Begbie to Bell
Edith Marion Begbie was born c 1866, the daughter of John and Marion McFarlane in Leith, Scotland. By the 1881 census the family had moved to Edinburgh. Her father worked in the wire cloth industry. In 1856 he joined a family run business which made wire related products and branched out into paper milling. The return records twelve children of which Edith is the eldest daughter. The second daughter Florence was also to become an active part of the suffrage movement. Between the census in 1881 and the end of 1882 Marion had two more children. The last Noel was born at Christmas time 1882 only weeks later their mother died in January 1883.
John had borrowed heavily to buy other family members out of the business but by the 1891 census the family fortunes had significantly changed. His son, Arthur, began to work in the business which was now very profitable and John founded a liberal newspaper. This may have influenced his daughters. By 1901 Florence and two younger sisters are running a women’s hospital in Edinburgh. Edith married John Begbie, an East India merchant in 1888. The couple settled in Stanmore, Middlesex and had four children, three boys and a daughter.
Edith was first arrested on Black Friday but the charges were withdrawn. On the 1911 census return she merely entered her name and left all the other squares blank. Arrested on March 7th 1912 she was charged with smashing windows at 126, 127, 128 and 129-130 The Strand with something she had concealed in a muff. According to the witness she systematically walked down the Strand smashing one window after another. The manager of one shop stated the damage amounted to £10, another £15 and another £4 and 10 shillings. At her first appearance in court Edith stated “I stand her as the mother of four children….that my children should have equal rights and protection, daughters and sons, and as I cannot appeal to men’s reason I must use their own language, which is violence.” She added that she concurred with William Ball [see earlier blog]. Sentenced to imprisonment Edith went on hunger strike alongside Florence who was sentenced a few days later. Both were far from well on their release. Florence continued with her militant activities but Edith was not arrested again.
She died in 1932.
A K A Behenna arrested July 9th 1909 for whom no further information has been found.
B Beldon was arrested for her part in Black Friday, as with all the other participators the charges were dropped. No further trace has been found.
Mary Beldon was arrested on November 22nd 1911, one of two hundred and twenty three arrested in connection with window smashing. With two exceptions all were tried at Bow Street Magistrates Court. One hundred and fourteen were charged with wilful damage, of the rest some were charged with obstructing the police in the exercise of their duty, assault or damage. Most women and the few men involved defended themselves. A crowd of over three hundred stood outside the court whilst others swelled the court ranks to capacity. The prosecution opened with a general speech condemning the actions of the accused “the disgraceful and discreditable scenes of organised disorder”. The proceedings went on over several days. Mary’s case was heard on November 28th when she was charged with obstructing the police by holding on to a horse’s bridle. Mary informed the court that she had been trying to get through the cordon and had, therefore, stated she was not going to be moved. At that point she was arrested. She was fined 5 shillings but was imprisoned for five days on her refusal to pay.
In the newspaper reports Mary is recorded as being from Fulham, London. There are no census return or other records that narrow the search. Presumably she was staying with someone.
Annie Bell who also used the aliases Elizabeth Bell, Hannah Bell or Hannah Booth is the most prolific offender in the record so far. Arrested numerous times in a period spanning July 1909 to the amnesty granted on the outbreak of the First World War. Annie, full name Elizabeth Anne, was the youngest child of George and Elizabeth Bell. George served in the Royal Navy as an engineer.
The first arrest was on July 9th 1909 but no details of the charges have been found. Less than a month later she was arrested again on July 31st 1909. As described in an early blog Lloyd George was to give a speech in Limehouse, London. Suffragettes attempted to enter the hall where the speech was to be given but were not permitted entry. They were charged with obstruction. All the women were given the choice to be bound over to keep the peace and all refused. Mrs Baker, who has been written about earlier, was charged for her part in defending Emily Davison, Annie was sentenced to fourteen days.
