Occasionally I trawl the online Oxfam book shop looking for Noel Streatfield books to add to my collection. One recent find was a book called The Day Before Yesterday, Firsthand Stories of Fifty Years Ago published in 1956. Noel was the editor, not the author but, curious; I nonetheless bought what turned out to be a serendipitous find.
The book is divided into chapters; each covers a topic from the nursery to waterways; from mining to entering society as a debutante. Noel Streatfield wrote a prelude to each, for example for the chapter Introducing a Boy Miner she explains that Jack Jones’s recollections were included not only because of his memories of being a child working in a mine but ‘because of what he writes about his mother who, as you will read, was a very great woman.’ She concludes her introduction ‘Now read what Jack Jones writes, and I think you will find you have a lot to think about.’ In others, Noel mixes her recollections with her views.
One chapter is called Introducing Suffragettes. Helen Atkinson, who I wrote about in a blog last November, shares her experiences. The blog below is the revised Helen entry using her own words and recollections. Noel introduces the chapter. She opens by recounting that while suffrage was a subject discussed in her home ‘, it was definitely a ‘not before the children’ subject.’ While out for a walk with her sister a family acquaintance asked the two little girls if they would like ‘to wear white frocks and sashes of purple and green’ to present bouquets to two important women called the Pankhursts. Enchanted with the idea of dressing up, excitedly the sisters told their father who informed them ‘Purple, green and white … were colours no respectable brought up child might wear.’ It was clear that ‘over [their] father’s dead body’ would they present bouquets ‘to those dreadful women.’
Noel recollects that ‘abysmal ignorance’ of the wider world particularly current affairs was not, in her experience, unusual before the First World War, among children. She marvels at the fact that she was oblivious of even ‘a minor skirmish’ when the women, such as governesses, she encountered, may not have smashed windows, but ‘must have admired and sympathised with those who did.’ Describing it as akin to a civil war Noel observes that a reasonable request for the vote was brushed off so frequently that ‘passions were so inflamed that there was nothing women would not do to fight for their cause.’ She approached Helen to write her story as Noel ‘felt we should get a truer picture if I chose one of the thousands who fought like tigers, but of whom few have heard’ rather than a ‘great name in the Suffrage Movement.’
When the two women met Noel was struck by the smallness and frailty of Helen, who ‘seemed swallowed up in the chair in which she sat.’ As they talked Helen, who had ‘a small soft voice to match her size’ said ‘You have no idea how it hurts to be beaten with a policeman’s rolled-up mackintosh.’ An observation Noel writes she would never forget. Her encounter with Helen cured her from ever contemplating not voting.
Helen, born in Manchester in 1873, felt that she ‘unconsciously imbibed a sense of liberalism in its most genuine aspect’ being born in the cotton city of the north. She was the daughter of John Bernard, a journalist for the Manchester Guardian, and Mallie Atkinson. She was the second eldest of six children. The youngest, Lucy, was born in 1885 and very soon afterwards, Mallie died. By the census, in 1891 the family had moved south to Stoke Newington, north London when John was transferred to the newspaper’s London office.
Shortly after the family’s move south, Helen and her brother began attending meetings of the City of London Debating Society. To Helen’s surprise, she was asked to open a debate, a request never previously made of a woman. Eagerly accepting the challenge, Helen opted to speak about women’s enfranchisement, a subject her audience considered to be ‘dry and academic.’ She then joined the National Women’s Suffrage Society where Helen met women who had researched constitutional history forming the opinion that the political role of women had regressed rather than progressed as early Parliaments had been attended by the Abbesses of convents. This led them to fight for the franchise for women.
On a personal level, Helen was driven by a sense of injustice. She recounts the case of a man brought before the courts. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children alleged he had ill-treated his child; a course of action which was taken as it was believed it would be more successful than bringing charges for the mistreatment of his wife. The man was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months. His lawyer raised an objection on a point of law, and the sentence was overturned, and the man freed. Helen called it an injustice. It is a common misconception that women wanted the vote for its own sake but many, like Helen, fought to obtain the vote to give women a voice against such injustices or poverty or inequality.
Three years later, Helen, while visiting a married sister in Manchester, heard of the ‘wild women’ such as Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst; ‘these women and what they had done, and intended to do, changed the course of my life.’ Helen abandoned the Suffrage Society and joined the WSPU. Helen’s father recollected Emmeline’s husband as a man who was ‘much liked’ but was regarded as a ‘crank’ by ‘hardheaded Northerners’ as he liked to be called Citizen Pankhurst and advocated free education; land nationalisation and the disestablishment of the church. Her father, who loathed the use of ‘lavish adjectives,’ described Emmeline as a ‘fascinating person,’ high praise which made Helen appreciate the undoubted ‘force of her natural charm.’ Over the years, Helen felt that this attribute, combined with Emmeline’s eloquence were the two factors that led to her ‘near-adoration’ by hundreds of women.
