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.
Hilda Evelyn Burkett or Byron, an alias she sometimes used, was arrested, according to the amnesty record four times. Born in 1876 her given name was Evaline Hilda. At the time of her birth the family lived in a substantial house, Wilton Lodge in Tettenhall, a prosperous area of Wolverhampton. Hilda’s father, Reuben, was a hardware merchant but also collaborated extensively with Edwin Godwin, an architect and designer, on the provision of furniture for Dromore Castle. The Irish Builder, 1 March 1869, includes an extensive advertisement for the services of Reuben Burkitt & Co, a company operating as builders’ ironmongers and machinists. Alongside his business activities Reuben was a poor law guardian and a member of the Wolverhampton town council. In 1883 his business which had been turning over more than £20000 per year ran into financial difficulties unable to pay its debts and an arrangement was entered into with the creditors. One newspaper carried the headline ‘Failure of a Wolverhampton Town Councillor’. At the next council meeting Reuben resigned, not one word of thanks for his service was reported and when a candidate for election came forward the newspaper reports noted that the vacancy had occurred due to his bankruptcy.
The 1881 census return records Hilda residing with her paternal grandparents, Charles, a retired builder, and Clarissa, in the village of Keresley, Coventry. By 1891 her family had moved to 133 Lodge Road, Winson Green, Birmingham while Hilda remained living her with her now widowed grandfather. Reuben had become a commercial traveller specialising in hardware. He is absent from the family home when the 1891 census was taken, Hilda’s mother, Laura, noted as the head of the family while Reuben is recorded staying at lodgings in Portsmouth. Ten years later Reuben and Laura had moved again to Handsworth in Birmingham while Hilda had moved in with her second elder sister, Laura Christobel, and her husband, and was living in Aston, Birmingham. Her younger sister, Adelaide, had passed away four years previously and her eldest sister, Ida, had moved to London working as an actress and authoress. All three of the surviving sisters would play a part in the fight for women’s suffrage.
By December 1907 both Hilda and Ida participated in the WSPU each donating a shilling to the £20,000 appeal for funds. A little over a year later Hilda was charged with obstructing the police during a political meeting in Wolverhampton. In court Hilda said she was there to protest against the Government. The Chair of the Magistrates responded with ‘Oh, botheration! Go back to Birmingham, and don’t bother us again; you ought to be ashamed of yourself’. Hilda, now living in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, was member of the WSPU Small Heath and Sparkbrook Branch. Early in August 1909 Hilda was arrested along with eight others in Hull and charged with disorderly conduct. During the previous evening, the women had gathered outside the Assembly Rooms, where Herbert Samuel, a Liberal Cabinet Minister, was due to make an address on the implications of the Budget. One policeman described the women as being ‘in a very excitable condition’, waving their arms and shouting ‘Votes for Women’. This behaviour the police witnesses asserted caused ‘a large crowd … to assemble’. When the nine refused to disperse the police arrested them.
In court, one of the policemen struggled to give any evidence other than the women had drawn a crowd which caused hilarity among the supporters in the gallery. Charlotte Marsh testified that the purpose of the women’s attendance was to protest at the inability of women to vote while they were expected to pay taxes. The planned gathering had been announced by chalk advertisements on the pavements. All the arrangements had been made by her as the Yorkshire organiser of the WSPU and the part the other eight defendants played was minimal. Several of the nine, including Hilda, asserted that they had not shouted out until the mounted police had ridden onto the pavements to disperse them. When concluding the proceedings, accompanied by hisses from the gallery, the Magistrate stated, ‘I am not going to gratify any wish which any of you might have to make martyrs of yourselves by undergoing imprisonment’ and discharged all nine.
Hilda returned to Birmingham holding numerous meetings across the city often supported by Laura Ainsworth (see earlier blog). When the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, visited Birmingham during the Autumn Ellen Barnwell and Hilda were jailed for one month in the Division II, on Saturday 18 September, in Winson Green gaol for throwing stones at the train in which he was departing. This event has been commemorated at Birmingham New Street by a mural.
