Posts Tagged Women’s freedom League
Here is a link to the Zoom talk on the women’s suffrage campaign in South Devon that I gave on 25 September as part of Torbay’s Heritage Lecture Day. The fully-illustrated talk traces suffrage activity in the area from its beginnings in 1866 – through the 19th and 20th centuries.
If you are interested in discovering something about the wide range of objects produced during the course of the women’s suffrage campaign in the 19th and early 20th centuries, you may like to view a talk I gave recently, hosted by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and the Institute of English Studies, University of London. Click here to watch.
Mrs Amy Sanderson, born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906 and took part in the deputation in February 1907 from the first Women’s Parliament in Caxton Hall to the House of Commons, was arrested and served a Holloway prison term.
She actively campaigned in Scotland for the WSPU before, in October 1907, joining those who broke away to form the Women’s Freedom League. becoming for 3 years a member of the WFL executive committee. In 1908 she served another prison term.
She was a very popular speaker for the WFL and, in 1912, for the ‘Women’s March’ from Edinburgh to London.
In this photograph she is wearing her ‘Holloway brooch’, given by the WFL in recognition of her imprisonment.
The card, issued by the WFL no later than November 1909, after which date the Scottish Glasgow headquarters moved from Gordon Street to Sauchiehall Street, is in fine, unposted condition. £130 + VAT in UK and the EU.
Email me if interested in buying. firstname.lastname@example.org
Full-length portrait photograph of Anna Munro (1881-1962) Scottish organiser for the Women’s Freedom League. The address is that of the WFL Scottish headquarters.
Anna Munro had joined the WSPU in 1906, becoming its organizer in Dunfermline. The following year she followed Teresa Billington-Greig into the WFL, becoming her private secretary. She was imprisoned in Holloway in early 1908 before being appointed organizing secretary of the Scottish Council of the WFL.
After the First World War Anna Munro (now Mrs Ashman) became a magistrate in England and was later president of the WFL in which she remained active until its disbanding in 1961.
Photographic postcards of Scottish suffragettes are relatively uncommon. This one is in fine, unposted condition. £130 + VAT in UK and EU. Email me if interested in buying. email@example.com
A lovely photograph of Mrs Charlotte Despard, leader of the Women’s Freedom League. It was taken on a rooftop, possibly at the time of the WFL’s White, Gold and Green Fair in 1909.
The photographer and publisher of the resultant postcard was Mrs Albert Broom (Christina Broom), who photographed several groups of those participating in that WFL Fair.
In fine, unposted, condition. A scarce image. Sold
Email me if interested in buying. firstname.lastname@example.org
Having had occasion recently to study this photograph, I felt compelled to attempt to deconstruct its meaning. Why should a young woman, chained to a row of railings, be photographed in an otherwise empty street?
I know, of course, that suffragettes, chains, and railings are a well-known trope – although that ploy was actually rarely used during the Edwardian suffragette campaign. But why was this woman photographed in this particular place? If she was actively protesting one might expect her to be surrounded by policemen or, at the least, crowds of onlookers.
I believe that this is, in fact, a staged event, re-enacting an earlier chaining that took place when there was no photographer to capture the scene. An artist did, however, reconstruct the protest.
Some time ago someone – and I can’t remember who – mentioned to me that they thought the woman was Helen Fox, a member of the Women’s Freedom League, who, with the intrepid Muriel Matters, chained herself to the grille in the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons on 28 October 1908. You can read about the incident here.
Moreover, my informant suggested that the photograph may have been taken very close to the Women’s Freedom League office at 1 Robert Street, just south of the Strand. I had a hazy memory that the person who might have told me this was Naomi Paxton, whose research centres on the Actresses’ Franchise League, which had its office at 2 Robert Street. When I put my query to Naomi she replied that she doubted that she was the source of my information but most kindly suggested that, as she was working in the Strand, she’d take a detour to Robert Street. And this is the result.
I think that there is no doubt that it was at this street corner that Helen Fox stood in order to have her photograph taken. Photographs, interior shots, also exist of her sitting with the chains wrapped round her waist; presumably the purpose of this street photograph was to demonstrate more clearly what could be done with a length of chain and a padlock. As well as, by association, immortalising Helen Fox’s action in the House of Commons. I imagine that, as the site was adjacent to their office, the Women’s Freedom League had arranged for this photograph to be taken as fuel for their propaganda campaign.
Suffrage Stories/Collecting Suffrage: Countdown To 12 October And Release Of The Film ‘Suffragette’: The WFL ‘Holloway’ Brooch
To celebrate the release on 12 October of the film ‘Suffragette’ (for which I was an historical consultant) I will post each day an image of a suffrage item that has passed through my hands.
For my current catalogue – No 189 – which contains a good deal of suffrage material – as well as general books and ephemera by and about women – see here.
This is the award that was given by the Women’s Freedom League to its members who had been imprisoned. The brooch is in silver with the reverse engraved with the name of the prisoner and the date of arrest. The one in the picture was presented to Elsie Cummin upon her release from Holloway in July 1909.
Elsie Cummin had been born in 1877, one of the large family of Rev Joseph Cummin and his wife, Elizabeth. By 1901 the family had moved into Easebourne Vicarage, where Joseph Cummin was vicar. Mrs Cummin, who died in 1910, had been a suffrage supporter and gave the West Sussex branch of the Women’s Freedom League its velvet banner. Elsie Cummin was both honorary sec and honorary treasurer of the branch, which had been founded in 1908. She spoke at local WFL meetings and held WFL ‘At Homes’ at Easebourne Vicarage.
