Grace Edith Burbidge was born in 1887 in Holloway, North London. Her parents were William, an accountant to a pianoforte manufacturer and Harriet. Grace had six brothers and one sister. By the time Grace was three the family had moved to 22 Hartham Road, Holloway. In 1902 Grace’s mother died and her sister, Hilda who had been a pupil teacher became her father’s housekeeper. Eight years later Grace is noted on the 1911 census as working as a clerk for a motor company. Five of her six brothers were still living at home and her sister is being assisted in her domestic duties by a servant.
In January 1913, Grace was arrested and charged with maliciously damaging several letters by pouring liquid phosphorus into a pillar box. A postman emptied the box at nine in the evening and as he walked down the road noticed his bag was alight. He tipped the contents on the ground, finding a tube containing phosphorous and four damaged letters. Earlier another postman had noticed a woman, later identified as Grace, near the pillar box on the junction of Camden Road and Sandall Road, with her right arm enveloped in a blue flame screaming. He reported the matter to the police who followed Grace to a nearby doctor who was dressing her arm. When the policeman approached her, Grace said ‘I went to put it into the box, and it went on my arm instead’. After her arrest Grace commented that she had failed ‘never mind, you know what it was through’.
At her trial Grace pleaded guilty. Her solicitor, Arthur Marshall, husband of Kitty, a suffragette, said she had been severely burned, undertook not to commit a similar offence and ‘was practically the mainstay of her family’. She was bound over for six months and fined £25. The Magistrate described Grace as a ‘poor deluded dupe of others’.
There are no reports suggesting that prior to this event Grace was involved with any of the suffragette groups but by the summer of 1913 she was joint honorary secretary of the Islington Branch of the WSPU. Each Wednesday evening Grace and her fellow secretary made themselves available at the branch premises in Goswell Road, for consultation. It was a position Grace held until at least 1914.
In 1929 Grace married Jacob Wasserzug or West, a dental instrument maker of Polish descent who like her had grown up in north London. No further information has been located.
Janet Legate Bunting and Janet Legate Bunten are recorded in the amnesty record as two people whereas they are one and the same: Janet Legate Bunten. Janet was born in 1877 to Robert, a merchant in chemicals, and Flora. One of four children, Janet lost her elder sister in 1896, her mother two years later and her father in 1907. From there on her family was an elder and a younger brother.
In August 1909, Janet was one of eight women, all members of the Women’s Freedom League, arrested in Downing Street charged with obstructing the police in their duty. The Women’s Freedom League mounted a picket outside the Prime Minister’s residence. This, they claimed in a letter to the Times and in a leaflet which was distributed around the environs of the Houses of Parliament, was their constitutional right as the purpose of the picket was to be able to present a petition to the Prime Minister. The prosecution argued that no such right existed and in any event the papers the women had on them, when arrested, did not amount to a petition as they opened ‘with a respectful remonstrance’ and did not close with a prayer which the law stipulated was necessary. The women refused to move despite many requests and were arrested. A specific instance cited was the actions of Janet and Lily Boileau (see earlier blog) who were standing together on the Downing Street pavement when Asquith’s carriage drew up. Lily stepped forward holding a cardboard tube in her hand which contained the petition, as she did so requesting Asquith take it. His response was ‘No, don’t be so silly’. As he responded Lily extended her arm towards the Prime Minister where upon her wrist was grabbed by a policeman and the tube fell to the ground. Lily and Janet were told to go away. Perplexed Lily enquired why it had been legal to stand there yesterday but not today.
The women’s defence, led by Tim Healy, a King’s Counsel and Irish Member of Parliament, pointed out that the women had been on the pavement, but the charge was obstructing the police not causing an obstruction on the footpath; ‘the police might be obstructed by angels,’ he observed in an address the Vote described as ‘one of the finest and most stirring pieces of oratory.’ In cross examination the police superintendent conceded that he might have allowed the women to remain if they had been in possession of a legal document which would have potentially made their presence fall within the law. The superintendent admitted he had never inspected the papers and the obstruction was, in reality, caused by the crowd that had gathered to watch. The Magistrate adjourned for a week to consider his judgement.
The Magistrate found all eight women guilty fining them forty shillings or in default seven days in prison. An appeal was immediately launched and pending that hearing the women were at liberty. The appeal was heard in January the following year quickly becoming known as Mrs Despard’s case as she headed the WFL. This time the women were represented by Henry McCardie who presented an argument pointing out that Downing Street was a highway which the public had the right to use, adding that two defendants had only been there for a couple of minutes and Charlotte Despard and Mrs Cobden Sanderson had not even entered the street. The Lord Chief Justice dismissed the appeal expressing in his finding that a petition could be delivered by post and the women had used ‘the highway in an unreasonable and improper manner’. It is not clear whether, after this hearing, Janet paid the fine or went to prison.
While the appeal hearing was pending Janet was active in the Govan Branch, in the south west of Glasgow, of the WFL. During the 1910 general election Janet was active in Dundee. The branch held a Cake and Candy sale and after an opening ceremony four of them, including Janet, went to see Winston Churchill address a meeting for women at the YMCA. The four of them stood up and asked questions in response to Churchill’s statement that ‘Men have a vote because they are men’. The stewards attempted to eject them, but the women swung out of the gathering having received a cursory reply from the speaker. By November 1910 Janet was the Honorary Secretary of the Glasgow branch based in Sauchiehall Street.
Janet’s next brush with the law was being fined twenty shillings for keeping a dog without a licence. She was a member of the Tax Resistance League, the WFL being the first suffrage group to make such a protest part of its campaign. Janet argued, in court, that it was unjust to tax women who were unable to vote, and a licence was a form of taxation. Both the WFL and the WSPU demonstrated outside the court room. Janet was found guilty and fined twenty shillings. She refused to pay the fine and was given ten days to do so. The alternative was ten days in gaol. Again it is not clear whether Janet paid the fine. Like many she had her goods distrained for failure to pay taxes due. On one occasion Janet’s property was entered for sale while she was absent campaigning. A close friend of hers, a member of the WSPU who had also had her own goods seized, attended the auction where the property was to be sold buying back her and Janet’s.
