Mary Burrows was arrested in March 1907. She was fined 20 shillings or fourteen days in prison. Mary was one of seventy-six arrested outside the Houses of Parliament charged with causing a disturbance. When those charged appeared before the court a crowd gathered outside, to such an extent it blocked the road and the police had to summon reinforcements. Some of the women arrested came from the north of England: Liverpool; Preston; Halifax and Huddersfield for example. The prosecution argued that ‘the time … had come when this misguided band of women, who were endeavouring to obtain a change of constitution by unconstitutional and unlawful means, should not be more severely dealt with than hitherto’. The lenient approach, it was believed, taken so far had led to the events that had brought them to court. Some of the women charged alongside Mary have already been written about in earlier blogs such as Mrs Arncliffe – Sennett; Miss Aves; Mrs Barrett and Winfred Bray.
The first report of Mary’s involvement in the fight for the vote is of her presiding at a meeting of the Preston Branch of the ILP, of which Mary was a member of the executive, addressed by Charlotte Despard. The following month Mary chaired a meeting of the No 1 Branch of the Women’s Labour League in Preston addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst and Mrs Chadderton who had recently been released from Holloway Prison. The League had been founded the previous year to campaign for women to be politically represented at local and national levels. Branches were formed in London, Preston, Hull, and Leicester. Mary was also founder member of the local WSPU. Not long before she travelled to London Mary addressed an ILP meeting on the necessity of old age pensions. ‘Thrift in youth’ advocated by some Members of Parliament was a nonsense as ‘the average wage … allowed little margin for saving’.
The day after Mary’s arrest, together with two other women from Preston, a suffragette meeting was held in the town addressed by Annie Kenney, Edith Rigby, and Charlotte. The latter had not attended the demonstration but had heard the three women had entered the yard at the Houses of Parliament in a wagonette. Charlotte was misinformed which irritated Mary who sent a message to the gathering that she was in fine spirits.
Following her release from prison presided at an ILP meeting at which Edith Rigby gave a lecture on why women should have the vote. Mary shared with the assembled company her recent experiences. She had been struck ‘with the ridiculous way in which the men seemed to view their demonstration … [seeming] to think the women went there as a kind of holiday.’ It had underlined to her how important the fight for suffrage was. Mary took issue with Charlotte who had claimed Mary was in a wagonette when the last demonstration occurred; she had, in fact, been at Caxton Hall acting as Lady Haberton’s bodyguard. When Mary, her charge, and another campaigner attempted to leave Caxton Hall they were ‘thoroughly well pummelled … subjected to some very rough treatment’ especially Mary because, as she explained, she ‘could not hold her tongue’. In prison Mary was allocated to the First Division and had no complaints regarding her treatment.
The suffrage campaign in Preston attracted a significant amount of interest; some good; some bad. Following one meeting not only were the women pelted but Mary’s home was attacked. A group travelled to Blackburn to address a meeting. While Mary was listened to; the local speaker was subjected to shouting and ‘considerable banter’. Several policemen were assigned to accompany the women to the train station as a large crowd followed them shouting and jostling.
Mary had applied for the position of relieving officer to the Poor Law Board in Preston, a post that involved visiting those claiming assistance; ascertaining the circumstances of those who sought help and reporting to the Board. Mary’s application was dismissed without consideration as the Board sought to appoint a married man. The report closes with a perceptive observation of what might occur when the census was taken in 1911: ‘In bygone years the ‘head of the household’ had had to disclose himself, but next time I’m afraid there will be trouble when the mere husband seeks to arrogate to himself that title’.
Mary Hannah nee Coulson married William Burrows in Preston in 1888. The census return three years later records that Mary was born in 1867 in Leamington Spa. While no registration of her birth has been located it appears that she was the daughter of Charles and Charlotte. Four years after Mary’s birth, she, and her sister Minnie along with their parents were living in Birmingham where Charles worked in the watchmaking trade and Charlotte was a mantle maker which involved making the essential item for lamps from cotton soaked in nitrates. Ten years later, the family enlarged by the addition of two sons and a daughter moved to Gateshead. Charles and Charlotte were still working in the same trades. By the time of the 1891 census Mary was married and her parents, with two more children, had moved back to Birmingham.