The reports of the court cases concerning suffragettes often refer to the division in which they were to serve their sentence, the most often cited being second division. The decision as to which division the sentence should be served was at the court’s discretion and the decision had a profound impact on the treatment once in prison. Whilst the government did not as such recognise political prisoners legislation had been passed which allowed a convicted person who was not sentenced to hard labour and was guilty of a minor offence to be categorized as either a First or Second Division prisoner. Sedition or seditious libel was specifically a First Division sentence, non-payment of a fine was specifically left to the courts to rule which division the convicted should be allocated to. Thus in effect a categorisation for political prisoners was created for those whose actions were not per se criminal.
Being sentenced to the second division meant the wearing of prison clothes, the eating of prison food, solitary confinement for all but one hour of the day, access to the prison provided books only, no contact with other prisoners and if the sentence was for a month or less no visitors. In July 1909 Marian Wallace Dunlop went on hunger strike in protest at being sentenced to the second division rather than being treated as a political prisoner and sentenced to the first division. Such sentencing was justified by the government on the basis that the offences they were convicted of where violent and the courts could not be seen to condone their behaviour.
Marian was released after ninety one hours without food. The Limehouse women followed her into Holloway prison. On their arrival they stated their case not to be treated as second division prisoners, the prison governor denied their claim offering one concession the retention of their own clothes but adding the additional penalty of no exercise and no chapel visits. In addition if they did not withdraw their claim the women would be charged with insubordination. The women refused to accept these terms. Female prison officers tried to force some of the women into prison dress by forcibly stripping them, others were marched off to cells where they proceeded to break the windows. Some of them were then placed in punishment cells which were unlit, damp and icy cold with one tiny high up window. The wooden planked bed was only inches from the ground with a thin mattress and pillow which lay on the cold ground outside the cell only being allocated at night time. Other than the floor there was nowhere else to sit. The women then refused to eat. Each was released having only served part of their sentence, Annie was freed on August 5th.
Annie’s next arrest was on Black Friday, November 18th 1910, when all the charges were dropped by the government. A few days later she was part of a deputation to number 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister. About one hundred women surged towards Downing Street from Caxton Hall, the police caught unawares hastily sent policemen on bicycles to get reinforcements. Seconds before the women reached the bottom of Downing Street seventy policemen took their place barricading their path. The women pushed against the police and where they broke through the cordon a woman would run towards the door of the Prime Minister’s residence only to be pushed back into the melee. The protestors had the upper hand as they outnumbered the police and managed to push their way up Downing Street but as they did so more police reinforcements arrived. The women were now outnumbered and police pushed them back towards Parliament Square. Many including Annie were arrested.
When Annie appeared in court it was stated that she had smashed a window at the Home Office where two one pound weights had been found. After her arrest she was taken to the police station where she broke the windows in the Inspector’s office with a hammer she had in her pocket. Annie was then searched and more means of breaking windows were found. The case was adjourned, with Annie declaring that she refused to recognise any government or obey any law until women received justice. The next day the hearing reconvened and Annie was found guilty being fined £5 plus £4 and 10 shillings damages. This, when Annie, refused to pay, became one month in prison.
By the time Annie was imprisoned some concessions had been made towards the women prisoners. Although still not categorised as first class they were not forced to wear prison clothes or eat prison food. Their exercise time was spent together and they were allowed to converse although the remainder of the day was spent on their own. For the first two weeks visitors were prohibited although they were allowed to receive reading material so long as it did not relate to suffrage activities, fruit and flowers.
The next arrest was in April 1912 for breaking a window at the medical officer’s house at Aylesbury prison with a stone around which was wrapped a piece of paper “A protest against forcible feeding.” In court Annie stated she was employed as a housekeeper at Clement’s Inn, the headquarters of the WSPU. Her actions were in protest at the condition of suffragettes who had been imprisoned in Aylesbury prison. The inconsistent approach on sentencing between the courts, second division with or without certain privileges such as books, angered the women as their identical actions to women sentenced elsewhere received sentences without privileges. They protested and when that fell on deaf ears they went on hunger and liquid strike. Force feeding followed. On their release they were all in a weak state.