In June 1913 Janet and Marianne Hyde were arrested on the corner of Downing Street and charged, again, with obstruction. Janet and Marianne had been attempting to hold a meeting to protest at the refusal to grant the former bail when she had been charged recently with a similar offence. Sadly, no report of the first instance has been located. The two women were fined forty shillings or fourteen days in gaol. They both elected to go to prison. On their release a reception was held at Caxton Hall and they were presented with bouquets ‘as a sign of the League’s appreciation of their services’. Janet observed that ‘twenty and a-half hours out of every twenty-four in solitary confinement were not conducive to good health or clear thinking’.
In the summer, the Glasgow branch moved its operation to the Isle of Rothesay dubbing it ‘On the Clyde Coast’. The idea was to appeal to the holidaymakers. Volunteers including Janet were described as ‘very literally [bearing] the heat and burden of the day’. During the summer season of 1914 the group held between four to six meetings in the day often with another in the evening. The following year Asquith stood uncontested in the East Fife by-election. Ahead of Asquith addressing a meeting in Cupar Janet and Ada Broughton placarded all ‘the most important buildings, hoardings, telegraph poles etc with a large poster protesting against the re-election of the Premier because his pledges to women remain unfulfilled’. This included every other telegraph pole from Springfield to Cupar, about three miles.
During the First World War the WFL adopted a pacifist stance while undertaking voluntary work. Although they suspended the campaign for suffrage fundraising continued to support the fight for the vote and the voluntary efforts. A big part of this was the annual Green White and Gold Fair. The American suffrage movement had garnered much publicity in 1908 by dressing a mannequin with a hundred pockets, women, in return for a donation, picked ‘a treasure to bring funds to the suffragette cause’. At the 1917 Green White and Gold fair Janet copied the idea but instead of a mannequin she dressed herself as the woman with a hundred pockets described as a ‘picturesque and irresistible figure’.
When the 1939 register was taken Janet was living in Littlehampton, Sussex with her brother, John, and his wife.
Thomas Mortimer Budgett was the brother-in-law of Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. Born in 1865 Thomas was the son of James, a manufacturer of rope and twine and Sarah. The family lived in Crimchard, Somerset. Thomas had two elder brothers, Henry, and Frederick. In 1879 his father, James died. Twenty years later Thomas, married Annie Pethick, often known as Nance, Emmeline’s sister. Thomas and his brother Frederick, settled in Bromley, Kent where they worked in partnership as timber merchants. Thomas and Annie had four children.
The Men’s League for Suffrage, a group described as being founded on non-political lines, was founded in 1907. Thomas was appointed one of two honorary secretaries, a post he held until April 1908. While Annie wrote a pamphlet for the WSPU titled Facts Behind the Press discussing the misrepresentation of the woman’s movement which sold for 1d.
In February 1909, twenty-nine were arrested following another attempt to garner an interview with the Prime Minster at the House of Commons. A deputation set off from Caxton Hall, following a meeting, and as they approached Parliament Square the following crowd were prevented from proceeding. The deputation was permitted to continue while the police attempted to push the followers back towards Caxton Hall. Emmeline Pethick Lawrence led the group who arrived at the door of the House of Commons to find their way blocked by policemen. She was informed that Asquith was not in the House, but the petition would be given to him. Several of them attempted to push past the police cordon and members of the crowd followed suit leading to many the arrests. Thomas was the only man detained.
At a crowded court, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were given seats in the dock. The police gave evidence which Emmeline declined to question, electing instead to make a statement. One by one the other defendants entered the dock, each declining to call witnesses or make any statement other than Constance Lytton who entered the dock and observed how proud she was of her actions. The last to enter the dock was Thomas who, according to the police, had attempted to breach the cordon. Described as being ‘in a very excited state’ Thomas had told the police ‘I am not going away: the women are not going to do all the dirty work’. Thomas offered no defence but said ‘it was quite obvious that he could not stand by and see English women treated in such as disgraceful way’. The Magistrate responded that if Thomas had been in court, he would have heard the women talk of the police ‘in the highest terms’. Thomas had interfered for no reason. He was bound over for a payment of £20 and £20 surety or sentenced to one month in prison allocated to Division II. All the women elected to go to gaol, but Thomas did not. His brother-in-law, Frederick, acting as surety.
The WSPU started a fundraising campaign called the £50,000 fund. By April 1909, an impressive £33000 had been raised and that month Annie donated £50. During 1910/11 Thomas served on the committee of the Men’s League for Suffrage. The 1911 census only records Thomas, across the form is written: Women refuse all particulars. No votes = no information’. The couple do not appear to have had any further direct involvement with the movement. Annie died in 1926 and Thomas in 1942.
Emma Birchell or Buchell was arrested in October 1913. Beatrice Sanders , financial secretary of the WSPU, and Harriet Kerr , manager of the WSPU had been released under the Cat and Mouse Act in June 1913 and in accordance with the terms of their release refrained from any overt WSPU activities. In October it was announced that both women were to return to their posts at Lincoln’s Inn House.
In no time several plain clothes policemen were dispatched to the premises. When the two women left for lunch the officers informed Beatrice and Harriet, they were under arrest for infringing the conditions of their release. Several women, including Emma, rushed out to rescue Beatrice and Harriet. After a struggle and an influx of uniformed officers the two were taken away. Emma, Annie Ford, Alice Virtue and Gwendoline Cook were arrested and charged with assault and obstructing the police. Each was fined 40 shillings or one month in gaol.
Nothing further has been found about Emma.