Among Hilda’s fellow prisoners were Laura Ainsworth and Charlotte Marsh. All three, alongside others, refused, on admission, to wear prison clothes or take any food. Having been without sustenance for over two days Hilda was taken before the Prison Governor for breaking three panes of glass in her cell. As Hilda was weak no punishment was given. While in the Governor’s office Hilda wrote a petition requesting removal to Division I. In the evening she was taken to the prison hospital where Hilda was given a pint of hot milk which she refused to drink. Tuesday, day three, Hilda again declined milk. Later she was taken to the hospital kitchen where two doctors, four wardresses and matron were assembled. Place in a chair, covered by a blanket it rapidly became clear to Hilda that an attempt was to be made to force feed her. She shouted out ‘I will not take food! I refuse! I will not swallow!’ Her lips were prised open, and milk poured in through the crevices of her teeth. Hilda did not swallow and after thirty minutes the attempt was abandoned. The doctor then made two attempts to insert a nasal tube but by coughing Hilda expelled it twice. She was then returned to her cell informing the wardresses ‘This, I think, will kill me sooner than starving; I can’t stand much more of it, but I am proud you have not beaten me yet’.
Less than two hours later and with a now very sore throat Hilda was returned to the hospital kitchen. The cup was attempted repeatedly Hilda refused to swallow. An attempt was made to use a tube. Broken not beaten Hilda agreed to the cup. This was repeated every two hours. Hilda realised that the other women had joined her from the courts when she heard through the walls a line from La Marseillaise ‘Are we of meaner soul than they’. Hilda took food until the following Monday to ensure she was returned to her cell near the other women so she could tell them what had happened to her. On the Monday she took breakfast but then refused food until Wednesday evening when she was forced into a reclining position, her head tilted back, and liquid poured in. The treatment was taking its toll on Hilda who was placed in the prison hospital until her release.
The treatment of the women prisoners gave rise to a considerable amount of publicity and correspondence, held within the official files, of differing medical opinions as to the impact of force feeding. These papers are interspersed with reports on the condition of the prisoners:
3 October 1909 ‘Hilda Evelyn Burkitt is not very well this morning owing to a restless night. She is taking nourishment well and without opposition’
4 October 1909 ‘Hilda Evelyn Burkitt takes food of her own accord and is gaining strength again’
7 October 1909 ‘Hilda Burkitt is about the same she takes food willingly’
One, dated 13 October, notes that Hilda had been given an enema to relieve constipation and was ‘taking nourishment fairly well’. It appears that Hilda, by this point, was not being force fed as details of the method used is given for each prisoner and in, her case, there is no mention of either a nasal or oesophageal tube. Two days later, the day before Hilda and Ellen were due for release, a report notes that both had been examined by two doctors who concluded that they were both in good health and ‘free from injury’. Ellen was still being force fed while Hilda was not. Despite the assertion as to their health The Times, 18 October 1909, describes Hilda having a bruised face from force feeding. As it is clear from the reports that it was sometime since Hilda had been force fed the presence of bruising on her release indicates the amount of force used.
Following her release Hilda returned to her home in Sparkbrook giving an exclusive interview to a Daily News journalist who described his interviewee as speaking ‘feebly in an undertone’ while ‘stretched on a couch’. Her father had summoned a doctor who reported that Hilda’s heart was weak in consequence of force feeding. Hilda explained that while in prison she had gone on hunger strike three times ‘once for 81 hours, another time for 76 hours, and on the last occasion for 24 hours’. Hilda explained that initially an attempt had been made to use a feeding cup but when she refused to swallow the oesophageal tube was used. When the feeding cup was next presented, she drank from it. The women had kept their spirits up by greeting each other in the mornings with ‘Are we downhearted? No surrender!’ As the interview ended Hilda said that violence was ‘still justified … as the only method of agitation open to the Suffragists’.
By November Hilda was back campaigning. Eva Dixon and Hilda travelled to Walsall to hold an open-air meeting. As Hilda spoke, she was heckled, pelted with rotten apples, and pushed off the chair she was standing on. The two women were forced to retreat. During the evening Eva and Hilda attempted to speak again but the response was equally negative and again, they were forced to abandon their efforts. Throughout the following two years Hilda was a regular speaker at meetings often talking of her experiences of force feeding and militant strategies.
