Posts Tagged The Women’s Library
To mark the very welcome co-operation planned for the future between the Women’s Library and the London School of Economics the next few ‘Suffrage Stories’ will demonstrate the past importance to the women’s movement of streets and buildings in the vicinity of Houghton Street.
In previous posts I have described the Tea Cup Inn, which was in Portugal Street in the building which, for the time being at least, houses the LSE Chaplaincy, and the Aldwych Skating Rink, in which the WSPU organized its grand 1911 census boycott meeting. In the latter post I remarked that, all but abutting onto the back of the Skating Rink, were the offices of the WSPU at 3 & 4 Clement’s Inn.
A commemorative plaque, placed on a building now occupied by LSE. marks the site. See the LSE Library website for the announcement of the LSE’s plans for the Women’s Library and for the brochure setting out details of its bid. The introduction to the latter includes a photograph of the plaque (left) and the words of Christabel Pankhurst: ”Clement’s Inn, our headquarters, was a hive seething with activity… As department was added to department, Clement’s Inn seemed always to have one more room to offer.’ [9 February 1907]
But what was ‘Clements Inn’?
The history of the late-19th-century Clement’s Inn buildings are surprisingly sketchy – although I daresay that archival research would uncover more detail. In its original incarnation Clement’s Inn had been one of the original Inns of Chancery, but its purpose and its buildings were swept away sometime during the second half of the 19th century. The exact date of its removal is vague; Pevsner merely puts it between 1868 and 1891, presumably meaning that it was demolished in stages. Suffice it to say that towards the end of the 19th century – probably in the 1880s – large blocks designed for both office and residential use were built on the site of the old Inn. They stretched in a line, just west of the Royal Courts of Justice – and on the west side of Clements Inn Passage – north from the Strand up to Clare Market. These blocks were given the name ‘Clement’s Inn’ and housed a medley of solicitors, architects, chartered accountants, surveyors, publishers and even, at 5 & 6 the Uruguayan Legation and Consulate. The southern-most blocks were numbered ‘1 & 2 Clement’s Inn’ and were still standing in 1977. By then the more northerly blocks – 3 & 4 – had already been demolished.
Extraordinary as it seems, photographs of the exterior of 3 & 4 Clement’s Inn seem all but non-existent. The photograph on the left shows, I think, one corner of the Clement’s Inn range; it was taken in 1912 while police trying to establish the whereabouts of Christabel Pankhurst, for whom they had an arrest warrant. Apart from this I have managed to track down, in the Westminster Archives, only three small photographs of 1 & 2 Clement’s Inn. They form part of a collection taken in 1977 of the Royal Courts of Justice. Very helpfully the photographer turned his camera, from his position in the RCJ, across Clement’s Inn Passage to take a distant view of the surviving Clement’s Inn buildings, and followed that with two close-up photographs of the entrances to the buildings. The collection of photographs is accompanied by a hand-drawn map showing the precise position of each photograph so that there is now no doubt in my mind as to the layout of the Clement’s Inn blocks, now replaced by the LSE Towers.
The photographs show the Clement’s Inn buildings to have been rather imposing – five storeys high, rising in places to seven. They were built of brick – presumably once red, doubtless very quickly blackened in the London atmosphere, with facings of stone around the windows and doors. Detailing was gothic, doubtless a nod to the adjacent RCJ buildings. The ‘look’ was not unlike that of nearby Old Square, Lincolns Inn, where in later years Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who are specifically noted on the WSPU plaque, had a flat.
For it was entirely due to the Pethick Lawrences that the WSPU office came to be sited at 3 & 4 Clement’s Inn. Frederick Pethick Lawrence first appears on the London electoral register at 3 & 4 Clement’s Inn in 1904. He and Emmeline – they had married in 1901 -were living in what is termed in the rate book as ‘a residential suite’ – to differentiate this type of apartment from the offices that were also available for rent. The apartments were serviced; the Clement’s Inn building included a servants’ hall, servants’ dormitories and a kitchen in which meals were cooked for delivery to the tenants. This, I would imagine, was a style of living that entirely suited the Pethick Lawrences whose many interests surely precluded any time for domesticity.