The Times, July 13, 1909
‘Four members of the Women’s Freedom League were charged on remand with obstruction. [Among] the defendants were ….Elsie Cummin, 32, Easebourne Vicarage, Midhurst….
Chief Inspector Rolfe said that on Friday afternoon he saw the defendants Hicks and Cummin standing by the doorway of the Prime Minister’s residence in Downing-street. They were carrying a roll of paper bearing the word ‘Petition’ and they said that they wished to present their petition personally to Mr Asquith. They were afterwards joined by the other two defendants. Meanwhile Miss Hicks had handed her petition personally to Mr Asquith when he alighted from a motor-car at his residence. At one time there were 300 people in Downing-street, and considerable obstruction was caused. After seeing Mr Asquith’s private secretary the witness told the defendants that Mr Asquith could tell them nothing further, but would send them an acknowledgment in due course. The defendants said that they wanted a date and time fixed for the reply; otherwise they would wait until they got it..
Police Constable 109A said that when Mr Asquith drove up one of the defendants said, ‘We have a petition, will you receive it?’. Mr Asquith asked her to hand it to his messenger, and Miss Hicks replied, ‘No, we want to hand it to you personally.’ Mr Asquith then said, ‘Very well, hand it to me,’ and he then received the petition from Miss Hicks.
[Defence counsel] submitted that the defendants did nothing but stand upon the pavement in a perfectly orderly manner.
The magistrate said that if the defendants would undertake that there should be no kind of disturbance of any description until the appeal in the somewhat similar case of Mrs Pankhurst had been decided he would adjourn the case sine die.
[Defence counsel] said that he could not give any undertaking on behalf of the defendants.
The defendants, on oath, denied that they caused any obstruction.
The magistrate imposed a fine of £3 in each case, with the alternative of three weeks’ imprisonment in the second division.’
Elsie Cummin and her three co-defendants refused to pay the fine and went to Holloway – and it was on her release that she was presented with the ‘Holloway’ brooch.
Elsie continued her association with the WFL for at least two more years. On the night of the 1911 census she was at home with her father and one sister. However, the census enumerator recorded two other of the sisters, who were not present, as ‘Suffragettes wandering about all night’. Elsie Cummin reported that seven members of the branch had boycotted the census. Clearly the Cummin family took the question of women’s suffrage seriously.
The Women’s Freedom League had first presented these brooches as early as December 1908 when Muriel Matters and Mrs Emily Duval received theirs from Mrs Despard at a ceremony in St James’s Hall, Piccadilly. The Women’s Social and Political Union copied the idea and in April 1909 instituted a Sylvia Pankhurst-designed ‘Holloway’ brooch to reward their members who had been to prison. As so often, however, it is the WSPU’s insignia which has had the wider publicity.
We are familiar with the toy factory opened during the First World War by Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes at Bow in London’s East End, but how many of us know that another suffrage society, the Women’s Freedom League, operated a similar factory in Hackney?
At the beginning of the First World War the WFL announced that, among the schemes prompted by the new situation, they had opened a toy factory ‘where girls and women have been trained to turn out perfectly finished and well-dressed dolls – the specialities being the Dombey boys and the Tipperary Twins.’
With the outbreak of war the various suffrage societies had recognised the need to provide employment for women put out of work as dress-making establishments suffered a sudden drop in demand. In the autumn of 1914 the thoughts of the women of the nation were, unsurprisingly, on other than on sartorial matters. The New Constitutional Society, for instance, hoped to help destitute dressmakers by opening a war-relief work-room , organised by Kate Frye (for details see Campaigning for the Vote – to see Romola Garai as Kate Frye in that work-room as realised by ITV see here ) . The NCS opted to make clothes.
The ELFS and the WFL, however, decided to take advantage of the gap in the market that had opened now that toys could no longer be sourced from Germany, hitherto the main supplier of presents for British children.
But where in Hackney was the WFL toy factory? It looks from the photograph as though it was located in a private house, probably comprising only a couple of rooms. This wasn’t a factory on the scale of Lesney – Hackney’s other – once-famed – toy maker.
Update: Reading Jennie Churchill’s Women and War Work I’ve discovered that the toy factory was in South Hackney…but have not yet pinpointed a road. Interestingly, the photograph at the head of this blog post came from a postcard album compiled by Louisa Thompson-Price, who is named as a contributor to the chapter that mentions the WFL toy factory.
How long was the factory in production? Mrs Sarah Ann Mustard (1864-1936), of 48 Moresby, Upper Clapton, had been president of the Hackney branch of the WFL from about 1910 and it is she who described the work of the factory at a WFL meeting- in Mayfair – on 26 March 1915. However, the WFL’s newspaper,The Vote, then goes decidedly quiet on the factory and its products. It is especially curious that none of the reports of the many fund-raising bazaars makes any mention of Hackney-made toys for sale – nor does The Vote carry any small ads for its wares.
And yet the WFL had felt it worthwhile to ask Fleet Street photographer, Barratts, to come along to their ‘factory’ and take a photograph. This doesn’t seem to have been published in The Vote, but, fortunately, was issued as a postcard – allowing us a glimpse of one all- but- forgotten War Work effort with, in the background, an array of its products.
