way men come in here and, seeing me, shoot out again and I hear whispered conversations outside on the landing with the waitress. Then they come in very subdued and make conversation one to another and try not to look at me. Awfully funny – they might never have seen a woman before – but I suppose it does seem a strange place to find one.’

For, by the 1900s, the situation in larger towns and cities had changed. When not out organising meetings in the provinces, Kate lived and worked in London and there she paid daily visits to cafes, restaurants and tea rooms where she never felt out of place. Aimed particularly at the woman shopper – or woman clerical worker – here she could feel comfortable – both physically and mentally. Some of the cafes were part of chains – such as the ABC, founded in the 1880s, and Lyons in 1894. For a rare photograph of a Lyons interior – dating from the 1920s -see here.  These chains catered for upper-working-class and lower- middle-class women who could enter their premises with equanimity and sit in sheltered anonymity at separate tables – and be served, not by waiters, but by waitresses. Kate Frye, belonging to a slightly higher strata of society, favoured rather smarter chain restaurants – such as Slaters’ – or tea rooms such as Fullers’. However it was in a Lyons tea room close to Parliament Square that she sat on the evening of 21 November 1911 with a group of suffragettes who were poised to embark on the smashing of the windows of government offices.

And quite apart from the chains, the first decade of the 20thcentury saw a proliferation of small refreshment rooms – ‘Tea Rooms’ – that were even more closely aimed at a female clientele. These were likely to be run  – as were Alan’s Tea Rooms and the Tea

Advertisement for The Tea Cup Inn in ‘Votes for Women’.

Cup Inn – by a woman or a couple of women friends – and allowed women, who may have had no training in anything other than ‘home responsibilities’, the possibility of running a business, while at the same time allowing other women the ability to enjoy the freedom of moving around the city – or town – by providing a space in which they could pause for refreshment. 

As we have seen, a few London tea rooms and restaurants were particularly favoured by suffragettes – as, similarly, were they in provincial towns. In Newcastle, Fenwick’s cafe was the venue of choice of the group of women, including Dr Ethel Bentham and Lisbeth Simm, set up the ‘Drawing-Room Cafe’ meetings where women could meet to discuss discuss politics. In Nottingham  the WSPU held meetings at Morley’s Cafe, a teetotal establishment, originally opened to provide an alternative to the pub. In Edinburgh the Cafe Vegetaria was particularly favoured by the local Women’s Freedom League society – and it was on its premises on the night of 2 April 1911 that suffragettes gathered – as they did at the vegetarian Gardenia in London – to evade the census enumerator

A year later, however, although so popular with women, tea rooms were not immune from the effects of the 1 March 1912 WSPU window-smashing campaign. Two ABC shops were attacked – one in The Strand and one in Bond Street – here is the photographic evidence.  

When, from the end of 1913, the WSPU campaign became ever more desperate, the tea rooms and restaurants that women had made their own themselves became sites of protest. On December 20th a suffragette dining at the vegetarian, suffrage-sympathising,  Eustace Miles restaurant was able to make a long speech castigating the government’s treatment of suffragette prisoners – and was, so The Suffragette reported,  listened to with eager attention, while her companion distributed leaflets. And althougb the management did eventually ask the speaker to stop she was allowed to continue with her ‘meeting’ and, afterwards, to remain in the restaurant. However, most cafes were not so amenable. When, on the same day, at Fullers’ in Regent Street, a woman began to address the crowded restaurant from the gallery and her two companions showered down leaflets, they were very quickly asked to leave. The newspaper report reveals that the subject of the woman’s address was a comparison of the treatment by the government of Sir Edward Carson and Ulster rebels with that meted on suffragettes. A few days later, when another interruption took place at Fullers’, the management had their answering tactic in place; the orchestra immediately struck up to drown out the speaker.

Soon after, The Suffragette reported an incident at a Lyons Corner House when a woman rose and spoke for a few moments – amid both applause and criticism. When two uniformed Lyons men tried to drag her roughly from the building they met with determined opposition and she finally left, the paper reported, with quiet dignity- escorted to the exit –to murmurs of  ‘Isn’t she plucky’.