The WSPU often met on street corners or in tiny local halls; meetings advertised by chalk writing on walls or pavements. This means of promotion led to Helen’s first arrest. It had rained, and Helen and her friend had waited for some time for the pavement to dry sufficiently to allow them to chalk out their message. As soon as they started a policeman arrested them, an arrest which does not appear in the amnesty record. In court the policeman testified that the area was covered in numerous chalk messages, a fact the magistrate, Helen felt, chose to ignore given the torrential downpour beforehand. Ticked off the magistrate dismissed the case.
Helen recollects Frederick Pethick Lawrence promising to pay ten pounds to the cause for every day his wife, Emmeline, spent in prison. This prompted an entry to a fancy dress ball in a costume adorned with Emmeline’s face and the ditty:
Ten pounds a day
He said he’d pay
To keep this face
It won first prize.
The arrests of women led others to be ‘shaken out of their complacency’ and face up to the fact that other women’s lives were intolerable. In Helen’s view, women were implanted with an ‘inferiority complex’ which rapidly ‘gave way to resentment and determination that there should, in future, be equality.’ Campaigning at a by-election, Helen found herself called upon to address the waiting crowd as the planned speaker was delayed. Inwardly quaking she mounted the lorry addressing the crowd on women’s rights and how women had as much stake in the welfare of the country as men did. The crowd were dubious and losing interest. Helen asked the assembled people who had been the country’s champion when the Romans invaded. After a long pause, a small child shouted out ‘Boadicea.’ From there on, Helen felt the crowd was with her.
Helen, who worked as a shorthand typist, dedicated a week’s holiday to campaigning in a Liberal stronghold constituency in Yorkshire. She canvassed, carried sandwich boards culminating in attending a Liberal meeting on the eve of the poll with six others. They carefully spaced themselves across the venue having agreed beforehand in which order they would stand up and ask their questions. Helen was the last. Each ejection was met with increasing tension. When the sixth was forcibly removed the man sitting next to Helen ‘waggled his shoe’ commenting that is what he would give them. With a feeling of dread, Helen stood up. The man, as threatened, kicked her and she received ‘many knocks before the police got me outside.’
Helen attended a WSPU deputation to the Houses of Parliament. Arrested, again this is not included in the amnesty record, she appeared at Bow Street magistrates court. Her father was present in court along with two fellow journalists supportive of the suffrage movement. When Helen was found guilty, all three advised her to take a taxi to Holloway prison. Helen declined. Below is a sketch of the wagon; originally intended to convey fourteen prisoners: men and women destined for Pentonville or Holloway prisons it was often overcrowded. As Helen writes ‘I was scarcely inside before horror seized me. Nausea, claustrophobia – I was almost unconscious.’ She never overcame her ‘intense repugnance’ even though Helen was transported several times.
Helen describes her cell in F Block as ‘horrible … one had to be very exalte to ignore such squalid surroundings.’ In her cell, a previous occupant called Norah had scratched on a brick ‘Norah got six weeks for stealing’; this inspired Helen to scratch poetry on the bricks. The food ‘appalled’ Helen who, as she notes, was not used to particularly grand cuisine following the death of her mother. The highlight of each day was exercise when the women could mingle and chapel. But hopes of meeting prisoners other than suffragettes were dashed as the women were hidden behind a curtain.
Helen later joined another deputation which became known as Black Friday. She recollects ‘an overwhelming display of savagery. We were beaten on the breast, struck with fists and knees, knocked down and kicked.’ Another deputation followed which started in Grosvenor Place. The procession marched as far as the Quadriga, known today as the Wellington Arch, before being intercepted. The police halted the women. One attempted to detain Emmeline Pankhurst, so Helen put her arms around her. The two were beaten by rolled up police waterproof capes which made ‘a truly formidable weapon.’ Emmeline turned out to be well able to look after herself, so Helen let go. Immediately she was bundled into one of the guardrooms in the monument. Helen describes the women as being ‘thrown in like sacks.’ When peace was restored the police marched their prisoners across the parks to Cannon Row police station. Dispatched in the wagon to Holloway prison, Helen passed out. She came round to find herself on the floor in prison.
Helen resolved not to take any food or water. When a prisoner decided on this course of action, no exercise was permitted, and the women were left in solitary confinement. Helen, as she did the first time, scratched poetry on the bricks:
A shipwrecked sailor, buried on this coast,
Bids you set sail,
Full many a gallant barque, when we were lost,
Weathered the gale.