Below is an item that I found in a postcard album compiled by Mrs Louisa Thomson Price, one of the leaders of the Women’s Freedom League.
Mrs Thomson Price acquired this sticker at a ‘Anti-Suffrage campaign’ demonstration held on 16 July 1910 in Trafalgar Square – during which men mingled with the crowd and stickered ‘well-known women suffragists’ with ‘Votes for Women Never’ slogans. The Daily Telegraph, in describing the demonstration, particularly remarked on ‘the large number of suffragists and supporters of “votes for women” who were in attendance’, commenting that ‘the militant Suffragists utilized the occasion as a great opportunity for doing propaganda work among the enemy.’
While Mrs Thomson Price declared that this stealthy stickering was ‘typical of the methods of the ‘Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage’, The Daily Telegraph reveals that ‘a most effective ending to the afternoon was the march past of the WSPU Drum and Fife Band playing ‘The Marseilles’. Well, that was certainly a more open spoiler.
This anti-suffrage demonstration was held a few days after the suffrage Conciliation Bill had passed its second reading in the House of Commons and a week before the WSPU’s massive 23 July rally in Hyde Park. The suffrage campaigners’ hopes were high -and the anti-suffragists were presumably just a little nervous. They need not have worried – for on the very day of the Hyde Park spectacular the prime minister, Asquith, informed Lord Lytton, chairman of the Conciliation Committee that the Conciliation Bill would progress no further than parliamentary session. It was yet another example of how difficult it was to get the political machine to change gear if those in the engine room were not minded to operate the levers.
Mrs Louisa Thomson Price (1864 -1926) was the daughter of a Tory military family but from an early age rebelled against their way of thinking and became a secularist and a Radical. In 1888 she married John Sansom, a member of the executive of the NSS.From c 1886 she worked as a journalist – as a political writer, then a very unusual area for women, and drew cartoons for a radical journal, ‘Political World’. She was a member of the Council of the Society of Women Journalists. After the death of her first husband, in 1907 she married George Thomson Price.
Louisa Thomson Price was an early member of the Women’s Freedom League, became a consultant editor of its paper, The Vote, and was a director of Minerva Publishing, publisher of the paper. She took part in the WFL picket of the House of Commons and was very much in favour of this type of militancy. In her will she left £250 to the WFL. and £1000 to endow a Louisa Thomson Price bed at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital.
Ever since the decision was made for the Women’s Library to move to LSE (now open as the Women’s Library @ LSE) I have been writing posts that draw attention to the many locations associated with the women’s movement in the area around Aldwych and the Strand. My hope is that researchers in the Women’s Library, when taking a break from their labours, will welcome some information that will allow them to see the surrounding area with fresh eyes. Today I would like to direct your attention to Craven House – on the north-east side of Kingsway.
I had long thought that I must find out more about the rather intriguing life – and death – of the woman whom I knew to have been in business there, but the building has spent a long time under scaffolding and it was only when it recently re-emerged that I turned my attention to it. To my pleasure – and rather to my relief – I then discovered that the research has already been undertaken. For Stephen Walker, of the Cardiff Business School, has published an excellent short study of the life of Mrs Ethel Ayres Purdie in Critical Perspectives in Accounting, vol 22, issue 1, 2011. I would most heartily commend this article to all those interested in practical suffragism. (I see that a copy of the journal is available for consultation in the LSE Library.)
It was in Craven House that around 1908 Mrs Ethel Ayres Purdie put up a brass plate to indicate that her accountancy practice was open for business. A few months later, in May 1909, she was elected a member of the London Association of Accountants and thus became the first woman in Britain to be admitted to an accountancy organisation. (The LAA is now subsumed in the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, based close to the Women’s Library at 29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields.)
Rather as Elizabeth Garrett was able to qualify as a doctor only by finding and exploiting a fault-line in the medical educational system, so Mrs Ayres Purdie was only able to obtain membership of a professional organisation because the LAA was recently formed and not yet entrenched in tradition. It had been called into being in 1904 to address the needs of accountants debarred for one reason or another – such as the inability to serve a long period of articles – from the senior organisations. Mrs Ayres Purdie had, of course, on account of her sex, already been rejected by the senior, more prestigious, accountancy associations. In fact even the LAA rejected her on her first application, but a few months later more enlightened elements persuaded the Association to accept her. Yet another barrier that convention had erected against working women had been breached and another, potentially lucrative, profession was now open to them.
Who was Mrs Ethel Ayres Purdie?
She had been born Ethel Ayres in Islington in 1874. The 1881 census shows her, the elder daughter of Henry William Ayres, an ‘engineer toolmaker’, living at 14 Owen’s Row on the borders of Islington and Clerkenwell – coincidentally only a few doors away from where I live and where I am writing this piece. No 14 is long-since demolished and the space it occupied is now the site of City and Islington College. As was the case with all the houses in Owen’s Row, no 14 was in multi-occupation – although the Ayres shared with only one other family (my own house, admittedly rather taller, was home in 1881 to 16 people). By 1893 the Ayres had moved down the road to the more leafy surroundings of 15 Northampton Square, the central area of which had been recently re-designed (1885) by Fanny Wilkinson for the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association. (For much more about Fanny see Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle and here.)