Agnes Buckton was found guilty of maliciously damaging three windows at 65-66 Piccadilly the property of De Castro & Sons valued at four shillings and sixpence during March 1912. Agnes was sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour. If the value of the windows is correctly recorded this is a very harsh sentence for a first offence and reflects a pattern which can be seen in sentencing; increasingly harsher sentences as the authorities tried to stay on top of the suffragette actions.
On the records her year of birth is given as 1868 but no further details have been located.
Constance Bryer was arrested for the first time on 29 June 1909. Under the auspices of the WSPU an attempt was made to approach the House of Commons to speak to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. It was estimated that over three thousand police were drafted in to secure the area. One newspaper describes the phalanx of police ‘as far north as the War Office in Whitehall, the south side of Westminster Bridge, the top of Victoria Street and the gates of St James’s Park’. The women gathered at Caxton Hall, where behind the speaker’s platform hung banners ‘Come on, Brave Soldiers’ and ‘Doubt not of the day’. Nine women including Emmeline Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence made up the deputation intent on conveying to the Prime Minister a resolution demanding Votes for Women.
While the police gave free passage to the deputation; the followers access was barred. One woman caused quite a stir by leaving Caxton Hall mounted on a horse sporting the WSPU colours. When Emmeline Pankhurst reached the door at the St Stephen’s entrance to the Houses of Parliament, she was handed an envelope inside which was a letter from Asquith stating he was unable to receive the deputation. The nine women refused to leave and were arrested. The following crowd repeatedly tried to approach Parliament Square, but the police attempted to move them towards Trafalgar Square. In the ensuing melee several windows were broken. Around one hundred people were arrested among them Constance who was described in Votes for Women as ‘always been a rebel against the unfair conditions of women’s life’. In an interview, after her arrest, Constance said of herself ‘not a bit of pluck’. The charges against her were discharged.
Constance Elizabeth was born in 1870, the daughter of Thomas, a bullion merchant, and Elizabeth. Baptised at St George’s Church, Tufnell Park, the family lived, at the time, at 2 Shaftesbury Villas, Hornsey Rise, a short walk away. Constance, a talented musician, was the eldest daughter preceded by a brother, Edgar of a family of nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. By 1901, the family were living in a substantial house, 30 Avenue Road, on the edges of Crouch End, north London. Ten years later, they had moved to 49 Tufnell Park Road, only a few miles away.
Constance’s father, Thomas, had joined his father’s, John, firm of watchmakers. During the 1870s John acquired a business refining and smelting gold and silver based at 53-54 the Barbican which he ran alongside a business making chronometers and watches. After his death, his three sons including Thomas continued. They rebuilt the premises in 1900 adorning it with a frieze depicting the process of gold refining which is preserved to this day. Thomas’s attitude or the census enumerator’s approach is reflected in both the 1901 and 1911 returns which lists the sons of the family first regardless of age and then the daughters.
Constance was charged with obstruction for her part in Black Friday but as with all the other participators the charges were dropped. She gave an account to Henry Brailsford and Jennie Murray. Constance described her injuries as ‘principally bruises on the arms, although I was knocked about all over really. The only remaining injury is a knock or strain on the shoulder, which seems to get no better’. She had intervened in Downing Street by pulling on a policeman’s belt ‘to relieve’ an arrested woman who was being taken ‘away with great unnecessary roughness’. Constance believed violence would not have ensued if the police had not deployed plain clothes officers misleading wearing Men’s League badges which she described as ‘an unspeakable act of meanness and treachery’.
Constance became secretary of the North Islington branch of the WSPU in December 1910 with many of the meetings hosted at her home. Some gatherings were held in the St Mark’s vicarage garden in Tollington Park, north London as guest of Reverend Finlay Green and his wife. Finlay went on to be the editor of the journal, Church League for Women’s Suffrage, first published in 1912 by the League of the same name. During November 1911, Constance was arrested and found guilty of breaking a window at a Local Government Office. She was fined five shillings or five days in prison. Charged and convicted alongside Mrs Eleanor Adams (see earlier blog) Constance said in court that ‘she did it because it was the only thing the Government understood’.
Early in 1912 the North Islington branch acquired premises at 19 St Thomas’s Road, Finsbury Park. Thanks are given in Votes for Women to the people who had helped to make the office habitable by providing a table, oil stove and curtains. Another benefactor pledged a shilling a week towards the rent. The article closes with a plea for more furniture and books for a proposed lending library. The following month Constance was sentenced to four months in prison alongside women discussed in earlier blogs such as Violet Aitken, Dorothy Bowker, Grace Branson, and Louise Archibald for maliciously damaging a window valued at £15 and another the property of the Raoul Shoe Company worth £30, both in Regent Street. Due to the sheer volume of women some, including Constance, were sent to Winson Green prison in Birmingham. Constance was allocated to Division III.
A report in the official files notes that Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary from February 1910, had instructed that ‘there was to be no squeamishness’ as to commencing force feeding which should be started after an examination by a medical officer to determine if the prisoner was deemed sufficiently fit to cope with the procedure. Churchill had suggested that force feeding should be commenced twenty-four hours after food had first been refused. However, it was pointed out that the procedure had to take place if it was decided it was a medical necessity and therefore it was for the medical officer to deem when the need for intervention arose. By 25 June twenty-two women at Winson Green were being force fed: sixteen with a tube; six with a cup, voluntarily or semi-voluntarily. Across four prisons including Brixton, where one male supporter was jailed, a total of fifty-seven were being fed by force including Constance although the files do not contain any specific details.
The issues of having suffragette prisoners foisted upon them is highlighted by the Visiting Committee at Winson Green which raised concerns at the presence of the women moved from London. The prison did not lend itself to being able to segregate the suffragettes from other women prisoners. The Committee observed that ‘with the suffragettes the discipline has been so relaxed, that only detention has been secured … the Suffragettes have been allowed to conduct themselves as they pleased, and this in the sight of other prisoners’. This, they felt, was ‘likely to create a feeling of discontent’ among the ordinary prisoners. Constance formed a lifelong friendship with Olive Wharry while in Winson Green who, on her death in 1948, bequeathed to Constance her hunger strike medal and a monetary annuity.