As the days passed, she describes growing feeble and feeling as if she was ‘becoming moribund’. Helen was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. She did not return to prison on the appointed day and was ‘at large’ when the First World War broke out. Despite the amnesty, Helen concludes whether as she was still at large, she was ‘pardoned or not!’
She died in 1955, shortly after she wrote this piece, on the way to visit her youngest sister in hospital. When the book was published, a year after Helen’s death, on reviewer commented on her ‘moving resume of the Suffragette movement;’ another that ‘her account of her experiences as a suffragette [were] particularly valuable.
BILLINGS AND BILLINGTON
Evelyn Billings record states that she was arrested twice on 28 July 1913, and 11 August 1913. Next to the first entry is a pencil star which refers to a footnote which notes that no records have been found relating to the first arrest on her file. This note seems to be an administrative error as the first arrest is recorded in the newspapers. Evelyn’s surname is variously spelt with and without an “s”. The correct spelling appears to be Billing as included in advertisements in suffrage newspapers.
Evelyn was the organiser of the West and North Kent branch of the WSPU. In January 1912 she gave a speech at a meeting of the Hastings Branch commenting ‘It was for them [Cabinet Ministers] to prove that they were dishonourable, and they pretty nearly always did it.’ A keen correspondent, Evelyn often raised awareness of the cause by writing letters to the press. For example, she wrote to the Kent and Sussex Courier asking women to write to their Members of Parliament to protest at the force feeding of Olive Walton held in Aylesbury Gaol.
In July 1912 Evelyn travelled to London to take part in a protest in Trafalgar Square against the operation of the Cat and Mouse Act and the rearrest of Sylvia Pankhurst. Evelyn was one of thirteen women and, eleven men. She was charged with obstruction. According to the police, Evelyn incited the crowd crying “Come on, men.” She then proceeded to grab a walking stick; running into Great Scotland Yard yelling to the crowd to follow her and break the windows at the Liberal Club. To this evidence, Evelyn responded that it was all lies and raised a legal objection in that she understood there needed to be three witnesses for an offence to be proven. The magistrate pointed out this was incorrect to which Evelyn replied “Very well- I’ll find out for the next time, and we’ll get along”. She continued: the policeman “..has got the author’s brain and has invented a great yarn”. She was fined forty shillings or one month’s imprisonment. Evelyn shouting “Where are your witnesses?” was forcibly removed from the court.
It appears, however, that Evelyn did not go to gaol as, only a few weeks later, she was arrested again for her part in an attempt to enter Downing Street. The crowd were described variously by the police as a mob or almost a riot. Evelyn was charged with obstruction and assault. A policeman attested that Evelyn had attempted to break through a cordon; striking a policeman in the face. Evelyn argued that the police were, in fact, obstructing the crowd, not the other way round. The magistrate, while not agreeing with the argument, decided to concentrate on the assault charge. Evelyn stated she was a “marked woman” and that when she had been arrested previously, she had been assaulted by police officers. The magistrate retorted that this interjection “...was futile and irrelevant” and sentenced her to a fine, or one month in prison. Evelyn stated her intent to go on hunger strike.
Whether Evelyn did or did not go on hunger strike is unknown, but she did elect to go to prison. On her release, she continued campaigning. In the 25 October 1913 edition of the Bexhill on Sea Observer, a letter was published, written in response to a speech given by the Bishop of Chichester at the Diocesan Conference. Firstly, Evelyn responded to the Bishop’s contention that women should not be elected to the synod, the legislative council, of the church, by outlining in detail why his argument was incorrect. The Bishop had referred to a “filthy” paper, by which Evelyn believed he meant the Suffragette newspaper which had recently included informative articles on venereal disease highlighting, in particular, the way married women could be infected by unfaithful husbands suffering in silence due to the collusion of male doctors. She attacked the church’s lack of desire to recognise this or poverty: “Suffragists and Trade Unions are on the warpath, while the Church sleeps-or scoffs.” This impassioned conclusion sums up the often underlining motive of many campaigners. They wanted the vote, not for its own sake but to have a voice to raise awareness of poverty, disease or injustice.
No biographical information is given in any press report; the only clue is her role of organiser of the West and North Kent WSPU. When arrested, she gave her address as the WSPU headquarters. Evelyn does not appear on the Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners and, no further personal information has been located.
Teresa Billington was arrested twice on 21 June 1906 and 24 October 1906. Teresa was born in Preston, Lancashire to a devout Roman Catholic family in 1877. She strongly opposed her family’s religious values, becoming an agnostic. Teresa eventually ran her away from home, went to night school and trained to be a teacher. Her refusal to teach religious studies lessons brought her into conflict with the authorities who summoned her to appear before the Manchester Education Committee. Emmeline Pankhurst heard her case and arranged for her to teach at a Jewish school where she would no longer be called upon to teach religious studies. While studying for a degree, alongside teaching, Teresa became involved in the University of Manchester Settlement based in a deprived area of Manchester, Ancoats. The idea behind the Settlement was to bring learning to the community whilst exposing the more privileged to the impact of poverty on a community. Like so many of the suffragettes, this exposure was to spur Teresa into campaigning for the vote.