After leaving school Ethel Ayres was employed in the Telegraph Department of the Post Office, just the kind of occupation to appeal to a lively, ambitious girl. of the skilled artisan class.
In 1897 she married Frank Sidney Purdie, who lived in Coptic Street, in the shadow of St George’s Bloomsbury, where the couple were married. Frank Purdie was the son of a silversmith and worked as a commercial traveller. He was probably then employed by his father but later became a traveller in educational supplies. The couple moved out to Willesden – and when the 1901 census was taken were living at Sellons Avenue with their first son, 3-month-old Harold Ayres Purdie. A second son, Desmond Tremeer Purdie (Tremeer was Ethel’s mother’s maiden name) was born in the autumn of 1902. A year later the family had moved to 11 St Alban’s Road, Harlesden.
Over the next four years, while caring for two young children and running her household, Ethel Ayres Purdie attended accountancy classes run by the Society of Arts, passing her final exam in 1906. By then she and Frank had left Harlesden and were living with her parents at 13 Stock Orchard Crescent, Lower Holloway. (This is evidenced in the London Local Electoral Register. On the night of the 1911 census Frank is at home with her parents – and there is no trace of Ethel, who was clearly evading the enumerator, presumably taking her young sons with her.) It may be that they moved specifically so that the children might have the care of their grandmother while their mother was studying.
Mrs Ayres Purdie certainly used 13 Stock Orchard Crescent as her first practice address before, very soon, becoming sufficiently confident of her professional future to rent an office (no 52) in Craven House. Kingsway had been formally opened in 1905 but building was slow to progress and the street was still lined with hoardings disguising unsold lots. Craven House was one of the first of the new – imposing – Kingsway buildings and by choosing to set up her office here Mrs Ayres Purdie was positioning herself at the heart of London’s most modern development. The choice of Kingsway may have also, of course, been influenced by its proximity to many of the women’s organisations in which Mrs Ayres Purdie was now interested.
Having personally advanced the woman’s cause in her chosen line of work, she was clearly a woman sympathetic to the newly-energised suffrage movement. In fact she was able to both provide financial advice and to earn fees by supporting a range of women’s organisations. For instance she was financial adviser to the Women’s Social and Political Union and, later, to the East London Federation of Suffragettes, auditor to the Women’s Freedom League, to Minerva Publishing (the proprietor of the WFL paper, The Vote), and, from the First World War to 1920. of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance. In addition she was a founder member and leading light of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, which held many of its early meetings in her Craven House office.
She wrote the text for several WTRL leaflets – including No Vote No Tax. For it was in the realm of tax law and advice that Mrs Ayres Purdie excelled – fighting against the unfair treatment of married women in the British income tax system. All her battles are clearly set out in Stephen Walker’s comprehensive article and illustrate how imperative it was (and is) to augment political campaigning with concrete action. Thus Mrs Ayres Purdie brought cases to court to test the boundaries of tax law, as well as representing individual women who refused to pay tax while they were denied the parliamentary vote. She was the author of a play, Red-tape Comedy, published in The Vote in November 1912, which was based on the case she had conducted for Dr Alice Burns, a married woman doctor.
Mrs Ayres Purdie advertised her services in suffrage-related papers such as The Common Cause ,The Vote, and The Englishwoman – the only woman entitled under the Revenue Act 1903 to appear on behalf of clients before the Special Commissioners of Income Tax. She named this part of her practice ‘The Women Taxpayer’s Agency’ to make her area of expertise quite explicit.Her practice was so successful that she was able to employ three or four clerks and In 1914 took on a female pupil who served five years’ of articles under her.
After the WSPU window-smashing campaign of March 1912, which affected businesses in the area, Mrs Purdie’s landlord objected to the notice advertising the Agency that she displayed in a window of Craven House but, rather than removing it, she merely moved her office across Kingsway to new premises in the most happily named, Hampden House (John Hampden being the ‘patron saint’ of tax resisters).
In 1914 she was personally involved in the case of Edwy Clayton, the scientist accused of producing explosives for the WSPU. Not that Mrs Ayres Purdie was a bomb maker – but she was accused of trying to help Clayton save some of his possessions and thereby deprive the Treasury of its dues – see The Times, 2 April 1914, for the delightfully intricate details of this trial. Amazingly enough she was acquitted. With the WSPU ensconced in Lincoln’s Inn House – very close by, on the same side of Kingsway – Mrs Ayres Purdie was conducting her business at the heart of militancy – both physically and metaphorically.
With the outbreak of war Mrs Purdie found new organisations to advise – for instance she was auditor to the Women’s Auxiliary force. In the post-war world she became auditor to the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries, whom we have already encountered on a previous Walk, and In 1919 appeared in front of the Royal Commission on Income Tax to argue that the income tax system was not fair in its treatment of married women. She apparently told the Commissioners that, as the letters about her business that the tax authorities sent to Hampden House were addressed to her husband, they remained unopened as he did not visit the premises. She was reported as saying that ‘I have never yet made a return of my income, and no tax has ever been paid on it’. I must say I do find this rather extraordinary – surely the tax authorities were not so lax as to ignore this potential windfall? I wonder what was the repercussion of divulging this information to the Royal Commission?