In 2012 an autograph book came up for sale in which, on 2 May 1912 while in prison, Constance wrote:
Suffragettes we sit & sew
Sew &sit & sit & sew
Twenty-five are we
Making shirts & socks for men
Cannot get away from them
Even here you see
Constance was released on June 29 1912. The picture below depicts Constance and Eleanor in the garden of St Mark’s vicarage. On the back is written ‘Miss Adams and Miss Constance Bryer’ after their release from Prison’. The two women lived close to each other in north London. The photograph is taken in the summer probably in July 1912.
Constance continued her work as secretary of the North Islington Branch which intended to stage weekly meetings outside Holloway Prison. Eighteen months later, in January 1914 Constance resigned as secretary but remained a member of the North Islington branch. Constance appeared in the newspapers for a matter unrelated to suffragette activities. A man was charged with committing a burglary at Constance’s family home. He had gained entry through the scullery window which Constance believed the burglar had broken the week before. The Magistrate questioned Constance as to whether she had actually seen the burglar break the window: ‘When was the window broken woman?’ Constance declined to respond to such a rudely worded question observing ‘You are very rude to me’. When the accused’s mother pleaded for clemency, she claimed her son had been influenced by suffragettes who lived in the same house as him. The women, his mother claimed, had declared ‘that capitalists were withholding [their] rights’ and had incited him to commit a crime. Interviewed by a medical officer at Brixton prison the defendant had stated that the suffragists had told him he ‘could take what [he] liked except human life’.
Constance, through her friendship with Finlay Green, was a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage. During the First World War Constance worked in Home Defence and munitions. Constance died in 1952 still living in the same area of London.
Violet Bryant is an interesting insight into discrepancies between official records and fact as told by the arrestee. Both versions are included below.
Violet Bryant was arrested alongside Ellen Pitfield, Dorothy Shallard and Lily Asquith (see earlier blog) for breaking windows valued at £3 7 shillings and 6 pence at the Liberal Club in Newcastle upon Tyne ahead of a visit to the city by Lloyd George. The night before Violet addressed a meeting asserting that ‘no barriers would prevent them; they were prepared to go to any length to get their rights even to death itself’. Each of the women pleaded guilty and were sentenced to fourteen days with hard labour. The Votes for Women newspaper reported that Violet was a nurse who was so outraged at the force feeding of the suffragette prisoners in prison in Birmingham she had resigned her position and travelled to Newcastle to support the cause.
From the police station in Newcastle eleven women involved in the demonstration wrote to the WSPU at its headquarters in Clement’s Inn. The letter opens ‘Friends, -All is well’ and asserts their collection dedication to women’s suffrage and their intention to refuse food which would leave the Government with the option ‘To release us in a few days; to inflict violence upon our bodies; to death to the champions of our Cause by leaving us to starve; or – the best and only wise alternative – to give women the vote’. On reception at prison Violet declared that she intended to break her cell window and was therefore allocated to a reception cell with additional blankets supplied. Violet was 6 feet two inches tall and weighed fourteen stone which posed a problem as no prison skirt fitted. She was, therefore, confined to bed until one could be made.
Various reports are on the files regarding force feeding. On 13 October Violet was fed by nasal tube twice which led to ‘slight bruises on both arms’ where she had been restrained. The report the following day, records Violet violently resisted force feeding by nasal tube in the morning when one pint of egg and milk was administered. In the evening two pints with the addition of brandy were administered. Her general condition is described as fair. The next day Violet took a mixture of milk, egg, and Valentine’s beef juice from a cup in the morning and evening.
The four women were released on 22 October and taken to a nursing home. Each had been force fed and forced to wear prison clothing, none, however, had undertaken any hard labour. Frederick Pethick Lawrence was one of the occupants of a carriage sent to collect the four on their release. As a crowd had gathered outside the prison the carriage driver was instructed to drive into the prison yard. Frederick writes ‘The prisoners were then brought into the yard. They looked exceedingly ill, not a vestige of colour showing in their faces, and were with difficulty helped in …’ Violet recounted how she had resisted all the attempts to force her lips open and when the nasal tube was inserted, she had managed to eject it by coughing. However, she had become too weak to continue resisting.
Only weeks later Violet was arrested for a second time and charged with breaking windows at the Liberal Club in Haslingden, a town in Lancashire having apparently carried the stones four miles from the village of Waterfoot. The damages were stated to be £4 and 15 shillings. Violet refused to pay either the damages or a 20 shilling fine and was imprisoned for one month.
Very tall, Violet was dubbed the ‘Suffragist Giantess’. On her arrival at prison on 6 December Violet was described by the prison doctor as ‘an exceptionally fine and strong young woman. Violet refused to give her name announcing her intention not to comply with orders, declining to bathe or don prison uniform. The Governor ordered that physical force should be used but Violet immediately stripped off the uniform into which she had been forced and then refused food. He concluded that Violet was very tall ‘strong, and heavy in proportion. Difficult to handle’. Five days after her admission Violet is described as ‘still insubordinate and insolent and refuses to obey any orders’. However, she was wearing the uniform. On the advice of the medical officer Violet had been placed in a special cell. She was by this point being force fed. While authorities concur that Violet, see below, cut through the canvas dress provided for warmth rather than scratch on to the cell wall with a shard of glass Violet had used her own blood from a cut to her finger to write ‘Votes for Women’. As Violet writes no bedding or mattress were given as she was on punishment.
