Annie had travelled down from Yorkshire. In the reports of the court case her occupation is given as “idle”. Charged with obstruction she was found guilty and sentenced to six weeks in prison.
Ivy Constance Beach was arrested on March 5th 1912. Born in Southampton in 1881 it is not known who her parents were. By the age of nine she was at boarding school in Cheltenham and ten years later in 1901 she was an apprentice draper’s assistant living over the shop. No details of Ivy’s sentence have been found. Ivy died in 1931.
Olive Beamish, full name Agnes Olive, was born in 1890 in Cork, Ireland. Her father Ferdinand who described himself as a gentleman on his marriage certificate and her mother Frances had five children: four boys followed by Olive. The family moved from Ireland to England for the boys to be educated at Clifton College. She was sent to the local girl’s school joining the Women’s Social and Political Union at the age of sixteen. After school she went to Girton College, Cambridge studying mathematics with economics but was like all women at the time unable to graduate.
After university she moved to London and started working for the WSPU. All of her entries in the arrest record is under the name Phyliss Brady, the name she always gave to the police. Olive was first arrested on April 12th 1913 for being found with inflammable material with the intention of committing a felony. A railway carriage had been damaged by an explosion and the police believed the railway stations were to become a target. Olive and Millicent Dean with whom she was arrested were considered to be suspects. A policeman saw them walking in Croydon at 1.45am each carrying a leather travelling case. When questioned as to why they were out so late they replied they were returning from their holidays. Followed by the policeman for some distance they dropped the cases and ran. According to the newspaper reports the retrieved cases contained tins of paraffin paper saturated with oil, candles, matches, cotton wool and firelighters. There was also a piece of paper on which had been written “Beware of how you treat Mrs Pankhurst.”
When the two women appeared in court they requested an adjournment to prepare their defence. This was agreed to, bail being agreed at £50. Olive continued to use her false name and gave a false address. Olive was remanded in custody where she immediately went on hunger strike and was in due course force fed. At her trial she was sentenced to six weeks.
Olive continued to refuse food and the authorities continued to respond by force feeding. On April 25th 1913 the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913 came into force commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act. This allowed prisoners who were in danger of dying to be released and then taken back into prison when they had sufficiently recovered. Olive was released three days after the Act came into force but failed to return to prison. Her details were circulated “late of Albany Street, Regents Park, twenty three years, 5ft 6in, complexion swarthy, hair dark, eyes dark, medium build.”
The police did not find Olive until January the following year, she was immediately returned to Holloway prison. Two days later she was charged with setting fire to a house in Englefield Green, Surrey. Olive’s response was “I am almost certain not to appear.” Back in prison awaiting trial Olive refused food. Concerns were expressed and in response the Bishop of London paid a surprise visit to Holloway. He reported that he found Olive well “and kindly and considerately treated by the prison officials.” He was not permitted to witness the force feeding but had been assured the only side effects were indigestion and sickness. Another prisoner he had interviewed only screamed he wrote as a protest at what was about to happen. His report angered the WSPU who felt it was a white wash as he had failed to witness the force feeding. Olive issued a statement in which she stated that she had informed the Bishop that force feeding was very painful and she was very weak. The Bishop; had assured her that her fellow prisoner only screamed through protest. When Olive put this to her she was clear that she had told the Bishop that she screamed as a means of relieving her feelings as she knew that what was about to happen was so awful, if she did not scream she would go mad.
An application for bail was made to the court to allow Olive to prepare her defence. Dr Flora Murray appeared to support the application informing the court that Olive was too ill to prepare her defence. She offered to undertake to have Olive living with her. The application was denied as Olive had been released before and disappeared, she had also avowed when charged not to appear again. However a subsequent application was successful.
When the case came to court Olive appeared wearing a long coat to which she had pinned bunches of violets. The prosecution evidence centred on suffragette literature found in the garden and the identification of them by a police officer at Holloway who had picked them out from thirteen women. Fifteen witnesses were called twelve of whom put the women at different places on the evening in question and few were certain that these were in fact the two involved. The house had been empty for three years and no one could say with any certainty how leaflets got into the garden. Olive’s barrister, George Rivers Blanco White, proffered no defence stating that the evidence was too flimsy on which to convict and thus Olive never spoke or gave an alibi. The judge was clear when he was speaking to the jury after the conclusion of the evidence that Olive had not said where she had been that night.
In less that fifteen minutes she was found guilty with the jury recommending clemency as she had been led astray by older women. Her barrister pointed out her health was frail which the judge dismissed stating it was her own fault as she refused food. She was sentenced to eighteen months, the judge’s only clemency being not to impose hard labour as he was entitled to do.
Tests were carried out on suffragettes on their release for the presence of bromide which relaxed the body making force feeding easier to administer. Its presence was detected when Olive was tested. Waldorf Astor, MP for Plymouth, alarmed at these revelations asked Reginald McKenna, Home Secretary, if there was any truth in these reports. Mckenna was clear no administration of bromide had taken place.
On March 25th 1914 Olive was released from prison have undertaken to stop her political activities. In the Suffragette she wrote that this had been a reluctant decision only made due to the state of her mother’s health. Whatever the truth of this statement at the time her mother lived until 1929. In a later letter Olive explained it was a combination of her mother’s health and the long term effect on her own health. She needed to earn a living and if she was too weak she would not be able to do so. Olive was tested again for bromide and again it was found to be present. This also found to be the case when tests were carried out on another suffragette. Dr Flora Murray outlined in a report supported by Dr Frank Moxon the consequences of the administration of bromide which could include long term mental impairment. It was a serious allegation in particular in light of the Home Secretary’s adamant denial but the gathering clouds of war seem to have averted the press attention.
After the First World War Olive founded a secretarial business in London joining the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union. Eventually moving to Suffolk she became a leading member of the Sudbury and Woodbridge Labour Party. She died in 1978.
With thanks to the Museum of London
Votes for Women