In April 1912 Hilda was arrested and charged with malicious damage to four windows at 102-103 Bond Street valued at £40. An additional charge of breaking a window at 105 Bond Street was dropped. In court Hilda stated that any damage was not malicious and ‘it was time this fight was put a stop to, they did not want to spend their lives in prison, but they did want to remove the stain and stigma on women’. Refusing to be bound over as Hilda considered it ‘a disgrace to womanhood to do so’, she was sent to Holloway Prison for four months. A note on the files reads ‘convulsive hysteria …mentally unstable’. Hilda petitioned as a political prisoner for ‘her own work my books, my writing materials and receive and send letters once in two weeks and also I wish to have fruit sent in by my friends, and various parcels of clothing and so on. I also require my watch and brooch, and I insist on having two exercises a day for the sake of my health’. On her petition Hilda’s behaviour is noted as ‘bad’. Her requests were denied. Again, Hilda was force fed although the files do not contain any specific details. She was released on 26 June having been in the prison hospital under observation for six weeks. A report written on the day of her release states she is ‘mentally very unstable … owing to the doubtful hysterical condition’ immediate release was recommended.
By January 1913 Hilda was living in Stoke on Trent, the organiser of the newly founded Potteries Branch of the WSPU. At one of the first meetings Hilda spoke about militant action ‘They had found that peaceful methods were of no avail, and the opposition of the Government had compelled them to resort to more drastic measures’. If the Adult Suffrage Bill were not passed the truce would be over and the inevitable conclusion was, Hilda stated, ‘that they had not been militant enough’. Any action not injurious to human life would be pursued. In April George V visited the Potteries. Hilda wrote to the Daily Herald complaining that ‘all they saw was a dim outline … inside a dark motor car’. This was because ‘it was openly admitted that the Royal personages had the fear of the Suffragists in their hearts, so they dare not ride in an open carriage, or even have the windows of the motor car down’. This Hilda felt indicated ‘that at least the powers that be, are beginning to feel our power’.
Hilda was true to her word where militancy was concerned. She was arrested on 27 November 1913 alongside Clara Giveen charged with setting fire to a football stand in Leeds. For some time, after her arrest Hilda was known as ‘prisoner B’ as she refused to reveal her identity. An attempt was made to take her fingerprints by the wardresses but when this failed the Prison Governor drafted in male staff to assist. Hilda resisted throughout and broke several cell windows on her return in protest. Hilda refused food from her admission but was not force fed. A report dated 1 December suggests it should be considered but two days later her condition had deteriorated to such an extent it was not thought safe to proceed. Therefore, Hilda was released under the Cat and Mouse Act into the care of Mrs Whitehead of Bradford on 3 December to return six days later. The medical report on the day of her release notes that ‘prisoner is much weaker today – remains in bed all day’. Mentally Hilda was ‘emotional’, unable to sleep; physically she had ‘cold extremities’ and a ‘rapid and thin’ pulse. A telegram was sent to the Chief Constable of the Leeds Police by the Home Office notifying him of Hilda’s release and ordering that ‘careful observation should be kept on her movements’.
Neither Hilda or Clara appeared in court and the trial was adjourned until April. By which time Hilda was in Suffolk. On 28 April she was arrested alongside Florence Tunks charged with setting fire to the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe causing damage of, it was estimated, £30000, two wheat stacks at Bucklesham and another stack at Trimley. Hilda gave her name as Byron. Both appeared before the court in Felixstowe the following day and were remanded in custody for a week when they were brought before the court and placed on remand again.
Grace Edith Burbidge was born in 1887 in Holloway, North London. Her parents were William, an accountant to a pianoforte manufacturer and Harriet. Grace had six brothers and one sister. By the time Grace was three the family had moved to 22 Hartham Road, Holloway. In 1902 Grace’s mother died and her sister, Hilda who had been a pupil teacher became her father’s housekeeper. Eight years later Grace is noted on the 1911 census as working as a clerk for a motor company. Five of her six brothers were still living at home and her sister is being assisted in her domestic duties by a servant.