The value of the window Annie broke was stated to be 1shilling and 6 pence. As the spotlight was on Aylesbury prison the case was well reported and well attended. At the hearing to decide if Annie should be bailed or sent to prison on remand several witnesses were called. The two who apprehended Annie and handed over to the police were keen to play up their role and implied their detention of her was a laudable act. Annie, defending herself, enquired if she had resisted the witness retorted that she had. With that she was remanded until the next hearing with Annie pointing out that as she stated she was guilty why could she not be sentenced there and then. This was ignored and she sent to Oxford Prison. On her return to court Annie was clear why she had taken the action she had but pointed out she had only thrown a stone at the window with the blind down so no one inside could be hurt. She was fined £5 and refusing to pay was sent to Aylesbury Prison for two months. Annie on hearing this she said she wished she had broken every window.
On April 9th 1913 Annie was arrested for obstructing the police outside Holloway prison whilst waiting for Mrs Pankhurst to be released. Refusing to be moved on by the police and shouting that if anyone tried to make her she had a loaded revolver. The presence of the weapon was confirmed when she was searched together with a gun licence. Perhaps surprisingly Annie was released on bail with a surety of £20 and an undertaking not to attend any rallies. Annie gave her occupation as Braille copyist and that she lived in Laurence Street, Chelsea. At her trial Annie claimed the revolver was purely for her own protection. The prosecution stated they had doubts as to Annie’s sanity and she was remanded in custody for a week for medical reports. Brought before the court again presumably with satisfactory medical reports she was fined £5 or twenty one days imprisonment. The magistrate remarked that it would be much better to keep to the needle and drop revolvers.
Annie was involved in July of the same year in the confrontation with the police over the rearrest of Annie Kenney under the Cat and Mouse Act. She was charged with assault and obstruction of the police. Evidence was presented to the court that Annie had struck a police officer. She was fined £2 or twenty days in prison. She declined to pay. Votes for Women dated August 1st 1913 reports that Annie was in prison but in the same issue it records Hannah Bell, one of Annie’s aliases, was convicted at Westminster Magistrates Court of breaking windows at the Home Secretary’s home. She was fined forty shillings, twenty shillings damages or twenty one days imprisonment.
It seems likely that Annie committed the second offence in July whilst out on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act. Certainly her next arrest was following her release on August 2nd on licence for that offence. She attempted to evade being taken back to prison by dressing as a man. Dressed in a Norfolk suit and a straw hat she was spotted by an eagle eyed policeman entering St Pancras Station. Annie was returned to Holloway Prison.
Released again on September 13th Annie, on the same day, broke a window at the Home Office as the prison authorities had not returned her clothes. The window was valued at £2 and Annie claimed her clothes were worth £3 demanding the magistrate righted the wrong. Her protest failed and she was sentenced to two months hard labour, to which Annie responded that she would not do it. She was released after a week of refusing food under the Cat and Mouse Act.
Annie remained out on licence and in July 1914 she was arrested again. Annie had entered St John’s Church, Westminster, during evening service and placed a tin with a lighted candle to act as a fuse attached in the church. She was apprehended on her way out. The tin was put in a fire bucket and extinguished. In court Annie was clear that she had intended to blow up the church. At her first appearance in court Annie, who continuously spoke insulting the magistrate, lay full length along the seat in the dock and asked the warder to get her up when it was over. She was remanded in prison.
A week later Annie was brought before the court again. To the charge relating to the church was added one of attempting to blow up the Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 10th. Annie addressed the court throughout the proceedings stating that blowing up a church was nothing to the destruction of a woman and the magistrate was talking drivel. She boasted that although imprisoned on many occasions she had yet to serve a full sentence. She was taken back to prison to await trial on both charges. Several newspapers report that Annie appeared demented. The case never appears to have come to trial. In August 1914 the WSPU wrote to the Home Office asking what the position was in respect of Annie as she still remained a prisoner and whilst she was not a member she was imprisoned for suffragette activities.
The records include two more entries possibly in 1920 but no more details have been found. Sadly no further trace of Annie has been found.
 Votes for Women March 8th 1912
With thanks to the Museum of London