Bertha Bacon was arrested on 24 November 1911. Bertha was charged with malicious damage for smashing three windows of the dining room at the Westminster Palace Hotel valued at £5. She was charged alongside Beatrice Lee and Annie Thoy, but both were discharged due to lack of evidence. Evidence was given that Bertha had been seen with her arm raised and the witness had grabbed it lowering it to her side. Bertha responded: “It’s all right; I have done it, and I will stop here.” The Bishop of Gloucester was sitting next to the window adjacent to one which was smashed. The magistrate was clear that as people were in the dining room, this was a dangerous and malicious crime. Bertha objected to the use of the word malicious as she had not intended any malice to the hotel manager or anyone else. Feminine indignation compelled women across the country to do these things; it was her duty. She drew a comparison to male undergraduates who in high spirits smashed windows and yet were not charged with malicious damage. Bertha was fined £5 or twenty-one days imprisonment and £4 damages.The Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners was compiled by suffragettes from their collective memories in the 1950s and is therefore not necessarily accurate. The only Bacon recorded is N Bacon, not Bertha. N is for Nelly Grace Bacon born 1867 who was arrested in May 1908 who was Bertha’s sister-in-law. Nelly, unlike Bertha, does not appear on the amnesty record. This may be because when the matter came to court Nelly, charged with obstructing the police by refusing to leave the steps of Downing Street, stated she was a journalist, there in that capacity with no affiliation to the suffragette movement. The reason for her arrest was that she had complained at being moved. She was bound over to keep the peace and fined 20 shillings or fourteen days in prison. A photograph of her arrest can be seen: https://www.bridgemanimages.co.uk/en/asset/422359/summary
The day after her trial her fine was paid, and Nelly was released from prison. As a journalist, not a suffragette, her criminal record would not be amongst the suffragette files.
Bertha Bacon was born Bertha Thurgood in 1866, Ongar, Essex to James and Marte. One of eight children, her father was a farmer. By the 1891 census, Bertha is employed as a governess to a family in Kensington. She married Ernest Bacon in 1900 in London who was the brother of Nelly, the journalist. Bertha and Ernest had two daughters, June and Olive. The 1911 census is interesting as Ernest correctly records he is married but puts lines through where his wife would usually be recorded. Clearly, she was part of the protest against the census. It would be interesting to know if the lines were in anger or support.
After her release, Bertha continued to campaign. She was a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League. In April 1913 a gold ring set with a coral and two pearls were auctioned off to pay her tax bill. Members of the League attended the auction in Romford, borrowing a chair Mrs Kineton Parkes, secretary of the league, held a meeting outside the auction explaining that it was wrong to pay taxes if you did not have a voice through a vote. She also pointed out that it was wrong for women to be paid less than men as men, in consequence, were being displaced from their jobs for women who cost less to employ.Bertha died in 1922.
Sarah Jane [Jennie] Hunt was born in 1866 in Birmingham, the daughter of James and Sarah Hunt. George Baines was born in Stainton, Westmoreland. At eighteen he was a shoe maker’s apprentice. In September 1888 Jennie and George married. The couple settled in Newton Heath, Manchester and George worked as a boot and shoemaker. A year later their first child, Annie Louisa Hunter, was born. The couple went on to have four more children of which two survived to adulthood: George Wilford born in 1896 and James Granville born in 1899. The family moved quite frequently, in 1901 they are living in Burnley, Lancashire and ten years later they are living in Stockport. Jennie often worked to supplement the family income, at one time she was a sewing machinist.Jennie first went to work aged eleven in a gun factory. Through her parents, she became involved in the Salvation Army and through this the Temperance Movement and the Independent Labour Party. When Jennie was twenty, the Salvation Army sent her to work in a men’s mission in Bolton where her role was to accompany charged men to court to provide support. After marriage, she stood for election to serve on the Board of Guardians, served on the Unemployed Committee and the Feeding of School Children Committee. George was a staunch supporter and was himself a trade unionist and socialist.
Jennie suffragette activities are well recorded, but despite this, her actions will be discussed as they firstly shed light on her husband and son and secondly the entries for the family highlight the shortcomings of the amnesty record. It is often stated that Jennie was arrested at least fifteen times and yet the amnesty record state three dates only, all in 1913, a confusion caused by the aliases Jennie used.
She was an early member of the WSPU. The first arrest located in the national press is December 1906, one of eleven women arrested in connection with a protest outside the House of Commons coupled with the successful entry by eight or nine suffragettes into the lobby. Jennie was charged with obstructing the police. In court, each was fined twenty shillings or fourteen days in prison. Each choose to go to prison even though this meant they would be away from their families at Christmas.
