Frank Brailsford, a commercial traveller, was arrested in December 1912 for breaking a pane of glass in a window at No 10 Downing Street valued at 2 shillings and 6d. One newspaper described Frank as ‘well-dressed’ man who lived in Canterbury Road, Brixton. On his arrest, he said: “I shall not run away, I did it for a purpose.” At his trial, Frank stated he had taken this course of action on purely political grounds due to Asquith’s attitude towards votes for women commenting: ‘Mr Asquith had strained at the Suffragist gnat and swallowed at the Home Rule camel.’ He was sentenced to pay forty shillings plus the money to pay for the pane or in the alternative a month’s hard labour. The newspapers do not record which he picked, but his presence on the suffragette roll of honour for those who went to prison indicates that was the option he took. No further information has been found.
Jane Esdon Brailsford nee Malloch was born in 1874 in Elderslie, Renfrewshire. Her father, John, was a cotton manufacturer employing over two hundred people. Intelligent, she studied Greek at Glasgow University falling in love with her married professor, Gilbert Murray; a love which appears to have been unrequited. Later, she studied philosophy at Sommerville College, Oxford University. A lecturer at Glasgow University, Henry Brailsford, heard Keir Hardie of the Independent Party speak. An event which inspired the founding of a branch of the Independent Labour Party at the university. This, in turn, spun into the founding of the University Fabian Society. One of the first members was Jane.
Henry Brailsford’s academic career was not successful, and he began to explore a career in journalism. His political activities brought him into continual contact with Jane with whom he fell in love. Jane, who was considered by many of his friends to be neurotic, rejected his first proposal of marriage prompted by her departure for Oxford University. Her rejection seems only to have served to make Henry more smitten. He wrote to her, continually ignoring the abruptness of her replies. When Jane returned to Glasgow for the holidays, Henry was contemplating volunteering if Greece went to war against Turkey. Jane encouraged him to go. Henry set off in a fervour of patriotism, only to return seven weeks later exhausted, wounded and disillusioned.
His experiences led him to write his only book, The Broom of the War God. Not widely well-received it opened the door to a commission from the Manchester Guardian to report on the situation in Crete. He proposed again to Jane, and she accepted. Her yes after two years of pursuit and the far from happy marriage it became has led to speculation as to why she finally capitulated. Possible explanations which have been put forward are the romanticism of a mission to Crete, the death of her father or the consequent sale of her childhood home. Jane did not appear, over the years to have much respect for Henry, and indeed many believe the marriage was not consummated.
The couple were married in 1898 in Glasgow, Jane refusing to wear a wedding ring as it symbolised bondage. Whilst in Crete, Jane wrote a novel which failed to find a publisher. She then explored an acting career. Henry wrote her a play, hired a hall but her performance was not met with critical acclaim and her acting career stalled before it had truly begun. In 1903 the couple travelled to Macedonia working as relief agents. Henry Nevinson, a journalist and founding member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, in a letter dated 12 October 1909 to the Home Office relates Jane’s time in Macedonia which he described as ‘heroic’. Throughout the winter ‘in the wildest & most dangerous part of the country’ Jane remained tending ‘the wounded and the destitute.’ While visiting typhus cases in underground shelters, she contracted the disease and was dangerously ill.
Unhappy in her marriage Jane was a woman who yearned for acclaim and needed a cause which she found in the fight for votes for women. Initially, she joined the National Union of Suffrage Societies, but in 1906 she switched allegiance to the Women’s Social and Political Union. In line with his own political sentiments and ever supportive of Jane Henry often wrote about the campaign and was a founding member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.
The Daily News, 4 October 1909, printed a letter from Jane to the editor of the paper in response to an article which argued that the forthcoming General Election ‘a decisive victory will be achieved for democratic and Progressive principles.’ Jane pointed out that the argument had no merit ‘in regard to a country where more than half the population is in a state of political slavery.’ Henry was a lead writer on the Daily News. The day after Jane’s letter was published Henry and, fellow journalist, Henry Nevinson, resigned in protest at the treatment of the suffragette prisoners in Birmingham. The Times published a letter from the two setting out their reasoning. The two Henrys argued that in William Gladstone and John Morley, both Liberals had ‘defined the attitude of the older Liberalism towards political offenders’ as one which did not meter out ‘humiliating punishments’ such as forcing the wearing of prison dress. However, Gladstone’s treatment of suffragette prisoners did not accord with this Liberal principal; the women were not accorded political status and were now being subjected to force-feeding.
