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.