The Pethick Lawrences had presumably chosen Clement’s Inn as their London address – they did also have a house in Surrey – because it was close to the office, at 19 St Bride Street, of The Echo, a newspaper bought by Frederick Pethick Lawrence c 1902. It had been a Liberal paper – with a bias towards the Liberal Unionist section of the party- but, under Pethick Lawrence was re-directed towards the Labour movement, with Ramsay MacDonald among its contributors. However The Echo ran at a loss and in 1905 Pethick Lawrence closed it and in May launched a new monthly publication, the Labour Record and Review. Pethick Lawrence was also the publisher of the Reformers’ Yearbook (called, before 1905, the Labour Annual and Reformers’ Yearbook). In the 1905 edition of the Yearbook, printed from information supplied in 1904, the ‘Directory of Useful Addresses’ lists the ‘Women’s Union’ , the secretary of which is Mrs Rachel Scott of Woodbine, Flixton, Manchester. This was the recently formed Women’s Social and Political Union. Its founders, Mrs E. Pankhurst and Miss C Pankhurst, of 62 Nelson St, Manchester, are also listed as ‘Useful’.
In her autobiography Emmeline Pethick Lawrence records that it was from her roof garden in Clement’s Inn that in January 1906 she saw the general election results ‘as they were thrown by a lantern-slide on the elevated-whitened board in the Strand’. This new technology was displaying a Liberal landslide. But it was, however, the success of Keir Hardie and the Labour Party that particularly pleased the Pethick Lawrences. A month later Hardie introduced Emmeline Pethic -Lawrence to Emmeline Pankhurst as ‘a practical and useful colleague who could develop in London the new society she had founded in Manchester’ – the WSPU.
Later that year the embryonic London campaign, which had been spearheaded by Annie Kenney and which for several months had held its business meetings around kitchen tables in various hospitable London homes, was given office premises by Frederick Pethick Lawrence in 3 & 4 Clement’s Inn. In the relevant rate book the WSPU is shown as taking up its tenancy at Michaelmas (29 September) 1906 in rooms 68,69 and 70.
This apartment was separate from number 119 shared jointly by the Pethick Lawrences; Frederick had given Emmeline the luxury of ‘a room of her own’.
When, in July 1906, Christabel Pankhurst came to London, after gaining her first-class law degree in Manchester, she lived with the Pethick Lawrences – perhaps in Emmeline’s separate apartment. The rate books show that over the years the Pethick Lawrences occupied several different sets of rooms, the quantities and configuration varying from year to year.
When, in October 1908, warrants were issued for the arrest of Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst after the WSPU had urged Londoners to ‘Rush the House of Commons’, the pair were photographed hiding from the police on Emmeline Pethick Lawrence’s roof terrace. See here to view the Women’s Library copy of the photograph.
After ensuring that their evasion had been captured on camera, they then went downstairs and were photographed in the course of being arrested by Inspector Jarvis.
Other WSPU offices were photographed on other occasions – the Women’s Library holds pictures, among others, of Mrs Pethick Lawrence’s secretary’s office, the General Office and of the WSPU Information Bureau at work. In the latter picture Emily Wilding Davison is the woman seated on the left and the young woman, with white collar and cuffs, standing at the back is Cicely Hale. All these photographs can be viewed on the Women’s Library Special Collections catalogue and from them one can glean an idea of the physical surroundings in which the campaign was orchestrated – the furniture, the fireplaces, the typewriters, the bowls of flowers, the posters and the maps on the walls.
This ‘seething hive of activity’ is pictured in at least one contemporary novel. For in Ann Veronica, published in 1909, H.G. Wells furnishes the offices of the Woman’s Bond of Freedom – the suffrage society that sweeps his heroine off her feet and into prison – with ‘notice boards bearing clusters of newspaper slips, three or four posters of monster meetings..and a series of announcements in purple copying ink, and in one corner …a pile of banners’. Wells had no need to rely on photographs for his information; during the years when the WSPU was working from Clement’s Inn, it was doing so in close physical proximity to the Fabian Society, of which Wells was a leading member and which had been responsible for the founding of the LSE. Knowing from the rate book that the WSPU’s basement office was next door to that of the Fabian Society, it requires little stretch of the imagination to envisage Wells finding a reason to combine a visit to one with a brief sortie into the other, the result being good ‘copy’ for his novel.
It would be surprising if there had not been some tension between the two offices – the one campaigning for votes for some, not all, women while the other backed the cause of adult suffrage. For although, when they agreed to support the WSPU, the Pethick Lawrences were still committed to the Labour cause, as the women’s suffrage campaign developed its tactics changed and the association with Labour was considered by the Pankhursts no longer to be advantageous. Despite this, there were many connections between the WSPU, the Labour Party and the Fabian Society. For instance, Beatrice Sanders, working from an office in Clement’s Inn as financial secretary to the WSPU, was the wife of William Sanders, a Fabian Society lecturer, LCC alderman and Labour parliamentary candidate. Mrs Sanders was herself a member of the Fabian Women’s Group. However, William Sanders was one of what Wells termed the ‘Old Gang’ that ranged itself against him when he attempted to reform the Fabian Society and, in retaliation, probably took Sanders as his prototype for ‘Alderman Dunstable’ in Ann Veronica. Wells certainly found plenty to mock in the WSPU and its activities and, unsurprisingly, although Ann Veronica was listed among ‘Books Received’ in the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, it never received the accolade of a review.