A few days later on 9 October 1909, Jane was arrested in Newcastle during a protest intended to disrupt a visit to the city by Lloyd George. Among the other suffragettes arrested, alongside Jane, were Constance Lytton, Emily Davidson and Dorothy Pethick. According to the police report, in the days leading up to Lloyd George’s visit suffragette meetings were held across Newcastle. At one Violet Bryant reportedly said ‘they were prepared to go to any length to get their rights even to death itself.’ The city started to swell with suffragettes. Significant numbers of police were drafted in, venues searched, the glass roof of one venue was covered by a tarpaulin, and the suffragettes were placed under surveillance. When Lloyd George arrived in Newcastle a hundred policemen were on duty inside and outside the railway station. Decoy cars were deployed to confuse the suffragettes as to which route Lloyd George was taking. When he arrived at the Palace Theatre guarded by over a hundred police officers, the suffragettes threw stones, and Jane repeatedly smashed one of the barriers with, it was claimed, an axe.
The women were arrested and denied bail. While on remand, the police reported that the women were ‘allowed reasonable facilities for communicating with and interviewing their friends, and obtaining meals and bedding outside. The charge against Jane was disorderly behaviour and having an axe. Found guilty Jane was sentenced to one month in prison having refused to be bound over to keep the peace. The prison governor wrote a report in which he stated that he believed the women had reconnoitred the gaol in the days leading up to Lloyd George’s visit to ascertain how many prisoners could be processed and accommodated. The women had concluded that a group of them would be difficult for the staff to manage. Thus the number who engineered their arrest. The governor felt that the women now believed they had failed to subsume the staff but had indicated that next time an even larger number would gather and endeavour to be arrested whether in Newcastle or somewhere else. Sheer numbers would make, for example, force-feeding harder to administer.
On arriving at Newcastle Gaol, the women announced their intention to refuse food. Keir Hardie wrote to Gladstone enquiring if it was true that up to two pints of milk were force-fed to the women during each session. In turn, the Home Office wrote to the prison governors. One report in the official files includes a response which states ‘I think that is in every way desirable for obvious reasons to give as large a quantity at each ‘feeding’ as the patient is found able to digest.’ Jane was not force-fed. Dr Smalley, Medical Inspector of Prisons, wrote on 13 October 1909 following his attendance at Newcastle Gaol ‘We have had a worrying day,’ both Constance Lytton and Jane had ‘gone downhill.’ Smalley summoned a local doctor who thought Jane’s health ‘very doubtful,’ as she was anaemic and showed ‘signs of dilatation of the right ventricle with heart muscle weakness’—describing Jane as in an ‘extremely nervous state’ with a pulse of 120 the doctor advised against force-feeding. Despite his concern, Smalley felt that force-feeding was not a risk; it was the struggling against the process, which was more of a concern.
Smalley interviewed Jane, who informed him that if ‘the force-feeding did not kill her, she would kill herself after.’ He felt that Jane could well attempt to take her own life. When he asked her how she would do this, Jane replied she had the means. Smalley’s concern was that on admittance to the prison, the searching of the prisoners had not been particularly thorough, and Jane could be concealing drugs.
Charles Masterman, Liberal Member of Parliament for West Ham North, wrote a letter on Home Office notepaper to an unknown recipient, aligning Jane’s threat to commit suicide if executed to Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece resulting in ‘the popular support that we have hitherto received …immediately (in its stupid, unthinking way) turn from us.’ Such an event would mean force-feeding would no longer be an option, a fact Masterman believed Jane knew and ‘that is why she is determined …to kill herself: under the wild & frantic idea that by so doing she will save ‘her sisters’ from these ‘outrages’’.
Henry visited the Home Office. He pointed out that the aim of the women’s actions had been to be arrested, and they had deliberately ensured that the damage they did was minimal. Jane had only become ‘a strong supporter of women’s rights [when] she heard of the forcible feeding of women at Birmingham.’ The women had set out to be arrested to enter prison, refuse food and in turn be force-fed, a process which ‘produced a feeling of horror in their minds.’ Henry suggested the women should be released ‘when they had starved themselves long enough instead of being forcibly fed.’ He declined the opportunity to apply for the release of his wife.
Henry Nevinson weighed in writing to the Home Office. He stated that so keen was Jane to do as little damage as possible the axe with which the barrier was struck was wrapped in tissue paper. Nevinson described Jane as a ‘very remarkable woman, who has accomplished at least one most heroic action for humanity.’ Henry’s visit and Masterman’s letter led the authorities to decide that both Constance and Jane should be released as soon as possible.
It was decided to release Jane and Constance as they both showed ‘symptoms of cardiac trouble. Lady Betty Balfour, herself an ardent support of the suffrage movement and Constance’s sister, arrived in a cab to collect both women. Smalley persuaded them to drink a cup of milk each and noted that he had advised them ‘to be careful as to diet.’ In his opinion when it was decided to protest at Lloyd George’s meeting the women had ‘picked out all the ‘crocks’; if this was the plan it was, in his opinion, ‘a cute move.’ A telegram was sent ordering that if any questions were asked by the press, the only response was that any release was on medical grounds.