Mary and William lived, after their marriage, at 52 Shuttleworth Road in Preston. William was a watch and clock jobber, a person who undertook repairs and Mary was like her mother, a mantle maker. Their first son, William, was born the year after they married. Ten years later the couple had moved to 68 Adelphi Street, again in Preston. Mary had given birth to two more sons, Walter and Arnold who were later joined by Albert. William worked in the same trade while Mary run the family home and cared for their children. Despite many suffragettes’ refusal to complete the 1911 census Mary is recorded, by now living, just south of Preston, in the village of Whitestake.
The newspaper coverage of Mary’s involvement concludes in 1908. To ascertain more would require an exploration of the archive of the Preston ILP branch. A future project.
Mary died in 1926.
Florence Burley was arrested in July 1909. One of the Women’s Freedom League’s tactics was to pursue legal means to get their message across. One course of action was to present a petition to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. Members repeatedly gathered at Downing Street with the intention of handing over the document while holding a silent vigil. In the morning of 16 July Maria Mackenzie and Bessie Semple stood in Downing Street waiting for Asquith to leave a Cabinet meeting. The Prime Minister’s Private Secretary offered to take the petition and personally hand it over. Maria and Bessie insisted that they desired a private meeting with Asquith. The police requested that the two women move along. When they refused the two were arrested and charged with obstruction of the police in the exercise of their duty. In court the police contended that if they had not arrested them a disturbance would have occurred.
Maria and Bessie maintained that it was their legal right to have a meeting with the Prime Minister. The magistrate advised an application to the High Court for a writ of mandamus which, if granted, would compel Asquith to meet with them but the law did not allow them just to stand in the street demanding a meeting. The two women were found guilty; fined £5 or in the alternative on month in prison.
Florence and Grace Johnson, a campaigner from New York, took Maria and Bessie’s place in Downing Street following their arrest. By this time, a crowd of about forty had gathered and the police ordered Florence and Grace to leave which they refused. Arrested and charged with obstruction the two were brought before the same magistrate later that afternoon. At court Florence informed the magistrate that the obstruction was just as likely to have been caused by the people arriving for the Prime Minister’s wife’s party. Both women refused to accept a fine and were sentenced to twenty-one days in Holloway prison. At the close of proceedings, the magistrate announced that he would align the sentences of Maria, Bessie, Florence, and Grace reducing the earlier sentence to a corresponding twenty-one days expressing the hope that the women would behave while in prison.
Florence and the other three were released on 31 July. A report from the prisoner governor notes they were met at the gate by some friends ‘who took them away in a brake, but there was very little excitement. None of them made any complaints on leaving’. The women were conveyed to the Eustace Mills Restaurant for breakfast served at tables decorated with the Women Freedom League colours. Around two hundred women attended, and each released prisoner shared their experiences.
Two days later, the Women’s Freedom League held a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Around the base of Nelson’s Column, the women laid green and gold banners inscribed with the names of suffragette prisoners with stars to indicate how many times each had been imprisoned. Florence was on of six recently released women who spoke.
In June 1910 women from all over the country gathered to march from the Thames Embankment to the Albert all in support of suffrage. Around fifteen thousand women and men marched divided into contingents from authors to actresses. One was imprisoned women who carried arrows on poles symbolising the marks on prison uniforms and their own internment. Footage of the march can be seen on the bfi.org.uk website. Among the women carrying an arrow was Florence.
The records note that Florence, a journalist, was born in 1888. The newspapers reported that, at the time, she lived in Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington. It has not been possible to identify Florence any further.
Lucy Burns was an American suffragette and advocate for women’s rights. Her actions are widely written about; as an opener the entry on wikipedia is well worth a read.
The following entry is Susan Burnton, an alias of Sarah Bennett whom I have written about in an earlier blog.