A very powerful propaganda tool for the WSPU, Votes for Women was brought to life each week in a building even closer to Houghton Street than Clement’s Inn and will be the subject of the next of my ‘Suffrage Stories’.
A while ago I acquired a small collection of items that had once belonged to Mrs Mary Leigh, the leader of the WSPU fife and drum band and close friend and life-long supporter of Emily Wilding Davison. Among these was a copy of Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road, published by the Arden Press, Letchworth (1912), containing a lengthy inscription by Mary Leigh on the free front endpaper.
From studying the handwriting I deduced that her comments had been made at two different times – probably decades apart. At the top of the page is an ink inscription ‘From E.W.D. 1912’.- which, I think, was not a presentation inscription from Emily Wilding Davison, but a note by Mary Leigh to commemorate the gift to her. The Emily Wilding Davison archive held by the Women’s Library contains another volume of Whitman’s verse, given by ‘Comrade Davison to Comrade Leigh’. Whitman was clearly a favourite, a poet who spoke to the women – eulogising their bond of close comradeship – and in The Song of the Road Mary Leigh, as in the Whitman in the Women’s Library, has annotated particular verses with some vehemence. The little book itself had clearly been well used; laid in the title-page fold of this copy was a pressed flower.
However it is another piece of information that Mary Leigh added to her endpaper writings that particularly interested me. She wrote: ‘I placed one [i.e. a book] like this from L C. Lytton in E.W.D.’s hand. ‘ In biro, at a later date, as though giving a fuller explanation, she has amplified these details – so that the whole now reads: ‘1913 June 14 in her coffin at Epsom Mortuary I placed one like this (Walt Whitman) from L C. Lytton (Lady Constance Lytton) in E.W.D’s hand open at the page she loved so well. I also placed her Hunger Strike Medals and the 8 Bars of Forcible Feeding also the Medal of Jeanne D’Arc to Fight on God will give the Victory’.
‘Fight on God will give Victory’, Joan of Arc’s assurance, given at her trial, is the message emblazoned on the banner carried at Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral, both in London and then draping the grave in Morpeth.
Here is Emily Wilding Davison wearing her Hunger Strike Medal, with still, I think, four bars, each commemorating a hunger strike and consequent episode of forcible feeding. Further imprisonment lay in the future. It is interesting that Mary Leigh specifically writes of ‘Medals’ in the plural. As well as the Hunger Strike Medal, with its 8 bars, she may have been referring to the ‘Holloway’ badge, received for an earlier imprisonment, that Emily is wearing in the photograph. In addition, I suspect, but cannot be sure, that she may also have, pinned on her other lapel, a WSPU ‘Boadicea’ brooch.
However I have not yet been able to deconstruct Mary Leigh’s mention of the ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ Medal’. As far as I know there was no WSPU medal directly associated with Joan of Arc – although, 1912 having been the 500th anniversary of her death, she loomed large in the popular – particularly suffragette – imagination, Elsie Howey rode as ‘Joan of Arc’ in Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral procession. It may have been that EWD particularly treasured a medal – there were many issued – acquired in the quincentenary year.
Mary Leigh remained Emily Wilding Davison’s champion for the remainder of her life. Out of a meagre income she arranged each year for a Morpeth florist to supply an expensive bouquet of flowers and travelled north every June- even well into old age – to lay them at EWD’s grave in St Mary’s Churchyard. The rather pathetic correspondence concerning these arrangements may be read in the Mary Leigh Papers at the Women’s Library. The florist was a credit to her profession, entirely kind and helpful.
Little would Mary Leigh have expected – although she may well have approved (you can never be sure – she was a contrary character) – that into the 21st century EWD’s grave would have become a shrine – the plot now immaculately restored. So many myths have accrued to the memory of Emily Wilding Davison that it is something of a relief to be able to produce a piece of primary evidence, in the form of this copy of Song of the Road, that allows the visitor standing in front of the Morpeth obelisk to picture, with some assurance, the moment in the Epsom Mortuary as Mary Leigh laid in the open coffin Lady Constance Lytton’s copy of this small volume of verse, together with the hard-earned Hunger Strike Medal.