A report on the file dated 13 December notes Violet was force fed by oesophageal tube twice. One each occasion a pint was administered of milk, cream, and a whipped egg with the addition of either plasmon, a powdered milk protein, or a tonic. One of the assistants during the process complained of ‘the force of her grip’ on their wrists. A further report, written the same day, describes Violet who had been confined to a special cell as ‘still obstinate’. On 14th Violet was moved from the special cell to which she had been confined for seven days. Violet requested a library book but was informed she was not entitled to anything other than devotional books. When asked her religion Violet replied, ‘Votes for Women’. In protest Violet smashed four panes in her cell windows. In the margin of the report of Violet’s actions someone has noted that after this incident Gladstone amended the policy for the provision of books and later, Winston Churchill, established a committee to investigate. Matron reported to the Governor that Violet had broken the glass and was violent although absolutely no mention is made of any such behaviour in other reports. In consequence, he ordered that Violet should be removed to a special cell with ‘handcuffs behind her back’ which were removed to allow force feeding several hours later. The report states that handcuffs were not used when Violet was returned to the special cell. It is interesting to note that this is a key difference between her account, see below, and the Governor’s.
Still confined to the special cell Violet declined to take any exercise. By this point she had submitted two petitions, one queried her allocation to the Third Division as Violet passionately believed the Magistrate had ordered her to the Second Division and the other was requesting to see her solicitor. Both were declined. The report of 17 December notes that Violet had ‘discovered a new method of obstructing the passage of the tube with her tongue’ but it did not prevent her being fed twice. The following day the process took place again but, it was noted, Violet had consented to do some needlework which she had hitherto refused to do or clean her cell. A few days later Violet requested a hot water bottle, and it only becomes known at this point that her prison slippers did not fit and therefore she could not walk in them. The Governor, noted, that her own boots were returned to her. Violet, who remained in the special cell as she refused to undertake not to cause any more damage, then began to take exercise along a prison corridor and the following day took a half an hour walk around the prison yard.
By Christmas Eve Violet had been force fed for over two weeks. For the first time she complained of feeling faint. The doctor felt this was surprising as Violet had, in his opinion, had an exciting day. She had requested to see the Governor to ask that dirty washing she had brought in with her be laundered. This was agreed to so long as Violet paid to which she consented. Still confined to the special cell Violet asked to attend church on Christmas Day which was granted so long as undertook to refrain from causing a disturbance. It was also agreed that Violet could return to a normal cell. On Christmas Day Violet attended the Roman Catholic service twice but was as usual force fed twice. Concerned at the exertion of the day the doctor advised her to lie down for the remainder.
The force feeding continued. Violet attended a church service again and requested a bucket of water with which she cleaned her cell. However, when she requested to attend again permission was only given if Violet agreed to take some food beforehand as she had complained of feeling faint. This she did eating some bread and butter accompanied by a cup of tea. By this stage Violet had been force fed twice a day for twenty-three days. In his report on New Year’s Day the Governor notes that Violet apologised to him for her previous behaviour. Arrangements were made for Violet’s release. She was to be conveyed in a cab to a friend’s address in Preston accompanied by a prison officer dressed in plain clothes.
Violet was released on 5 January 1910. She sent an account to Votes for Women of her experience in Preston Gaol. The Governor informed Violet that there had been prisoners before her ‘who were not amenable to reason, but we have ways to manage them’. Violet observed that all that followed bore out the Governor’s threat ‘till the authorities found my principals stronger than their regulations’. When she refused to wear prison clothes eight wardresses stripped her but as soon as Violet was locked in her cell, she shed the uniform until only one garment was left. This was all she had to keep her warm as both her bed and bedding had been removed. When nothing happened when Violet complained of her cell being airless, she smashed the windows. As a result, she was taken before the Visiting Committee who sentenced her to seven days in close confinement.
Violet refused food and the decision was taken to commence force feeding. The wardresses forced, Violet recounts, her into a canvas dress with ‘straps at neck, wrists, and waist’. Violet remained undefeated using a shard of glass to cut through the straps and then using one of the straps to smash the glass pane over a gas jet. She then etched on to the wall ‘Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow’. When all of this was discovered, Violet was taken to a punishment cell and placed in irons. Twenty-four hours later and unshackled Violet was force fed by nasal tube; too weak she did not put up any resistance. The following day the nasal tube was abandoned in place of the oesophageal one. The punishment cell was bitterly cold so Violet requested a hot water bottle which the doctor declined instead suggesting she wore her boots rather than bare feet.
By now weak Violet wished at attend the Catholic services over Christmas. As she had collapsed the doctor agreed she could attend New Year’s Day mass if she ate which reluctantly Violet agreed to but thereafter the force feeding continued. Only when the Priest intervened was Violet allowed to take Holy Communion. After seven days in the punishment cell Violet was returned to the regular accommodation but after only a day, she was sent back for breaking a window in protest at not being allowed a book. This time the handcuffs were only in place for a few hours as the skin of her wrist had been pinched in the hinge.
In a ceremony at the Albert Hall Violet was presented with a hunger strike medal by Emmeline Pankhurst.
The official records state that Violet was born in 1883 and this concurs with all the newspaper coverage but there are no births recorded that year. While it is said she was a nurse in London it could be that she moved to the city to train rather than being born there. Sadly, no further trace has been found of a woman who had a gigantic resolve to match her physique.
The next entry is M Browne arrested in July 1909. There is in sufficient information to delve any further.
The next entry on the arrest record is Mrs Margaret Shaw Brown or in a margin entry Margaret Hopkins. As is often the case, the alias given is, in fact, her maiden name. Margaret Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was born in Falmouth, Cornwall in 1866. As given on her marriage certificate, her father's name was Charles, whose occupation was given as engineer. Margaret is recorded on the 1881 census at school in Saltash, Cornwall. In October 1888, she married John Shaw Brown Akyhab, Bengal, India, a municipal secretary. An announcement was placed in the Dundee Courier citing that John was to wed Maggie. Less than six years later, John died in Burma.
