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 later branched out into paper milling. The census 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 during Christmas time 1882, only weeks later Marion died in January 1883.
John borrowed heavily to buy other family members out of the business and, by the 1891 census, the family fortunes had significantly changed for the better. His son, Arthur, began to work in the company which was now very profitable and John, with more time on his hands, founded a liberal newspaper. By 1901 Florence, along with two of her younger sisters, is running a women’s hospital in Edinburgh. In 1888 Edith married John Begbie, an East India merchant. The couple settled in Stanmore, Middlesex and had four children, three boys and a girl. John, her husband, died in 1907.
Edith was first arrested on Black Friday. Later the charges were withdrawn. A few days later she was arrested for wilful damage at the Home Secretary’s home in Eccleston Square. Edith was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment in the Second Division. On the 1911 census return, Ethel merely entered her name and left all the other squares blank.
Arrested in March 1912 Edith was charged with smashing windows in the Strand with something she had concealed in a muff. According to a witness, Edith systematically walked down the Strand smashing one window after another. The manager of one shop stated the damage amounted to £10, another £15. At her first appearance in court, Edith said: “I stand here 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.”. Sentenced to four months imprisonment Edith was taken to Winson Green prison in Birmingham due to a lack of space in Holloway gaol. Edith went on hunger strike alongside her sister 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 although she continued to be active in the WSPU.
She died in 1932.
 HO 144/1107/200655
 HO 140/298
 HO 144/1195/220196-504to670
 DPP 1/19
 Suffragette 12 December 1913
A K A Behenna arrested in July 1909 is recorded as a married woman. The only other reference is to a Miss Behenna in the Suffragette dated 13 March 1914 who organised an event at the Town Hall in Tredegar, Wales.
B Beldon was arrested for her part in Black Friday. I am grateful to Jennie Kiff who got in touch to say that this is Bertha Beldon whose daughters Mary and Kathleen were also suffragettes. Bertha was born in 1863 to George, a Registrar of births and deaths, and Phoebe. When Bertha was seventeen, the family were living in Calverley, West Yorkshire where she was a pupil-teacher at the Board school. At the beginning of 1887, Bertha married Albert Beldon, a Bradford solicitor. The couple settled in the city and went on to have six children: Howard 1887; Mary 1889; Kathleen 1891; Eric 1893; Edgar and Eileen, twins born in 1901. Eileen would go on to be a well-known actress.
Bertha was an active campaigner in Yorkshire. In 1910 she joined Emmeline Pethick Lawrence on the platform in Ilkley. Only a few weeks later she was arrested in London for breaking windows at a Cabinet minister’s home. Votes for Women reported that when Bertha arrived at the police station with her fellow suffragette from Bradford, Jessie Stephenson, the latter called Bertha ‘Countess’ at which point the police released her. Neither Bertha, Mary nor Kathleen appear on the 1911 census return.
By 1912 it appears Bertha and Albert had separated, and she moved south to Hendon. There Bertha continued her suffragette activities as a member of the local WSPU. She died aged one hundred and one in 1964.
 HO 144/1038/180782
 Suffragette 13 March 1914
 Wharfdale and Airedale Observer 7 October 1910 Votes for Women 25 November 1910
Mary Beldon was arrested in November 1911, one of two hundred and twenty- three arrested in connection with the window-smashing campaign. 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 in court. A crowd of over three hundred stood outside the court while 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 28 November 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 on telling the police she was not going to be moved; she was arrested. She was fined 5 shillings but was imprisoned for five days on her refusal to pay. In 1918 Mary married Alexander Donald and, they went on to have two children. The couple later divorced. Mary died in 1974.
 DPP 1/23
 DPP 1/23
Annie Bell, who also used the aliases Elizabeth Bell, Hannah Bell or Hannah Booth, is the most prolific offender in the record so far. Annie was arrested numerous times in a period spanning June 1909 to the amnesty granted on the outbreak of the First World War. Annie, whose full name was Elizabeth Anne, was the youngest child of George and Elizabeth Bell. George served in the Royal Navy as an engineer.
Annie’s first arrest was in June 1909. A number of suffragettes approached the House of Commons to petition the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, who arranged for a letter to be given the women explaining why he could not meet with them. The police attempted to move the women on, but they resisted, a number were then arrested. The Daily Telegraph described the scene at court. The supporters ‘transformed the entrance hall into a sort of camping ground, …well-dressed women were to be seen sitting in groups on the floor eating hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches… Many of the ladies who had been arrested…formed another picnic party in the station-yard. Here, surrounded by a ring of policemen, they appeared to enjoying themselves immensely.’ Emmeline Pankhurst and the Hon Mrs Haverfield were viewed as the ringleaders and fined £5 with an alternative of one month in prison. The cases against over a hundred other women were dropped.
Annie’s second arrest was in July 1909. As described in an earlier blog, Lloyd George was to give a speech in Limehouse, London. Suffragettes attempted to enter the hall where the address was to be delivered but were not permitted entry. The women were arrested and charged with obstruction. All were given a choice to be bound over to keep the peace and each refused. Mrs Baker [see earlier blog], was charged, for her part in defending Emily Davison, alongside Annie who was sentenced to fourteen days.