A committed feminist Teresa was one of the first to join the Women’s Social and Political Union of which, in due course, she became an organiser having first served as an organiser of the Independent Labour Party. By 1905 Teresa was a regular speaker on the Women’s Enfranchisement Bill or other topics such as Socialism and the Women’s Question. In April 1906 she was part of a group of women including Annie Kenney who gained access to the Ladies Gallery in the House of Commons during the debate on the Enfranchisement Bill. Their cries of protest led to them being forcibly removed, but they were not charged with any offence.
In June 1906 Herbert Asquith was due to address a meeting of the Liberal Party. All week Teresa accompanied by Annie Kenney campaigned to raise awareness of their cause ahead of the meeting; handing out flyers which read “Come in crowds to oppose Asquith, the enemy of liberty and justice.” Later in the week, they were joined by Emmeline Pankhurst. All three gained entry to the meeting. As soon as Asquith rose to speak, they attempted to drown him out. Members of the audience and stewards bundled the women out of the hall. One newspaper report claimed Teresa produced a whip from under her skirt and lashed out with it. Given she was not charged with any offence and no other newspaper reports this act, it may well be an embellishment. After Teresa was ejected, Emmeline rose to protest and when she was shouted down and removed others took her place to continue interrupting.
Only a week later Teresa attempted to knock on Asquith’s front door in Cavendish Square, London. When she refused to move on, she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and inciting others. In court, she refused to enter a plea or give any personal details on the basis that the courts were there to apply laws made by men and therefore had no jurisdiction over women. She was fined £10- or two-months imprisonment which, was later reduced to £5- or one-month imprisonment. Teresa did not serve much of her sentence as an anonymous sympathiser presented herself at Holloway Prison and paid the fine; stating that the trial and initial imprisonment had raised the profile of the cause sufficiently, negating the need to serve any more of the sentence. Amusingly the well-wisher was made to pay the full fine of £10 as the prison authorities were not aware of any reduction, they would in due course refund the difference if it proved to be true.
Alongside her hands-on actions, Teresa wrote many letters to the national press and articles explaining the rationale of the women’s activities. Her report, The Militant Policy of Women Suffragists, outlined the reasons why women felt they had the right to protest. Her campaigning took its toll. In, an article, The Woman and the Whip, she wrote of leaving meetings “‘in a state of nervous humiliation, shocked, weeping, and shuddering.’[i] These feelings did not deter her, and after her release from prison, she continued campaigning; addressing meetings during a tour of Scotland. By October Teresa had returned to London joining an attempt to enter the House of Commons. She was arrested and charged with using insulting and threatening language likely to lead to a breach of the peace. The court hearing was chaotic with, one woman detained at the court. All of the women were fined but on refusing, collectively, to pay they were sent to prison for two months. All were released having served one month.
Teresa returned to the campaign trial, visiting the North of England and Scotland. During her work in Scotland, she had met Frederick Lewis Greig, the manager of a billiard supplies company to whom she became engaged to much comment in the press that she had broken her vow not to marry until women obtained the vote. The reality was that Teresa had told Frederick she would give a further year to the campaign before she wed. She married Frederick in Scotland in February 1907 in a low key ceremony intended to prevent journalists attending; the groom reportedly was working until an hour before the nuptials. In a very modern move, they combined their surnames becoming Billington Greig. The couple went on to have one daughter, Fiona, born in 1915.
Teresa was straight back on the campaign trail after her marriage continuing to give talks and write to the newspapers. At a meeting of the WSPU in June 1907 she was presented with a belated wedding present, a typewriter, by Charlotte Despard. At the September conference of the WSPU Emmeline Pankhurst stated her intent to run the organisation without any meddling from doubters of, in particular, the tendency of the leadership to take decisions without consultation. Charlotte Despard questioned this stance and Emmeline invited those who challenged her authority to found an organisation of their own. Teresa, amongst others, joined Charlotte and left to form the Women’s Freedom League.
The campaign continued with both organisations pushing their message but in different ways. In February 1910 Teresa, travelling to Scotland, was injured when the train she was on hit a landslide, derailing the train and sending some of the carriages into the sea. She sustained wrist and ankle injuries. While continuing to question the leadership of the WSPU, she became disenchanted with the Women’s Freedom League citing their “weak intimidation.” Thus, mostly independent of any group, she campaigned by writing articles and books such as Women and the Machine published in 1913.