It appears that Margaret returned to England and trained as a midwife. The 1920 Midwives Roll records Margaret as qualifying in November 1905. In the same year, Margaret is also included in the register of Physiotherapy and Masseurs. On the evening of 10 February 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst addressed a crowd of over a thousand from the second-floor window of the London home of the Brackenburys (see earlier blog), 2 Campden Hill Square, which was used as a nursing home and headquarters from time to time by the WSPU. During her speech, Emmeline announced her intention to shortly leave the property, challenging the police to re-arrest her as she was out on release from prison under the Cat and Mouse Act's provisions. In the dark and gloom of a winter's evening, the police struggled to identify Emmeline from among a small group who left the house, which was not aided by the crowd growing increasingly hostile. One policeman described the 'flourishing of clubs and shouting in an excited manner.'
The police arrested one woman, 'dressed to resemble Mrs Pankhurst' but turned out to be a Mrs F E Smith. As they did so, the crowd surged forward, felling not only some of the police officers but also their prisoner. Eventually, the police managed to remove Mrs Smith to the local police station. While the scrummage ensued at the front of the house, Emmeline escaped from the rear. Six other women were arrested, including Margaret, who protested at court at having her fingerprints taken when on remand at Holloway Prison. 'What proof have you that my name is Mrs Shaw Brown? I want to protest against my fingerprints being taken in Holloway. Is it legal, Sir?' Margaret asked the Magistrate. Margaret, charged with obstruction, was fined ten shillings or seven days in prison.
Margaret was arrested for a second time the following month for breaking windows of, Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary's, residence in Smith Square. She was sentenced to two months with hard labour on 14 March. A report dated 16 March notes that while Margaret was on hunger strike, no attempt had been made to force feed her.
Only three days later, Margaret was released from prison under the Cat and Mouse Act in an ambulance in a 'very weak condition.' The Woman's Dreadnought reported that Margaret was re-arrested on 19 June, while The Suffragette notes that she was returned to Holloway Prison earlier, went on hunger strike and was re-released under the Cat and Mouse Act on 20 June. The following week's edition of The Suffragette noted that Margaret 'has been very much reduced by her imprisonment. For some days after her release, she was in a state of fever, and she is now weak and nervously shocked. It will be some weeks before she is well again.'
From 1919 to 1922, Margaret is registered on the electoral roll living in Melvin Hall, a substantial block of flats, in Golders Green. The last record of Margaret is living in Devon.
Robert Henry Brown was arrested in October 1908. A march on the House of Commons had been planned. The police on foot and mounted filled the area, no one was allowed to pass the cordon without suitable credentials and traffic was diverted away from Parliament Square. The column of women marched towards Parliament only to be deterred in every attempt to breach the cordon. Around forty people were arrested including thirteen men. Among the women detained, already discussed in earlier blogs, were Kathleen Brown and Winifred Bray. Nothing has been found further to identify Robert.
Myra Eleanor Sadd-Brown, who was arrested twice: November 1911 and March the following year. In 1911 Myra was one of around two hundred suffragettes arrested. Charged with obstruction, she was sentenced to a 5-shilling fine or five days in prison. She elected to go to prison.
Myra Eleanor Sadd was born in 1872 in Maldon, Essex to John, a timber merchant, and Mary Anne. The second youngest of ten children, five girls and five boys, Myra grew up in Maldon, where her family were members of the Congregational Church. Besides his business interests, her father was Mayor four times of Maldon, a visiting justice to the Essex County Lunatic Asylum and a Harbour Commissioner. A Liberal John instilled in his children the importance of hard work and service to the community. Myra married Ernest Brown, a hardware merchant, in September 1896. She followed other liberal-minded couples and from her marriage was known as Sadd Brown.
The couple lived at 34 Woodberry Down, just off Green Lanes at the northern tip of Finsbury Park. They had four children: Myra Sadd, 1899; Ernest Sadd, 1904; Emily Price, 1906 and Jean Frances, 1908. Ernest and his brothers established Brown Brothers Limited, based in Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, with branches across the country and representatives in Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and South America. The business retailed bicycles, motorbikes and, at one point, cars plus any parts required.
Ernest was a member of the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers. An entity whose application form presumed a male applicant. All four children followed in his footsteps. On the girls' forms, son is crossed out, and daughter substituted, but the rest of the form remains unannotated 'because he is legitimate, and was born after the admission of his father'. Jean's form was completed in 1929.
Myra was elected a poor law guardian serving on the Hackney Board for six years. On Edward VII's coronation, Myra donated sufficient strawberries and sugar to feed around eight hundred elderly and infirm residents in the Hackney Workhouse. A donation she repeated in following years, providing over four hundred pounds of fruit each time. A member of the Women's Liberal Federation, Myra attended a conference in Birmingham in May 1901. One woman called the assembled company' political dummies' if they supported any candidate who disagreed with women's suffrage. Another pointed out that without the vote, women were classed 'with paupers, lunatics, criminals and children,' Despite these pleas, the motion to only support candidates who were pro-suffrage was defeated. Another significant issue was the Boer War with the proposed resolution that the encounter was 'all wrong from beginning to end.' With several others, Myra countered the proposal with 'considerable vigour,' observing why 'our Army and ourselves' were being painted 'as black as possible and the other side as white and as pure as the driven snow?' This statement was met with widespread approval.
In January 1903, Myra addressed a meeting of the Romford Women's Liberal Association entitled The Ideals of Liberalism stressing, the importance of women taking their place in politics. Women needed to be organised in their campaigning 'without which they were like a rudderless ship' undertaking 'to do their share of the fighting for the freedom and privileges of Liberalism which … would again be the might movement it had been in its best day.'