In 1919 Ethel Ayres Purdie moved her office further south down Kingsway, on the same side of the road, to no 84. She and Frank had moved during the War from Stock Orchard Crescent to nearby Hillmarton Road (no 34). Her father died in October 1922.
On 21 February 1923 Mrs Ayres Purdie gave a lecture – ‘If I were Chancellor of the Exchequer’ – at the International Women’s Franchise Club in Grafton Street, Mayfair. But clearly all was not well. Barely three weeks later, around 16 March, there was an incident at Gillespie Road tube station (now Arsenal) when she had to be restrained from falling in front of a train. Gillespie Road is a station on the Piccadilly line -the line that she would have used to travel to her office – but not the nearest to her home. Holloway Road station, also on the Piccadilly line, is very much closer to Hillmarton Road. This ‘incident’ was obviously not an aberration for ten days later, on 26 March, at Covent Garden station, the ‘work’ end of her Piccadilly line journey, Mrs Ayres Purdie, as her death certificate states, ‘jumped in front of a train’ and shortly afterwards died of her injuries at Charing Cross Hospital. An inquest was held on 29 March and a verdict of ‘Suicide while of unsound mind’ was recorded.
The inquest reports have been destroyed and the only information that can now be gleaned comes from newspapers. The Evening Standard reported, 29 March 1923, that Frank Purdie had revealed that ‘his wife had been suffering from nervousness and insomnia, and feared that she was losing her mental power, and would be unable to carry on business’. The Daily merely commented that tube stations were an incitement to suicide.
Who can know what was in Ethel Ayres Purdie’s mind? There is no mention of a suicide note. Was ‘business’ to her so central to life that the possibility of ‘failing mental power’ would be a total disaster. Possibly. She was only 48 years old, her mother was still living (d 1931) and her sons were in their very early 20s.
The Vote, 13 April 1923, devoted its front page to an obituary of Mrs Ayres Purdie – including the only photograph of her that I have seen – telling nothing of the cause of her death – only that it was ‘sudden’ and ‘to be deplored’ (but I think that what was meant that her death itself was deplored not its execution). In the general manner of such tributes the piece is relentlessly upbeat – describing her as having a ‘winsome, cheery personality’ (though one would have hoped that some of her fellow members of the WFL might have noticed that she had been less ‘cheery’ of late) and noting that she was a devoted mother and the “‘best of chums’ to her husband”.
Naturally one should not be purient but I could not help noticing that barely two years later Ethel’s ‘chum’ remarried – choosing as his second wife a young woman (Muriel) who, aged 25, was only two years older than the elder of his sons. However around this time the names of Frank and Muriel Purdie, together with that of Ethel’s son, Harold, are all listed together on the London local electoral register as occupiers of 84 Kingsway, Mrs Ayres Purdie’s former office, suggesting, perhaps, that the second marriage had not caused any family dissension. Life can be so much more surprising and shocking than a novel or a narrative history (suffrage or otherwise) that has all the players concentrating on the one goal little regarding the specifically personal factors that may, in reality, be overwhelming their thoughts.
Ever since the decision was made for the Women’s Library to move to LSE (now open as the Women’s Library @ LSE) I have been writing posts that draw attention to the many locations associated with the women’s movement in the area around Aldwych and the Strand. My hope is that researchers in the Women’s Library, when taking a break from their labours, will welcome some information that will allow them to see the surrounding area with fresh eyes. Or even, as in the case of Buckingham Street, draw them to an area they may never have thought of visiting.
Buckingham Street runs south from the Strand, parallel with Villiers Street, close to Charing Cross Station. In this picture Niemann positions us with our backs to the Strand, viewing the length of the street down towards the 17th-century Watergate which, before the building of the Embankment, marked the northern bank of the Thames. In the distance, looming over the Watergate, we can see the towers of Brunel’s Hungerford Suspension bridge, demolished in 1863. This view had, therefore, changed by the beginning of the 20th century, but from it we can glean an idea of the busy-ness of the narrow street,. There is probably less traffic now – at the moment, as London perpetually renews itself, this consists mainly of builders’ trucks – but the street still ends at the Watergate, by the side of which steps lead down into the Embankment Gardens.
The Survey of London, published in 1937, gives a thorough building history of the street and today’s London guides – such as this one– mention that Pepys lived at number 12 and Dickens at number 15 (his house now bombed and replaced), but campaigning women, too, have a claim to the street’s history.
It was here – at no 18 (at the quieter, river-end of Buckingham Street) that in the autumn of 1907, after the dramatic break with Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, the newly formed Women’s Freedom League opened its office. This was always probably only intended as a temporary solution – the WFL moved to larger premises in nearby Robert Street the following year. I have always wondered whether billiards was not the reason for alighting on no 18 – which at this time also housed the office of the Billiards Association. Teresa Billington-Greig, one of those leading the break with the WSPU, had that year married Frederick Greig, a manufacturer of billiard tables – so, perhaps, when it was clear that they would have to depart Clement’s Inn in a hurry, it was through him that the rebels heard of an office for rent. I’ve not, however, been able to find any proof for this – doubtlessly wild – supposition. Perhaps, rather, the Strand Liberal and Radical Association, also tenants of number 18, effected the introduction to Buckingham Street.
The WFL lost no time in advertising their existence – issuing several photographic cards during the few months they were operating from number 18.