These protests carried on all through the spring and summer of 1914. Although similar interruptions were made in churches and theatres, it is singularly apposite that customers in tea rooms and restaurants, as they ate their lunch or tea, should have had their attention drawn to the forcible feeding of suffragette prisoners. In fact one of the very last militant action came at the end of July 1914 when women interrupted lunch at the Criterion Restaurant, imploring customers to attend a meeting to be held by Mrs Pankhurst in Holland Park. That, I think, was the final WSPU rally, before the outbreak of war in early August put an end to militancy.

Even as restaurants came under attack there were still some establishments that felt it worthwhile to advertise in The Suffragette.  One such was one I had not come across before – Molinari’s Restaurant at 25 Frith Street in Soho., which advertised (January 1914) that they would ‘donate 5 % of their takings to the Cause for suffragists who wear the badge.’  Molinari’s was still advertising in suffrage papers in 1915 and I was amused to discover that in the 1920s the Home Office reported that its proprietor, Angelo Molinari, was the proprietor of ‘doubtful’ restaurants – suspected of running brothels in upstairs rooms.  Thus, although the credentials of such suffrage-sympathising refreshment rooms as Alan’s Tea Rooms, the Eustace Miles and the Gardenia are beyond reproach, there were always those commercial operators prepared to take advantage of trusting suffragettes. I suspect, though, that the atmosphere of Molinari’s was not that of Alan’s Tea Rooms Angelo Molinari was not often called to donate any percentage of their profits to the Cause.

.Here is link to Woman’s Hour ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ item aired on 4 September. It begins at c 27 mins – and is available for 2 more days only.

 

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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.)

Comic card – one of a series – poking gentle fun at the ‘Simple Life’ suffragettes

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.

 

Teacup Inn

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.

The site today of the Tea Cup inn

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).

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WALKS/Suffrage Stories: Suffragettes and Tea Rooms: The Gardenia Restaurant

6 Catherine Street – home of the Gardenia Restaurant c 1908-13

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 Criternion – 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.

Here is a link to Woman’s Hour iPlayer that includes item on ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’ .

See also here, here, here, and here

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WALKS/Suffrage Stories: Suffragettes and Tea Rooms: The Criterion Restaurant, Kate Frye, and the Actresses’ Franchise League

Criterion Restaurant and Piccadilly Circus c 1910

The glamorous Criterion Restaurant lies at the heart of theatreland, facing onto Piccadilly Circus. Owned by Spiers and Pond, it had been built, together with the adjoining theatre, in 1874 and during the last century and a quarter has undergone many changes – although now restored to glory. Before the First World War Spiers and Pond’s empire encompassed railway refreshment rooms as well as other large London restaurants, such as the Holborn, at the north end of Kingsway, the setting for many breakfasts held by the WSPU to celebrate the release of their prisoners from Holloway.

The Criterion today

Although the Criterion has now only one restaurant – on the ground floor – in its Edwardian heyday it offered many more spaces – not only in which to dine – but also for hire; the Victoria Hall and the Grand Hall, on the first floor, were two such spaces. The Grand Hall, magnificently decorated, ran across the front of the building, overlooking Piccadilly Circus. The lavish interiors were very much a hallmark of the Spiers and Pond establishments –  renowned especially for the high standard of their ladies’ cloakrooms – a point, I would imagine, our suffagists and suffragettes would have appreciated.

The Actresses’ Franchise League was founded at the end of 1908 and by the spring of 1909 began to hold its meetings at the Criterion, which was conveniently placed so as to allow its members to spend the afternoon listening to rousing speeches and yet be close at hand to give their own performances in the evening. By all accounts the meetings were extremely well attended, the AFL having no trouble in filling either of the two main halls.

Kate Frye on tour in J.M. Barrie’s ‘Quality Street’.

Kate Frye (whose post-1911 suffrage diary, Campaigning for the Vote, is published by Francis Boutle ), was a proud member of the AFL, having spent two or three years treading the boards of provincial theatres. Her diary entries allow us to eavesdrop on some of those Criterion meetings.