Myra's mother, Mary Ann, was President of the Maldon branch of the Association. At the family home, Mary Ann hosted a gathering at which Myra spoke about women's suffrage. At the annual conference in Halifax, Myra moved a resolution condemning the proposed London Education Bill, which, if passed, would see women unable to stand for election to education authorities, an arena in which they had previously made significant contributions. The resolution easily passed. At the evening reception Earl Beauchamp, a Liberal peer, added his support, voicing his opinion that the Bill was 'a failure.' In April 1904, Myra ceased to be a guardian. At her final meeting, it was observed that Myra 'had the mind and courage of a lady combined with the inferior power of a man.'
©Museum of London Commercial picture postcard published by the Rotary Photographic Company. The comic postcard is printed with two studio photographs of a young female child representing the Suffragette both 'at home' - reading a newspaper and 'at work' - standing on a chair delivering a speech. The postmark is dated 15 August 1909 and includes a message possibly sent to the Suffragette Myra Sadd Brown. It notes the sender is going to the White City Exhibition the following day.
By July 1907, Myra was secretary of the North Hackney Women's Liberal Association, part of the Federation, which she set about re-organising. In the same year, she donated £5 to the WSPU's £20000 fund. At a meeting of the Federation at Caxton Hal,l it was proposed, as it had been in Birmingham, that support should only be extended to candidates who supported women's suffrage. Myra sought to extend the proposition to refusing to assist in any electoral activity unless 'a measure for [women's] enfranchisement' was brought in. It appears that Myra's proposal was not accepted.
The Women's Franchise, the WFL newspaper, announced in October 1908 that Myra was to be one of the speakers at Caxton Hall. Despite this allegiance, she and Ernest donated £5 each to the WSPU £50000 fund. Myra joined the Hackney branch of the WFL chairing in December 1908, a two-day gathering in the Stoke Newington Library Gallery. Speeches by Charlotte Despard, Teresa Billington-Greig, were followed by performances from the South Palace Orchestra and the gallery was filled with stalls offering needlework, dolls or pictures for sale. From 1909 onwards, Myra addressed WFL meetings regularly. At an At Home held at Caxton Hall, Myra explained why she had abandoned the Women's Liberal Federation which, had become 'hide-bound' by putting 'the cloak of party right round them.' Myra spoke at a meeting of the New Constitutional Society for Women's Suffrage, an organisation formed in 1910 after the General Election to lobby the Liberal Members of Parliament on the subject of women's suffrage.
The family had by now moved to 2 Chesterford Gardens, a substantial red brick house, in Hampstead while they often spent the summer months in Essex. At some point, the family purchased Crossways in Little Baddow, where Myra would host events. Ernest's business interests were flourishing, and Myra was supported in her domestic role by three maids and a children's nurse.
In March 1912, Myra was charged with breaking a window at the War Office. At her trial, Myra's lawyer, who also represented Catherine Richmond, pleaded that they 'got carried along by some people behind them.' The magistrate was unimpressed observing, he 'could understand a young girl being carried along, but these were middle-aged women,' before sentencing them to two months with hard labour.
The WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, kept its readers appraised of how the prisoners were fairing. Myra went on a hunger strike. One prisoner, on her release, reported that attempts had been made to forcibly feed Myra by nasal tube, despite being made aware that she had previously broken her nose and had her throat operated on. The forcible feeding resulted in bleeding from her nose and throat. Following her release, Myra wrote to the Daily Herald detailing her experiences. She had decided to refuse food in protest that the privileges which could be accorded to prisoners should not be 'withheld according to the discretion of one man.' When it was decided to commence feeding by the nasal tube, no examination of Myra's nose was made despite the doctor being aware of her medical history. It took four attempts to pass the tube through one of her nostrils successfully. Myra informed the Governor of her previous medical history but, despite her plea, force-feeding was attempted again the following day. After four attempts, the procedure was abandoned.
Myra wrote, 'I do not wish to speak of my mental or physical sufferings; they are indescribable.' Keir Hardie asked questions in the House of Commons concerning Myra's treatment to which Ellis Ellis-Griffith, Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, responded that if she 'suffered any pain it was due entirely to the violent resistance she offered in the form of 'the unusual power she possessed of contracting the throat muscles, and expelling the tube.'
Ernest wrote to the Prison Governor, forwarding a copy to the Home Secretary (see below for a link where you can listen to the letters Myra and Ernest exchanged) the day after Myra's release on 29 April. He had learned of the force-feeding from the Press but had decided to refrain from writing until he had heard Myra's account. Ernest recounts the facts commenting that Myra's treatment had given her 'a severe shock.' He questions why, despite Myra informing the medical staff of her history, no examination was conducted. In his covering letter to the Home Secretary, Ernest demanded an enquiry. The doctor concerned wrote a report to the Prison Governor confirming that he had been made aware of Myra's medical history and had reassured her 'that if an obstruction did exist the soft rubber tube was the safest and most gentle instrument for ascertaining its presence.' No such obstruction was found; the issues were caused by Myra's ability to expel the tube. He had not observed any bleeding nor, he contended, had Myra informed him of any such occurrence. A different doctor had attempted the procedure the following day. The same issues occurred with the nasal tube, and therefore he decided to use the oesophageal one instead. Before this was attempted, the prisoners decided to take their food and, Myra joined them. In concluding, the doctor described Myra as 'violently resistive.'
While Myra continued to be a member of the WSPU, she was also a supporter of the Women's Tax Resistance League. In January 1913, she hosted an At Home at which Louisa Garrett Anderson spoke. Myra also supported the Church League for Women's Suffrage, whose founding aim was to secure the vote in Church and State as it was granted to men. At their Spring Fair, held at a Congregational Church Hall, Myra ran the refreshment stall. At the same time, Ernest donated £10 to their funds. In June 1913, Myra was elected to the executive of the Church League for Women's Suffrage.