With the dawn of the First World War, Teresa organised, in Glasgow billiard halls, afternoons for women where they could enjoy demonstrations, talks and playing to raise funds for the Sportsmen’s Ambulance Fund. In 1928 she returned to the fray campaigning for more women Members of Parliament.
She died in 1964.
Dorothea Benson was arrested on 1 March 1912 and charged with malicious damage to a window, valued at 20 shillings, in New Bond Street, the property of John Cooling who ran a fine art establishment together with window two doors up valued at £40. For reasons which are not clear the charge relating to the second window was dropped before the matter came to court. Dorothea pleaded guilty. She was bound over to keep the peace for twelve months and fined £5.
Although on some of the official records Dorothea is noted as being married she was, in fact, single. She was born in 1885 in Birmingham to William and Dorothy; one of four children, three of whom survived to adulthood. The family were comfortably circumstanced. The 1901 census records that William was a retired confectioner even though he was only in his early forties. Dorothea is, as many suffragettes were, missing from the 1911 census while her sister, Mildred, is recorded as employed in an estate agency.
The 1939 register records that Mildred and Dorothea were living together. While Mildred continues to work, Dorothea is stated to be incapacitated. She died in 1950.
The next entry is for William Edward Bethell. Unusually no date for his arrest is included. Searching through the newspapers a bizarre tale transpired.The Suffragette newspaper first carried a story of a meeting addressed by Thomas Macnamara, Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. Macnamara, it was reported, lost his temper at repeated interjections. As tensions rose, the stewards attempted to eject one woman who nearly fell from a balcony. The accident was prevented by the intervention of officials installed at the organisers instigation who had anticipated matters might get out of hand. William was caught up in the melee; breaking his nose which prevented him from working.The following week’s edition announced William’s death. The headline reads: ‘Tyranny Claims Another Victim.’ Condolences are extended to William’s family who, it is reported, sustained his injuries protecting his brother. The cause of death was heart failure. The article continues: ‘The loss of this brave young fighter for liberty is a grief to all Suffragists… How nobly his courage and his sacrifice stand.’ A similar report was printed in Votes for Women on 21 November. Subscriptions were requested to enable a memorial to be placed on his grave.The Daily Mail, 29 November 1913, reported that despite exhaustive searches no one had come forward to say they had certified William’s death or where his grave was. The newspaper had tracked down William’s father, who stated, that as far as he knew, William was in Canada with his wife and children and had been so for the last year. He showed the journalist a letter he had received, the previous month, from William, postmarked Canada.William’s brother, Walter, himself a suffrage campaigner, appears to have been the source of the story. Many months before he had been informed that William was back in London. Walter did not see his brother until he also attended the meeting at which Thomas Macnamara spoke. Although the two brothers did not talk to each other, Walter saw William ejected - sustaining injuries to his nose and knee. Walter, subsequently, received a note asking him to ‘Come at once’ in William’s handwriting. However, Walter could not find him. Later someone called on Walter and informed him William had died. Walter then let the Men’s Political Union know who, in turn, informed the suffragette newspapers.By 5 December, the Suffragette included a few lines retracting the earlier story as the newspaper had been ‘misled by false information.’ The police interviewed Walter, his wife, his father and step-mother. Walter’s wife contradicted her husband entirely informing the police that Walter had told her that William had died in Canada while attending a political meeting. No trace was found of a death certificate or internment. What exactly became of William remains a mystery
Annie Biggs was arrested twice in March 1907 and September 1911. The first arrest was for her part in a demonstration; Annie was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment. In 1907 a book was published entitled My Prison Life and Why I Am a Suffragette written by Annie S Biggs which seems likely to be by one and the same person.Annie was arrested in early April 1908 but not being a suffragette offence; it does not appear on the amnesty record. The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 8 April 1908, reported the appearance in court of Annie who refused to give her address and described herself as an organiser. She had been charged with obstruction for sweeping a crossing between Waterloo Place and Pall Mall in Central London. Annie is described as a well-dressed woman wearing a “fashionable black toque, trimmed with red flowers and white suede gloves” who spoke, “in a refined tone, and was evidently well educated”. Her sweeping the crossing had drawn a crowd which, the police deemed it, was causing an obstruction. On being requested to desist, she had refused and was arrested. In court, Annie stated that she had tried to gain employment; she was a caterer and organiser of first-class restaurants undertaking some of the finest work in London. Annie claimed her references were too good, which meant she had been unsuccessful in finding work as a domestic servant. She had tried to emigrate to Queensland, but this had been unsuccessful. Annie added that she had not known it was against the law to sweep crossings. The magistrate explained why she should not have been sweeping the crossing to which Annie responded: “.. I think I have had enough of crossing sweeping; probably I shall not, go there again.” The magistrate discharged her. In August 1908 Annie was admitted to the workhouse. She is said to be homeless and suffering from an ulcerated leg. No date for her discharge is recorded.