On the other side of the street the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement was based at number 13. The MPU had been founded at a meeting held at the Eustace Miles Restaurant (just the other side of the Strand) in 1910. One of the founders – and the hon. organising secretary of the MPU – was Victor Duval. The premises were also, I think, the offices of his family firm, Duval & Co. Victor’s mother, Emily Duval, had been one of those who transferred allegiance from the WSPU to the WFL and would doubtless have been a regular visitor to number 18.
Back on the eastern side of the street, number 19, now under scaffolding as it is remodelled as ‘luxury apartments’, is a considerably larger building than its neighbour, no 18. Among its many tenants was the Emerson Club which in 1908 was described as a ‘Ladies’ Club’ but from 1911 welcomed both men and women members. This was still rather unusual. The Emerson remained at this address until 1925 and numbered among its members the WFL activists Elizabeth Knight, Amy Hicks and Alison Neilans, as well as Mrs Pankhurst’s brother, Walter, and Margaret Bondfield, the future Labour cabinet minister. Sarah Bennet, the WFL’s treasurer, was one of the Emerson’s early shareholders.
By 1908 number 19 also housed the office of the architect Basil Champneys, while Thackeray Turner and Eustace Balfour (the latter the husband of the suffragist Lady Frances Balfour) had their architectural practice next door at number 20. All three architects brought to fruition – mainly in Queen-Anne style red brick – the dreams of campaigning women. Champneys was the long-time architect of Newnham College and In the 1890s Turner and Balfour designed the York Street Ladies’ Residential Chambers – one of Agnes Garrett’s projects (for which see much more in Crawford, Enterprising Women). Thackeray Turner was also secretary to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, at this time also based at number 20. The architects were working out of the type of late-17th/early-18th-century houses so much admired by Agnes and Rhoda Garrett in House Decoration.
Opposite, at number 12, were the offices of the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses, the premises of the Midwives’ Institute and Trained Nurses’ Club and the Association of Clerks and Secretaries.
So, a 100 years ago, many different types of women would have had many reasons to make their way down Buckingham Street, stopping off at any one of these addresses. Some might, of course, have carried on down the steps at the end of the street and into the Victoria Embankment Gardens – where two major heroes of the suffrage movement are commemorated.
The WFL, based on the south side of the Strand, was very well placed to honour, as they did every year, their particular hero, John Stuart Mill, whose statue is one of several in the Embankment Gardens. (Incidentally you will note from the caption to this card that the WFL had moved into the new Robert Street office by May 1908.) Well into the 1920s women laid tribute before the statue – one 1927 photograph in the Women’s Library collection shows Millicent Fawcett present on such an occasion.
And it is Millicent’s husband, Henry Fawcett, who is the other hero memorialised in the Embankment Gardens. The sculptor of the bronze bust was a woman – Mary Grant, the fountain’s designer was Basil Champneys and the whole was funded, as the inscription testifies, by Henry Fawcett’s ‘grateful countrywomen’.
For more information about the people and societies mentioned see Crawford: The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide.
And do consult the Women’s Library @ LSE online catalogue for details of primary source material.
The photograph above was taken on Monday 18 May 1914 at the sale in Hampstead of goods belonging to Mrs Louisa Thomson Price and others – all of whom had refused to pay their tax. ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ was the motto of the Tax Resistance League.
The Vote (the paper of the Women’s Freedom League with which Mrs Thomson Price was closely associated) reported (22 May 1914) ‘At Hampstead on May 18 a large group of tax resisters had their goods sold at Fitzjohns Estate Auction Rooms. They were Mrs Thomson Price, Mrs and Miss Hicks, Mrs How Martyn , Mrs Milligan, Mrs Hartley, the Misses Collier, and the Misses Dawes Thompson. A procession with a band marched from Finchley Road station to the auction rooms at Swiss Cottage and after the sale an excellent meeting was held at the corner of the Avenue Road. From a gaily decorated wagonette speeches were made by Mrs Thomson Price, Mrs Nevinson and Mrs Kineton Parkes, explaining the reason of the protest.
Below is the note made by Louisa Thomson Price on the reverse of the photographic postcard.
Mrs Louisa Thomson Price was born Louisa Catherine Sowdon in 1864 and died in 1926. She was the daughter of a Tory military family but from an early age rebelled against their way of thinking and became a secularist and a Radical. She was impressed by Charles Bradlaugh of the National Secular Society. In 1888 she married John Samson, who was a member of the executive of the NSS. She worked as a journalist from c 1886 – as a political writer, then a very unusual area for women, and drew cartoons for a radical journal, ‘Political World’. She was a member of the Council of the Society of Women Journalists. After the death of her first husband, in 1907 she married George Thomson Price. She had no children from either marriage.
Louisa Thomson Price was an early member of the Women’s Freedom League, became a consultant editor of its paper, The Vote, and was a director of Minerva Publishing, publisher of the paper. She contributed a series of cartoons to The Vote, which were then produced as postcards. The ‘Jack Horner’ cartoon was also issued as a poster for, I think, the January 1910 General Election. Louisa Thomson Price took part in the WFL picket of the House of Commons and was very much in favour of this type of militancy. In her will she left £250 to the WFL. and £1000 to endow a Louisa Thomson Price bed at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital.
I have a very rare suffrage artefact – a Women’s Freedom League postcard album once owned by Mrs Thomson Price -for sale in my catalogue 185.