By 1914 Myra appears to have aligned herself with the East London Federation of Suffragettes while continuing her work with the Church League for Women's Suffrage. Formerly the East London Federation, it was founded by Amy Bull and Sylvia Pankhurst in 1913 on democratic lines and allowed men to be members. Early in 1914, the group was expelled from the WSPU and altered its name. At the same time, the Federation launched the Women's Dreadnought newspaper. In an attempt to raise much-needed funds members, were encouraged to participate in a self-denial week. Myra and her family lived off nothing other than bread and cheese for a week donating the funds saved.
Myra purchased copies of the Women's Dreadnought for distribution. By the end of 1914, Myra was involved again with the WFL supporting the Women's Suffrage National Aid Corp, founded to provide women and children with assistance who were financially suffering because of World War I. Much of this work centred around Charlotte Despard's premises in Currie Street where children could stay if their mothers were hospitalised, nutritious vegetarian meals were provided, or women remunerated for sewing clothes in a workshop. Myra hosted an At Home where Charlotte spoke of the support working-class women and children needed. Similarly, Myra hosted an At Home to raise funds for the East London Federation of Suffragettes. The Federation organised at Caxton Hall a two-day exhibition where various suffrage societies had stalls alongside a Women's Labour Exhibit which included a sweated labour section demonstrating the work of brush, matchbox and garment makers; an area displaying the products of the East London Toy Factory and a demonstration of the reality of price increases. Myra ran the refreshment stall.
In June 1915, the Hampstead Branch of the WFL hosted a gathering to celebrate Charlotte Despard's birthday. Myra's children performed a selection of French plays described as 'charming.' Both Ernest and Myra generously financially supported the Federation both on a monthly and ad hoc basis. At a Church League prayer meeting and tea table conference, the discussion centred around whether women should serve on War Tribunals established to decide whether or not a man should be sent to the Front. Several women felt strongly that as a man could not decide to send a woman into battle, it was wrong for a female to decide as the woman's movement stood for equality. Myra succinctly argued that the sex of the Tribunal was indifferent 'provided the spirit animating the deliberations was the same.'
©Museum of London Printed menu for a 'Victory" Dinner' held by the Women's Freedom League on 22 February 1918 to commemorate the passing of the Representation of the People's Act that gave certain women over 30 the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Headed with the logo of the Women's Freedom League the dinner, in keeping with others organised by the WFL, comprised a vegetarian menu in this case with a main course of Lentil cutlets and tomato sauce. The menu has been signed by many of those attending the event including Myra Sadd Brown and Maud Fisher.
Myra was a pacifist and, after the end of World War, I represented the Church League at a Peace Conference held in Manchester. In 1916 the League changed the name of its newspaper to The Coming Day, the new title suggesting 'that we lift our eyes from the black and turgid present to a future of a clear-shining morn.' By 1920 the aim of the newspaper was to provide a platform with 'high aims such as the League of World Friendship' or the Baptist Women's League. Myra was appointed the treasurer. Her financial support of the Federation and the WFL continued alongside her fundraising work for the Russian Relief Fund and her support for a Royal Commission's call to investigate cruelty in asylums. Myra also lent her continuing support to the WFL, often chairing discussions organised by the Hampstead Branch. Myra's eldest daughter, also named Myra, joined the WFL, representing those under thirty years of age giving a talk on the right of university women to share in political affairs; men had the vote at twenty-one, women at thirty. Mother and daughter were part of a deputation that presented the argument for equality of political rights at the House of Commons. Emily, Myra's second daughter, assisted at gatherings of the Hampstead Branch.
The British Commonwealth League was founded during the 1920s to promote equality of liberties, status, and opportunities between men and women and encourage mutual understanding throughout the Commonwealth.' Many of its members were campaigners for women's suffrage. Myra was the League's first treasurer and sat on the Women's Advisory Council of the League of Nations Union as a representative of the British Commonwealth League. In 1928, to raise funds and awareness, she organised an excursion to Crossways, the family home in Essex.
In 1919 the League of Nations was founded. Many women's groups sought to ensure that women had a role to play and, a year later, in 1920, the Council for the Representation of Women in the League of Nations was established with the aim of ensuring women formed part of any British delegation to the League. One of the groups affiliated to the Council was the WFL. The executive of the WFL nominated Myra to be a vice president.
©Museum of London A souvenir menu and programme issued for the Women's Freedom League Victory Breakfast held at the Hotel Cecil on Thursday 5 July 1928, to celebrate the passing of the Equal Franchise Act. On the reverse are signatures of many suffragette prisoners who attended the event including Teresa Bilington Greig, Edith How Martyn, Myra Sadd Brown and Mary Richardson. Included in the breakfast menu were porridge, kippers, fried plaice, eggs and bacon, omelette, boiled eggs, jam marmalade and toast.
On 12 July 1930, Ernest died. The Vote described Ernest as 'a generous friend of the Women's Freedom League (Nine Elms Settlement), and was particularly kind and sympathetic.' Myra continued with her work. Presiding over a WFL event in 1932, she said the League 'pursued a line of continuity and never forsook its ideals…[It] worked with a resolute persistence.' Words that could have been written about Myra herself. In 1933 Myra stood successfully for election to the National Executive Committee of the WFL. In that capacity, she was one of the delegates to the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship held in Istanbul in 1935.
In 1937, while abroad, Myra died. The International Women Suffrage News spoke of Myra's 'constant service to the women's movement' and her 'certain tranquil faith in the rightness of that cause which was an encouragement and inspiration.'
At suffragette dinner in 1939, Myra's daughter, Myra, recollected, as a thirteen-year-old girl, handing out pamphlets on the Commercial Road and visiting her mother in Holloway Prison. 'They did a great thing these women. I am grateful to them.'Two years ago, Myra's granddaughter, Diana, collaborated on a podcast called Your Loving Myra, in which some of the letters between Myra and Ernest are read written during her time in Holloway in 1912 are read. It is well worth a listen https://soundcloud.com/bethmoss/your-loving-myra. Their love and his support for Myra shines out. The LSE library holds poignant letters from Myra's children to her while she was in prison.