Shortly after her release, Jane joined Christabel Pankhurst and Dora Spong on the platform at a WSPU meeting in Hampstead. Henry wrote an article published in the Nation on 18 December describing force-feeding as ‘the horrors of warfare’, ‘a degradation which sears the spirit and breaks the will.’ In December Jane travelled to Lancashire to lend her support to the campaign there. On her return, she addressed a meeting of the WSPU Croydon branch. Jane explained that she had carried an axe as she had not wished to partake in stone throwing in case she accidentally hit someone. Dismissing the reports of a heart weakness due to starvation Jane observed that just before examination, she had walked around the prison yard for several hours without pause.
Throughout 1910 Jane continued campaigning and addressing meetings while Henry supported the cause through the Men’s League. In January Asquith had called a general election but the Liberals failed to gain a majority and were reliant on the support of Labour Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Henry approached Millicent Fawcett of the National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies proposing the formation of a Conciliation Committee for Women’s Suffrage. Both Millicent and Emmeline Pankhurst agreed, and all militant action stopped. A committee was formed with Henry acting as secretary and a Conciliation Bill drafted. It passed the first stage in the House of Commons, and it was sent to the Committee stage. Asquith then made it clear the Bill would be abandoned which led to the protests on 18 November 1910, known as Black Friday. The Conciliation Committee demanded a public enquiry into the events of Black Friday, but Churchill refused. Henry, along with Jessie Murray, set about gathering statements from the women, a total of 135 were collected.
Jane was arrested for a second time in November 1911 for her participation in an attempt to gain access to the House of Commons. A fellow participator reported seeing Jane repeatedly attempting to breakdown a cordon of police three deep. When this attempt failed, Jane climbed over the railings and ran across the grass towards the entrance to St Stephen’s. Jane was arrested and charged with obstruction. Refusing to be bound over she was sent to Holloway Prison for seven days. On her release, Jane sat on the platform at a WSPU meeting held at the London Pavilion. Chaired by Emmeline Pethick Lawrence Jane gave a short speech on her experience in Holloway Prison.
Various Members of Parliament horrified at the resumption of militant actions by suffragettes indicated their intention to withdraw their support for the Conciliation Bill. Henry wrote to the editor of the Westminster Gazette pointing out that such a withdrawal would only serve as ‘a complete vindication of [the WSPU] policy of ‘all or nothing’’. Jane continued to address meetings. In late April and early May 1912, she went on a tour organised by the Halifax and Huddersfield branch of the WSPU.
The Pankhursts desire to totally control the Women’s Social and Political Union angered Jane, and she resigned in October 1912. The Pethick Lawrences were expelled from the WSPU and from there on they published the Votes for Women newspaper independently under the auspices of the Votes for Women Fellowship which united suffragettes militant or not but who were, generally, frustrated at the actions of Emmeline Pankhurst. Jane took the stage alongside the Pethick Lawrences at a rally in Hyde Park in June 1913.
In 1913 Henry and Jane separated. A year later they reconciled although far from happily. Their respective stances on the First World War were poles apart. Henry who had lost his patriotic fervour many years before joined the Union of Democratic Control which advocated the taking of steps which would ensure such a conflict never occurred again. As the WSPU no longer had the newspaper, Votes for Women, within its control, it launched a new one called the Suffragette which following the agreement to support the war effort changed its name to the more patriotic Britannia with the slogan ‘For King’ For Country, for Freedom.’ Even before its name change the newspaper’s patriotic stance was clear. Despite Henry’s years of support for the suffrage movement, his membership of the Union of Democratic Control was lambasted; it was an organisation ‘which seeks by playing upon sympathies of the well-intentioned to conceal its insignificance and futility.’ Henry was described as ‘having a talent for taking the wrong political turning… This fatal talent … [is] at the expense of his country and the cause of civilisation.’ Jane was consumed by patriotic fervour.
Henry turned his attentions to writing books such as the Origin of the First World War published in 1914 and The War of Steel and Gold: A Study of the Armed Peace. The latter was initially published in 1914. A revised 1915 edition included a new chapter, A Postscript on Peace and Change, and an appendix with an outline for a Federal League of European Nations which influenced Woodrow Wilson’s speech to the American League to Enforce peace. Henry unsuccessfully stood as a Labour candidate in the 1918 General Election. He toured Europe writing two books shedding light on the consequences to the lives of the people of the defeated countries, pointing out that the Treaty of Versailles was flawed which could lead to Germany rearmament and war. Again this influenced the thinking of Wilson.
The couple split again in 1921 although Jane refused to agree to a divorce. By this time Henry was editor of the New Leader, the newspaper of the Independent Labour Party. He fell in love with Clare Leighton, an artist and author, with whom he lived for several years. Blighted by alcoholism, Jane died of its effects in 1937, which left Henry free to marry, but his emotional turmoil following Jane’s death destroyed his relationship with Clare, who emigrated to America in 1939.
Henry continued to combine political activism with writing. Several years after the breakdown of his relationship with Clare, he met and fell in love with Evamaria Perlmann who was much younger than him. They married in 1944, marriage which continued until he died in 1958.