This card was one of several published by the Women’s Freedom League in 1910 in an ironical series ‘Suffragettes At Home’ – a tongue-in-the cheek riposte to those who castigated suffragettes as being unwomanly.
Mrs Joseph McCabe was born Beatrice Alice Lee in Leicester in 1880, one of several children of William Lee, a framework knitter and, most importantly, a member of the Leicester Secular Society. For it was doubtless through the Lee family’s association with that Society that in 1899 Beatrice Lee, at barely 19 years old, came to marry Joseph McCabe. The latter was then 32 years old and had already experienced an adventurous religious life – having, at about the time Beatrice was born, entered the Franciscan order and in 1890 having been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. By 1896, however, he had lost his faith, left the priesthood and begun a career as a writer and thinker on freethought. From 1898-99 he was secretary of the Leicester Secular Society.
In 1911 the family was living in north London, at 16 Elm Grove, Cricklewood. On 2 April, when the census was taken, Joseph was away in Wales, presumably on a lecture tour, leaving Beatrice at home with her four children. Although we must assume – in that she allowed herself to be promoted in the WFL card – that she was a member of the Women’s Freedom League she did not evade the census enumerator when he left the form with her at 16 Elm Grove. She completed it, describing herself as ‘mother, nurse and housekeeper also cook’. Besides the 4 children and the 17-year-old domestic help she lists the other members of the household – the cat ‘Diddie’ (neutered), 5 rabbits: ‘Brownie’, ‘Toodles’, ‘Baby’, ‘Biskie’ and ‘Bunkie’, and 3 goldfishes ‘no name’.
Across the form she added the following protest:
‘I wish to register in the strongest possible terms, my utter detestation of, and indignation at, having thrust upon me in the absence of my husband, the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, when neither I nor any single member of my sex is allowed to exercise the most elementary right of a citizen. I would also protest against the insult especially to mothers in describing their valuable services as ‘”only” domestic’.
Joseph McCabe was a keen supporter of women’s suffrage – particularly speaking for the Women’s Freedom League. In 1917 Beatrice McCabe was the hon secretary of the Hendon Women’s Franchise Society, which was affiliated to the United Suffragists. The McCabes were then living at 49 Bridge Lane, Hendon, but separated in 1925; Joseph was notoriously difficult. Beatrice died in 1960.
So that is the story that underpins ‘Mrs Joseph McCabe Bathing her Baby’ – that chubby-cheeked chap being Ernest (1909-1988).
By 1909 Kate Frye was keenly involved – as a volunteer – in the women’s suffrage campaign. Although she belonged to the constitutional London Society for Women’s Suffrage she was happy to give her services to other, more militant, suffrage societies – such as the Women’s Freedom League.
Dramatis Personae for these entries
Marie Lawson (1881-1975) was a leading member of the WFL. An effective businesswoman, in 1909 she formed the Minerva Publishing Co. to produce the WFL’s weekly paper, The Vote.
May Whitty (1865-1948) and Ben Webster (1864-1947) were a well-established theatrical couple. Kate had toured with May Whitty in a production of J.M. Barrie’s Quality Street in 1903.
Ellen Terry (1847-1928) the leading Shakesperean actress of her age.
Edith Craig (1869-1947) theatre director, producer, costume designer, and a very active member of the Actresses’ Franchise League. She staged a number of spectacles for suffrage societies, working particularly closely with the Suffrage Atelier and the Women’s Freedom League. In January 1912 Kate appeared in Edith Craig’s production of The Coronation.
Lena Ashwell (1862-1957) actress, manager of the Kingsway Theatre, a vice-president of the Actresses’ Franchise League and a tax resister.
Thursday April 15th 1909 [The Plat, Bourne End]
I went up to London at 9.50 all in my best. Went to Smiths to leave the books – then straight from Praed St to St James Park by train and to the Caxton Hall for the 1st day of the Women’s Freedom League Bazaar. Got there about 11.30 – everything in an uproar, of course. I had to find out who was in authority over me and where I was to go to do my Palmistry. I had to find a Miss Marie Lawson first and then was taken to a lady who had charge of my department and she arranged where I was to go. A most miserable place it seemed – in a gallery overlooking the refreshment room. I meant to have gone out to have a meal first – but it all took me so long running about getting an extra chair etc that I should have missed the opening. Then another Palmist hurried up – the real thing who donned a red robe. I was jealous. Madame Yenda.
We got on very well, however, and exchanged cards (I have had some printed) it was all about as funny as anything I have ever done and I have had some experiences.