Three years later, Annie was arrested again. This time she presented herself at Cannon Row Police Station stating she had broken two windows at the Home Office. Annie was described as an organiser who was homeless. Annie said that she had broken the windows to draw attention to her plight. Prior to breaking the windows, she had spent the entire night sitting at the out patient’s department of a hospital hoping to be admitted as an in-patient but had failed to achieve her aim. Annie had been without food until the police offered her sustenance. The police informed the court that some months before she had participated in a suffragette protest, been arrested and charged with resisting the police. Annie had, the police added, also appeared before the courts accused of obstruction of the highway. The first of these statements is not consistent with the arrest records as only this incident and the arrest in 1907 are included. In response to the assertion regarding the suffragette movement, Annie said she was now opposed to the movement.
Annie, who was clearly having a challenging time, was remanded in custody to be examined by a doctor. No newspaper reports can be found recording what followed. She was admitted to the workhouse, again, in October 1911 and released, on the order of a magistrate, presumably to enable her to appear in court. She was readmitted and discharged again at her own request a few weeks later. It seems probable that Annie was admitted to the workhouse again as Annie S Biggs, journalist, is recorded as being admitted on 12 December 1911. Again, Annie was admitted on 5 August 1913, discharged on 11 August possibly to hospital. There are no files with any information within the suffragette collection beyond the amnesty record. No further trace has been found.
Elizabeth Billing was arrested in October 1908 charged with obstructing the police near the Houses of Parliament. Elizabeth was ordered to pay a fine and agree to be bound over to keep the peace. She refused and was imprisoned for one month. She was released on 21 November alongside fellow suffragettes. The women were greeted by Mrs Pethick Lawrence and Mrs Howe Martyn accompanied by a band playing the Marseillaise. According to Votes for Women, 15 October 1908, Elizabeth was a new recruit to the movement who had only recently addressed a crowd at her first street corner meeting. After she wrote, “My great regret is to have wasted many valuable years while others have stood the brunt of the battle.”Elizabeth Emily Billing was born in 1877 to George, a surgeon’s assistant and Emily. The family lived in Blackpool. By 1901 her father was a doctor and Elizabeth had three siblings including a younger sister, May, who contributed to suffragette funds. Votes for Women, 25 October 1912, announced Elizabeth’s marriage to Darwin Leighton. The couple settled in Kendal, Westmoreland, where Darwin was a grocer. The couple had three daughters. Elizabeth died in 1947.
 HO 144/1193/220196-1to233
 DPP 1/19 HO 140/298
 HO 45/10712/245464
 MEPO 2/1222
The next two entries read Mary or May Billinghurst who was arrested in December 1912 and January 1913; Rosa May Billinghurst arrested March 1912. These two entries actually relate to one person Rosa May Billinghurst, as does the entry May Bellinghurst arrested November 1911. Known as May, she was born in 1876 into a comfortable middle-class family. During childhood, May contracted polio which left her unable to walk without leg irons – often using a wheelchair tricycle. As a young woman, May volunteered at the workhouse in Greenwich, which opened her eyes to the hardships suffered by the poor. May joined the Women’s Social Political Union early on believing, as did many, that the vote was the means by which women would have a say and be able to raise issues such as poverty. It is clear from the Vote for Women newspaper that this endeavour became a family affair with her mother and sister, Alice, joining and other family members giving donations. It is recorded that May and her mother during seven years donated £252.
May went on to be secretary of the Greenwich WSPU. She was well aware that her appearance at rallies or canvassing at by-elections in her tricycle drew attention to the cause. Her first arrest was for her part in Black Friday, but such turmoil did not deter her. May was described in the press as a “conspicuous” presence, charged with obstruction the charges were dropped. May submitted a statement to the enquiry undertaken by Henry Brailsford and Jessie Murray. May opened: ‘I am lame and cannot walk or get about at all without the aid of a hand tricycle’. The police ‘threw me out of the machine on to the ground in a very brutal manner.’ The police then attempted to move May on by pushing the tricycle ‘with my arms twisted behind me in a very painful position, with one of my fingers bent right back.’ In a side street, the police officers removed the valves to deflate her tyres which meant she was stuck in the middle of a crowd unable to move. Later the valves were replaced, but the police officers attempted to remove them again; when this failed they ‘twisted’ the wheel instructing a man in the crowd to use a police knife to ‘slit’ the tyre. The man declined, noting down the police officer’s number. May was marooned again. When she eventually returned home, May was confined to bed for two days recovering.