The government did not recognise political prisoners. The reports of the court cases concerning suffragettes often refer to the division in which they were to serve their sentence, the most frequently cited being the second division. Each division, one, two or three, came with different privileges and rights. The decision as to which division the punishment should be served was at the court’s discretion. If the offence was minor and the sentence did not include hard labour, the categorisation was either a first or second division. Sedition or seditious libel was specifically a first division sentence. Thus in effect, a classification for political prisoners was created for those whose actions were not per se criminal. Often, when being sentenced for the type of offences, many suffragettes committed an option to pay a fine rather than serve a prison sentence was offered. Frequently the women refused to pay. Non-payment of a fine was left to the courts to rule which division the convicted should be allocated.
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 the suffragettes were convicted of were violent and, the courts could not be seen to condone their behaviour and, in any event, the decision as to sentence was not a government one.
Marian was released after ninety- one hours without food. The Limehouse women, twelve in total and including Annie, followed her into Holloway prison. On their arrival the women 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 during the day outside the cell only being allocated at night time. Other than the floor, there was nowhere else to sit. The prison visiting committee was requested by the prison governor to consider what action should be taken against the rebellious women. As a result, Annie, amongst others, was put in ‘close confinement’ in a cell for a week. The women then refused to eat; each was released having served part of their sentence. Annie was freed on 5 August; it was decided that the women should be released in tranches: ‘they should not all be discharged in one lot. Those who are suffering ‘very markedly’ should be discharged first.’
On 18 November 1910, Annie was arrested for breaking eight panes of glass at Black Rod’s residence, at the House of Lords, valued at 14 shillings. The charges were dropped. The files contain an interesting exchange of memos between various departments including that of the First Commissioner of Works, the newly appointed Earl Beauchamp. His office issued a memo stating that prosecutions would not be pursued for damage to Government Buildings.
Annie’s next arrest was on Black Friday when all the charges were subsequently dropped by the government. A few days later she was part of a delegation 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 force 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, Annie 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. Annie declared that she refused to recognise any government or obey any law until women received justice. The next day the hearing reconvened. Annie was found guilty and was fined £5 plus £4 and 10 shillings damages. Annie refused to pay and was sent to prison for one month.
By the time Annie was imprisoned some concessions had been made towards the women prisoners. Although still not categorised as first division, the women were not forced to wear prison clothes or eat prison food; during their exercise, 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 permitted to receive: reading material so long as it did not relate to suffrage activities, fruit and flowers.
Annie’s 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 the 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. When that fell on deaf ears, they went on hunger and liquid strike. Force-feeding followed. Seventeen suffragette prisoners released early from Aylesbury. On their release, the women were all, said to be, 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 gaol on remand, several witnesses were called. The two who had apprehended Annie and handed her 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. Annie pointed out that as she stated she was guilty, why, could she not be sentenced there and then. Her protestation was ignored and, she was sent to Oxford Prison. On her return to court, Annie was clear why she had taken the action she had pointing 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. Refusing to pay Annie was sent to Aylesbury Prison for two months. Annie on hearing this said she wished she had broken every window. Annie refused food and was force-fed. A pencil scrawl notes next to her sentence ‘eye trouble. Danger of blindness’ appears to be an opinion of her medical state following force-feeding, which was the reason given for her early release.
A report records that one hundred and two prisoners across four prisons were force-fed during 1912, twenty-four at Aylesbury. A subsequent report has the figure one hundred and two crossed out in pen and replaced, so it reads fifty-seven. Whatever the true number the total arrested and imprisoned during 1912 was two hundred and forty, and the percentage is high in either case. Eighty-four prisoners were released before they had served their full term. Some, the reports notes, was due to a pre-existing health condition which was exacerbated by refusing food. The report continues that thirty-five were released due to the consequences of force-feeding; a few agreed either to give an undertaking not to re-offend or such a promise was proffered by a relative and a couple on compassionate grounds.
In April 1913 Annie was arrested for obstructing the police outside Holloway prison while waiting for Mrs Pankhurst to be released. Annie refused to be moved on by the police shouting that if anyone tried to make her, she had a loaded revolver. When Annie was searched, it was found she had a gun and a 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 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 a confrontation with the police over the rearrest of Annie Kenney under the Cat and Mouse Act. Annie 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 1 August 1913, reports that Annie was in jail 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 in prison.
It seems likely that Annie committed the second offence in July while out on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act. Indeed, her next arrest was following her release on 2 August 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.
Rereleased on 13 September Annie, on the same day, broke a window at the Home Office in protest at the prison authorities failure to return her clothes. The window was valued at £2. Annie claimed her clothes were worth £3 demanding the magistrate righted the wrong. Her protest failed. Annie 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. In July 1914 she was arrested again. Annie had entered St John’s Church, Westminster, during evening service. She placed a tin with a lighted candle attached to act as a fuse 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 insulted 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 10 May. Annie addressed the court throughout the proceedings. Blowing up a church was nothing to the destruction of a woman. 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 seems 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 while she was not a member she was imprisoned for suffragette activities.
In fact, when the amnesty was prepared, Annie was the only suffragette in prison awaiting trial. An order of no prosecution was entered towards the end of September 1914 following correspondence from Members of Parliament and Mabel Tuke of the WSPU.
No further trace of Annie has been found.
 HO 144/1038/180782
 HO 144/1040/182086
 HO 144/1040/182086
 HO 144/1040/182086
 WORK 11/117
 DPP 1/19
 HO 144/1195/220196-504to670
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