‘Friday April 2nd 1909

Out at 2 o’clock – bus to Piccadilly Cicus and to the Actresses’ Franchise League meeting at the Criterion Restaurant. Miss Eva Moore was receiving and gave me a gracious handshake and Ada Moore was there. Also Eve, Mr Stanger [a sympathetic Liberal MP] and Miss [Frances] Sterling I heard speak. Lady Strachey was in the Chair and Lady Grove had spoken. I also heard Miss [Lillah] McCarthy, the Treasurer, speak and Miss Adeline Bourne, the Secretary, and I went up and spoke to Mr Stanger after the meeting.. His wife was also there. It was a huge meeting – no end of the profession there and they seemed enthusiastic but I have never got much faith in them. …

Friday February 4th 1910

Started off about 1.45 for the Victoria Hall Criterion Restaurant – went by bus. We went early as we wanted a good seat to see Miss  Pankhurst. The place was packed before they began at 3 o’clock. Miss Granville took the chair and Miss Adeline Bourne as Secretary and Miss Maud Hoffman as Treasurer spoke in a more or less business-like fashion and Lt Col Sir something Turner spoke – an old dodderer. I could hardly keep my face straight he looked in such a loving fashion at the ladies but of course the thing of the afternoon was Christabel Pankhurst. She is a little wonder. So young and girlish looking – I suppose she is only 22 or 23 with such a charming way with her. She spoke very nicely too. It was not a brilliant speech but she was suiting herself to her audience I have no doubt – but it was so sincere and so fair. I have only heard her once before – at the Albert Hall – and one cannot judge like that – so I am glad to have been at such close quarters with her. She is not really pretty – has a crooked mouth and bad chin but her eyes are nice and she has a pretty forehead. Her hair was very untidy and I think would suit her so much better done low than on top in an ugly little knob. But though so faulty her face lights up so when she speaks and she has such a charming way with her that is very superior to mere prettiness….

Friday November 4th 1910

A bitterly cold day –had lunch then left at 1.15 – took a bus to Oxford Circus and went to steward at The Actresses’ Franchise League meeting at The Grand Hall Criterion. It was great fun.. A Mrs Fagan was in the Chair, Lady Constance Lytton, Mrs Pertwee , Mr Cecil Chapman and Mr M Campbell-Johnston were the speakers.. Then, amongst the audience, Hilda Fletcher – an old Ben Greet companion – the girl who helped me with the Banner at the second march and I chatted to lots of people – made 17/6 and had great fun. Two old gentlemen who were very taken with the Actresses and attending their first Suffrage meeting were most amusing.

Friday December 16th 1910

Changed my dress – at 2.15 bus to Oxford Circus and walked to the Criterion – to the Birthday Tea of the Actresses’ Franchise League. It was packed – a huge success. Eva Moore recited, Bertha Moore and daughter sang.’

The Criterion was used by women’s societies other than those campaigning for suffrage. Here is a photograph of a Women Writers’ Dinner held in the Grand Hall in 1900.  Of the suffrage societies, it would seem that the AFL was the most regular user of the Criterion, although in April 1909 the WSPU held a breakfast there for released prisoners and in February 1910 and June 1911 the Women Writers’ Suffrage League held meetings in the Victoria Hall.  It is interesting to note that on 26 October 1911, when the International Women’s Franchise Club held a dinner at the Criterion, a vegetarian option was chosen by a fairly high proportion of the guests –  25 out of the 130 who attended.

Although the suffrage sympathisers who attended such meetings  were overwhelmingly middle class, one would like to  imagine  (as one can in a blog) that, through their association with, perhaps, the AFL, less well-off women would have had the opportunity to luxuriate in the splendid surroundings of the Criterion, enjoy a wash and brush up in the opulent Ladies’, and fill up on the tea that brought the afternoon to a close.

Here is the link to Woman’s Hour (4 Sept) podcast that includes item on ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’.

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