A year later she was arrested for her part in another demonstration outside Parliament and “was carried through the thick of the crowd by half-dozen stalwart policemen”. The reporting of this arrest shows the power of being seated in a tricycle, over one hundred and fifty women were arrested after the leaders of the movement, but May is singled out for special mention in many of the newspaper reports. The charge was obstruction which was discharged. A few days later, May was arrested again. This time she was sentenced to five days imprisonment.
May was arrested again for her part in the window smashing campaign and was, this time, imprisoned for one month. In December 1912 she was arrested along with Grace Michel and charged with unlawfully placing a liquid in a post box thereby injuring the post box and its contents. On being searched six rubber tubes containing a black fluid were found on her lap. She was sent for trial in January, found guilty she was sentenced to eight months in the First Division. The judge when he passed sentence observed that many supported the right of women to the vote, but that might have been granted by now if it was not for the actions of a militant few to which those on trial had mistakenly adhered themselves. “..they were animated by the highest and purest motives in what they did, and that, having spent many years among the poorest class of women, they had been impressed with the miseries which resulted from the sweating system, … which often led to the degradation of women and to other results too terrible to contemplate.” A surprisingly more supportive statement than was the norm.
Despite many letters demanding that May was not force-fed, due to her poor health, she was subjected to this degradation on several occasions. Her health declined and on 19 January, having served ten days, she was released. After a period of recuperation, May spoke at events recounting her experiences and denouncing force-feeding. In May 1914 May was part of the deputation who attempted to speak directly with the King. Refusing to move on, she chained her tricycle to the railings at Buckingham Palace. She was not arrested; as no doubt, her notoriety meant the authorities had no intention of giving anyone the opportunity of claiming they were preying on a disabled woman.
May remained politically active until she died in 1953.
 TS 27/19
 MEPO 3/203
 Dundee Courier 22 November 1911
 MEPO 2/1488 HO 144/1107/200655
 HO 144/1193/220196-1to233
 DPP 1/19 HO 140/306
 TS 27/19
Sarah Bennett and others
The next entry on the amnesty record is May Bellinghurst arrested in November 1911. This entry actually relates to Rosa May Billinghurst, and she will be discussed in a later blog.
Blanche Bennett, noted as born in 1873 and of Belfast, was arrested on 5 March 1912 for, along with Mary Nesbit, breaking two glass panels at the Baker Street post office. Mary, who was reported to say, to the arresting police officer, that it had taken a good deal of courage, and she would never do it again, was sentenced to two months while Blanche, who did not appear to have expressed any remorse, was handed the same sentence but with hard labour.Blanche was the Honorary Secretary of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Society based in Belfast. No further information has been uncovered.
Dorothy Bennett gave her address as Clement’s Inn, the WSPU headquarters. She was arrested in November 1911 and sentenced to seven days for breaking a window at the Board of Trade. No further information as so far been found.
 HO 144/1193/220196-1to233
 DPP 1/19 HO 144/1193/220196-1to233
 Irish Citizen 24 August 1912
 DPP 1/23
The next on the list is Sarah Bennett, who used the aliases Susan Burnton and Mary Gray. The list records that she was arrested seven times. Born in 1850 in the New Forest to James and Rebeca Bennett she was baptised Sarah Charlotte. Her father was a mariner and away from home for long periods. Sarah was the fourth of seven children. In 1873 her mother died, and Sarah moved north to Burslem in the Potteries which was the address she gave when she was elected treasurer of the Women’s Freedom League in 1909.Sarah worked to improve the lot of the workers in the Staffordshire Potteries campaigning to prevent the use of lead glaze in the production of pottery.
The first arrest in March 1907 was for her part in the demonstration attempting to enter the House of Commons. Sarah was charged with obstructing the police; helpfully defined by a policeman as attempting to force your way through a cordon. This Sarah had done while clutching a piece of paper relevant to suffrage, linking arms with the other women. The policeman concerned said he had been forced back by Sarah’s actions but had not been hurt. She was fined £1 or fourteen days in prison.