Jennie was released on New Year’s Eve. The women gathered at the WSPU headquarters and then went to the Holborn Restaurant where many of them spoke about their time in prison particularly how icy cold it was. Within weeks Jennie had travelled to Hebden Bridge where Emmeline Pankhurst was giving a speech in support of the strike over pay and conditions which had been ongoing since August of the year before. She was charged with watching and besetting the house of one of the employers at the centre of the strike. This charge which in effect, means preventing someone from carrying on their regular business, has interestingly been used recently to charge anti-fracking protestors. The police claimed she had incited people to violence and she was fined two pounds or fourteen days in prison. Within days of her sentence, she was released from prison, the fine being paid by supporters, who felt she was needed for the cause. Jennie was shortly appointed an organiser of the WSPU which paid her a salary.
In October 1908 Jennie was arrested. Asquith had travelled to Leeds to speak, and Jennie is reported in the press to have been the organiser of the women protesting and attempting to speak to Asquith. Jennie was charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. At the initial hearing, Jennie was clear that matters had only gone the way it had as the spokesman for the unemployed had hijacked their position outside where Asquith was speaking. The magistrate referred the charges to the Assizes making Jennie’s case the first suffragette charges to be heard by a jury. Both Gladstone and Asquith were subpoenaed to give evidence by Jennie. This she did by telegram to which she did not receive a response. During her trial, she addressed the jury, and it is from this that much of Jennie’s background has been gleaned. She was found guilty and refusing to bound over to keep the peace was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment. An interesting footnote is the following year Winston Churchill was to visit Southport. Various bodies exchanged letters regarding his security. One from the Chief Constable refers to the visit by Asquith the previous year ‘Mrs Baines ….informed me that trainloads of women had intended coming from Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and London, with the express purpose of smashing windows and damaging property, and that this scheme had only been abandoned owing to a message from Mrs Pankhurst, suspending operations.’When Jennie was released, she was feted in Leeds and London. The picture below shows Jennie on her way to Trafalgar Square in December 1908 where she had been conveyed in an open-top carriage accompanied by a brass band.
Although Jennie often went on hunger strike, she was not force-fed as she suffered from a medical condition that made it impossible to administer. On her release, she continued making speeches and organising rallies. Her arrest on 5 May 1913 was in consequence of an attempt to enter Hyde Park to hold a meeting. She was charged with obstructing and resisting the police. She was sentenced to one month imprisonment. Jennie was released under the Cat, and Mouse Act as her health was poor on 10 May to return to prison on 26 June. The files include a form which gave direction as to the process to be implemented under the Act. When the order for release was sent by post from the Secretary of State’s office the conditions of release were to be read to the prisoner and then when it had been signed and dated by the prison governor handed over to the releasee. When release occurred, the documentation had to be dated, and the hour of discharge noted. Slightly different procedures were to be implemented if the order for discharge was received by telephone or telegram. Once discharge had been settled upon the prison had to contact the local police to establish if they were to be present when the prisoner was to be released. Both the police district where the offence had been committed and the district responsible for the address to which the prisoner was travelling had to be notified and provided with a photograph. Fingerprints were to be taken by force if necessary. In Jennie’s case, the form notes that hers were already held by Scotland Yard. The prisoner’s medical condition was to be recorded ‘in case incorrect allegations on these points may be made by her friends afterwards.’ When the prisoner returned, similar details were to be recorded. If there was any question over identity fingerprints were to be taken to allow verification, again by force if necessary.
On 13 July Jennie, her husband and George Wilfred were arrested and charged with causing an explosion which damaged two railway carriages belonging to Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. They were arrested at their home where the police were said to have found bomb-making materials, a loaded revolver, a pistol, and several masks amongst other things. Later that day Katie Wallwork, the secretary of the WSPU in Manchester, was arrested. They were all charged with malicious damage to which the charge of possession of an explosive substance was added. All were sent to prison to await trial. Jennie immediately went on hunger strike and was released due to her failing health. The newspapers reported that she had developed St Vitus Dance or Sydenham’s chorea which causes involuntary jerking movements of the hands, feet and face.
The case came to preliminary trial in August 1913. George during his evidence stated he had been in his shop all day. Jennie had been out and had returned wearing a white wig, for which disguise he gave no explanation. He provided various reasons for the seized items being in his house or shop: the masks belonged to Jennie, and she had had them for years, the gun was for starting running races. Due to a lack of evidence, the charges against Katie Wallwork were dropped, but it was held there was sufficient evidence to pursue the case against the other three. They were all released on bail, but Jennie was immediately arrested under the Cat and Mouse Act and returned to Holloway Prison.
When the matter came before the courts again in November, George and his son appeared, but Jennie did not. The police stated that she had been released under the Cat and Mouse Act giving an address in London. Since then, she had not been seen. The case against the two Georges continued in her absence. Both were acquitted. Jennie was in hiding, and shortly she and her family left for Australia. There she continued her political activities. In 1919 Jennie was arrested and charged with displaying a red flag. She was sentenced to six months but was released within weeks. Jennie continued to be a campaigner right up until her death in 1951.