Then I went back to the main room which was beginning to get thronged and stifling from the smell of flash- light photographs. I discovered Miss May Whitty and Mr Ben Webster and chatted to them while we waited for Miss Ellen Terry who was half an hour late. Miss Whitty was awfully nice and I quite enjoyed meeting her again. Ellen Terry looked glorious in 15th century costume and was very gay and larkish. Her daughter Edith Craig was there to look after and prompt her – and ‘mother’ her – what a mother to have had. I expect she had to pay for it. She is a sweet-looking woman with a most clever face – only a tiny shade of her Mother in it but Ellen Terry took the shine out of everyone – what a face to be sure. When she went round the stalls I went to the Balcony and for a little time Madame Yenda and I tried to work up there together but it was impossible. All my clients had to disturb her as they walked to and fro so at last I came out to find 3 more Palmists waiting and nowhere for them to work. One, a real professional, was very cross especially at the small fee being charged and I don’t think she could have been there long. Two other girls, looking real amateurs, were also there. So I sat a while at a table outside and told a few but it wasn’t very satisfactory and at 2 o’clock I went out for some lunch leaving the four others there. I went into a Lyons place in Victoria Street and then went back a little before 3 o’clock meaning to have a look round the Bazaar but I was pounced on to begin again and I was alone at it all the afternoon from 3 till 5.45 up in the gallery. I was left at it with sometimes just a few minutes in between but must have told 40 hands I should say. I did about 7 or 8 before 2 o’clock. We were only supposed to give 10 minutes at the outside but I could not quite limit myself and sometimes, when there wasn’t a rush, I had long talks with the people. It was very interesting and on the whole I think I was successful. Train to Praed St and to Smiths for the books and home by the 6.45.
Friday April 16th 1909 [The Plat, Bourne End]
I went straight to Caxton Hall by train from Praed St to St James’s Park – left some flowers at the flower stall. Mother had packed up some lovely bunches for me. Then I went up to the l[ondon] S[ociety] for W[omen’s] S[uffrage] office on business connected with the Demonstration – then back to the Caxton Hall for the opening of the Green White and Gold Fair on the second day. Miss Lena Ashwell was punctual 12 o’clock and she looked delicious and did it all so nicely. Madame Yenda was there but no other Palmists. My chatty friend, who greeted me rapturously, helped fix up the gallery a much nicer place – but clients did not come very early -they were all following Lena Ashwell – so I had 1/- from Madame Yenda myself. I think she was clever but, of course, I am rather a hard critic at it. She told me a great many things I know to be absolutely true and she gave me some good advice especially about morbid introspective thoughts and I think she is quite right. I do over worry. I am to beware of scandal which is all round me just now. She predicts a broken engagement, a rich alliance and always heaps of money. I should have immense artistic success in my profession if only I had more confidence in myself and if only I had some favourable influence (a sort of back patter, I take it) to help me but such an influence is far away. I shall never live a calm uneventful existence. I shall always spend so much of myself with and for others. I am rather glad of that. I was just beginning to tell her her hand but I wouldn’t let her pay as she told me she was very poor and I could see it when some clients came for us both and we both had to start our work.
I didn’t feel a bit inclined for work at first but got into it and had wonderful success. Kept on till 2 o’clock – went to the Army and Navy Stores then and had some fish for lunch – then back – saw the ‘Prison Cell’ for 5 and was very interested – then started work at 2.45 and never moved off my chair till 6.15. I did have an afternoon of it. Madame Yenda had gone and I was alone in my glory. I must have had quite another 40 people if not more and they were waiting in line to come in to me. I seem to delight some of the people and one or two said I quite made them believe in Palmistry. One old lady came back for another shill’oth [shilling’s worth] as I had been so good with her past and present she wanted her future. I must have been very clairvoyant as I told the people extraordinary things sometimes and they said I was ‘true’. Of course one or two I could not make much headway with but that must always be so.
Where I found I had missed my train I wanted to go on but my chatty friend was really awfully decent and would not hear of it. She said if I would tell one man who had been waiting ever so long that was all I must do and she would send the others away. There were about 18 waiting and she did – rather to my relief. I felt ‘done’
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
NOW, ALAS, OUT OF PRINT.
KATE FRYE’S DIARIES AND ASSOCIATED PAPERS ARE NOW HELD BY ROYAL HOLLOWA COLLEGE ARCHIVE
You can listen here to a talk I gave in the House of Commons – ‘Campaigning for the Vote: From MP’s Daughter to Suffrage Organiser: the diary of Kate Parry Frye’.
Here is an example of a real photographic postcard issued by a suffrage society – in this case by the Women’s Freedom League. Its subject is Mrs Lilian Hicks (1853-1924) who, with her daughter, Amy, was at that time of its publication a leading member of the WFL – as well as a supporter of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Tax Resistance League. Both mother and daughter, by then members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, heeded the call to boycott the 1911 census.
The Hicks’ association with a wide range of suffrage societies, of which I had written a few years earlier in their joint entry in my Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, was made manifest in the magnificent collection of badges and awards – including a hunger-strike medal – that many years ago I acquired from a woman to whom they had been indirectly bequeathed. They are now held in a private collection.
Lilian and Amy Hicks lived here, at 33 Downside Crescent, Hampstead. At the other end of the street was the home – probably the rather unhappy home – of Margaret Wynne Nevinson, a fellow member of the Women’s Freedom League. I realised that a bond of friendship existed between the two women when, all those years ago, I recognised – hanging on the wall of the sitting-room in the small cottage of the woman from whom I was buying the collection of Hicks’ memorabilia – a large painting by Margaret’s son, C.R. Nevinson. It was in the guise of ‘the mother of the Futurists’ that Margaret went when she attended a dinner given by the Women Writers’ Suffrage League at the Hotel Cecil on 29 June 1914. Unfortunately there is no record of the form of dress that this witty allusion took.
The photograph of Mrs Hicks on this official Women’s Freedom League postcard was taken by Lena Connell and probably issued around 1909/10.
Mrs Lilian Hicks was a member of the Women’s Freedom League