Sarah was arrested for a second time in January 1908 by which time she was in her late fifties. A newspaper report states: “an elderly person.” The charge this time was disorderly behaviour and resisting the police. Sarah had been standing outside the home of the Scottish Secretary for State addressing a crowd when the police intervened. On the way to the police station Kathleen Crummey took the hand of Sarah and of the policeman, announcing that if they took Sarah, they could take her as well. The magistrate, during the hearing, felt that Sarah needed to be medically examined. She retorted “I am not insane.” To which the magistrate responded that she was clearly not, but there was such a thing as “hysteria and being out of health.” Sarah firmly reiterated that there was nothing wrong with her at all. The magistrate stated that if that was the case that removed any excuse at all and sentenced her to pay a fine of 40 shillings or twenty-one days in prison. Sarah refused to pay. Kathleen was admonished and told she was like a repentant child who should return to her husband and children.One report provides an insight into the numbers involved. From 1 January 1908 to 20 February, seventy-two were imprisoned, of which sixteen were released on a promise of good behaviour, five served their full sentences, three paid or had their fines paid, and forty-eight remained inside. When Sarah arrived at Holloway, she was allocated to the Third Division in the absence of an order from the magistrate sending her to the Second Division. Questions were asked about not only Sarah’s treatment but also several other women sentenced at the same time. A draft letter on the file draws the magistrate’s attention to a circular prepared in 1899 and to another of 1906 which set out the approach to be taken when deciding to which Division a prisoner should be sent, ‘the class of prisoners who should be assigned to the Second and Third Division.’ The author of the letter writes that Gladstone thought that Sarah ‘appear [s] clearly to belong to the class for whom the Second Division was intended.’ The magistrate made the requisite ruling, and Sarah was moved to the Second Division. A draft letter regarding the similar treatment of two other suffragettes mentions ‘these ladies’ which has been crossed out and replaced with ‘they.’
Sarah was a member of the Women’s Freedom League formed in 1907 by a breakaway group from the WSPU. Initially, Charlotte Despard was the treasurer but when she was appointed President in 1909 Sarah was elected in her place. In that role in July Sarah was part of a delegation headed by Charlotte Despard who visited the Home Secretary to present a petition. The following year Sarah was accused of also being a member of the WSPU, her defence at the Annual Conference was given short shrift by the members of the Women’s Freedom League, and she resigned. Sarah, who had by then moved to Finchley, North London, was arrested for her part in Black Friday and like many others, the charge of obstruction was discharged.In May 1912 Emmeline Pankhurst, Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence were charged with conspiring with Christabel Pankhurst to maliciously cause damage and inciting others to do the same. One of the persons they were alleged to have incited was Sarah who had been witnessed throwing a stone at the window of the Aerated Bread Company. At the trial, a police officer stated that having failed to break a window at her first target Sarah had then thrown a stone at the next-door premises occupied by the London and North Western Railway Company successfully breaking a ground floor window. The officer recovered two stones from the scene. One, of the exhibits at their trial, was a bag with three stones inside found on Sarah when she was arrested. The manager of the London and North Western Railway said that the window measured nine feet by six feet and it had been totally replaced at a cost of 10 guineas. Sarah was sentenced to two months imprisonment in Holloway.In March 1912 Sarah was charged with breaking two windows in Regent Street valued at just over £4. She was sentenced to three months hard labour. Sarah served forty-three days of her sentence. On release, her health was described as ‘indifferent’. The reason given for releasing her early was her age and atheroma, heart disease. Sarah had refused food but was not force-fed.
In February 1913 Sarah took part in the window-smashing campaign breaking windows at Selfridges to the value of £160, she was sentenced to six months hard labour alongside Edith Warwick Bell [see earlier blog]. Her response was to inform the judge that she had been part of the suffrage march from Edinburgh to London in October 1912. Presumably, the comment was intended to make the judge realise she was a tough, resilient woman. The march arrived in London on 16 November rallying in Trafalgar Square. One of the speakers who addressed the crowd was Sarah. On her admission to prison, the file notes ‘General debility. Sixty-three or perhaps older.’
Sarah was released around 19 April. Her medical report before discharge notes that she had refused food for two days ‘Her tongue is coated, her breath cold, features pinched, and her pulse small and frequent.’ It was felt inadvisable for her to remain if she was to continue to refuse food given her age and ‘she presents arterial degeneration.’ Sarah was not considered fit for force-feeding.Sarah was arrested again in July for her part in the protests in Birmingham associated with Asquith’s visit to the city. She was sentenced to one month in the Second Division. By this stage, the authorities had decreed that all suffragette prisoners should be fingerprinted. However, this requirement was dispensed with in Sarah’s case as the medical officer felt that ‘the impressions …cannot be taken without using such force as he thinks is inadvisable in her case.’ Again Sarah was refusing food and this plus her age, it was felt, left her too weak to be forced into having her prints taken. The same day, 28 July, as the report was written Sarah was temporarily released.
She was arrested again in May 1914. Although this is shown on the amnesty record, no other details have been found. It may, therefore, be a readmission to prison under the Cat and Mouse Act.
Sarah died in 1924 remaining close friends with other suffragettes for the rest of her life. She collaborated with Ethel Smyth, whose cell she had been next to in Holloway, on The Wreckers, an opera.
 HO 144/871/161505
 HO 45/10338/139199
 HO 144/1107/200655
 DPP 1/23
 HO 140/290
 DPP 1/23
 HO 144/1195/220196-504to670
 HO 140/306
 Suffragette 15 November 1912
 HO 144/1195/220196-504to670
 PCOM 7/252
 HO 45/24665