In January 1913, Grace was arrested and charged with maliciously damaging several letters by pouring liquid phosphorus into a pillar box. A postman emptied the box at nine in the evening and as he walked down the road noticed his bag was alight. He tipped the contents on the ground, finding a tube containing phosphorous and four damaged letters. Earlier another postman had noticed a woman, later identified as Grace, near the pillar box on the junction of Camden Road and Sandall Road, with her right arm enveloped in a blue flame screaming. He reported the matter to the police who followed Grace to a nearby doctor who was dressing her arm. When the policeman approached her, Grace said ‘I went to put it into the box, and it went on my arm instead’. After her arrest Grace commented that she had failed ‘never mind, you know what it was through’.
At her trial Grace pleaded guilty. Her solicitor, Arthur Marshall, husband of Kitty, a suffragette, said she had been severely burned, undertook not to commit a similar offence and ‘was practically the mainstay of her family’. She was bound over for six months and fined £25. The Magistrate described Grace as a ‘poor deluded dupe of others’.
There are no reports suggesting that prior to this event Grace was involved with any of the suffragette groups but by the summer of 1913 she was joint honorary secretary of the Islington Branch of the WSPU. Each Wednesday evening Grace and her fellow secretary made themselves available at the branch premises in Goswell Road, for consultation. It was a position Grace held until at least 1914.
In 1929 Grace married Jacob Wasserzug or West, a dental instrument maker of Polish descent who like her had grown up in north London. No further information has been located.
Janet Legate Bunting and Janet Legate Bunten are recorded in the amnesty record as two people whereas they are one and the same: Janet Legate Bunten. Janet was born in 1877 to Robert, a merchant in chemicals, and Flora. One of four children, Janet lost her elder sister in 1896, her mother two years later and her father in 1907. From there on her family was an elder and a younger brother.
In August 1909, Janet was one of eight women, all members of the Women’s Freedom League, arrested in Downing Street charged with obstructing the police in their duty. The Women’s Freedom League mounted a picket outside the Prime Minister’s residence. This, they claimed in a letter to the Times and in a leaflet which was distributed around the environs of the Houses of Parliament, was their constitutional right as the purpose of the picket was to be able to present a petition to the Prime Minister. The prosecution argued that no such right existed and in any event the papers the women had on them, when arrested, did not amount to a petition as they opened ‘with a respectful remonstrance’ and did not close with a prayer which the law stipulated was necessary. The women refused to move despite many requests and were arrested. A specific instance cited was the actions of Janet and Lily Boileau (see earlier blog) who were standing together on the Downing Street pavement when Asquith’s carriage drew up. Lily stepped forward holding a cardboard tube in her hand which contained the petition, as she did so requesting Asquith take it. His response was ‘No, don’t be so silly’. As he responded Lily extended her arm towards the Prime Minister where upon her wrist was grabbed by a policeman and the tube fell to the ground. Lily and Janet were told to go away. Perplexed Lily enquired why it had been legal to stand there yesterday but not today.
The women’s defence, led by Tim Healy, a King’s Counsel and Irish Member of Parliament, pointed out that the women had been on the pavement, but the charge was obstructing the police not causing an obstruction on the footpath; ‘the police might be obstructed by angels,’ he observed in an address the Vote described as ‘one of the finest and most stirring pieces of oratory.’ In cross examination the police superintendent conceded that he might have allowed the women to remain if they had been in possession of a legal document which would have potentially made their presence fall within the law. The superintendent admitted he had never inspected the papers and the obstruction was, in reality, caused by the crowd that had gathered to watch. The Magistrate adjourned for a week to consider his judgement.
The Magistrate found all eight women guilty fining them forty shillings or in default seven days in prison. An appeal was immediately launched and pending that hearing the women were at liberty. The appeal was heard in January the following year quickly becoming known as Mrs Despard’s case as she headed the WFL. This time the women were represented by Henry McCardie who presented an argument pointing out that Downing Street was a highway which the public had the right to use, adding that two defendants had only been there for a couple of minutes and Charlotte Despard and Mrs Cobden Sanderson had not even entered the street. The Lord Chief Justice dismissed the appeal expressing in his finding that a petition could be delivered by post and the women had used ‘the highway in an unreasonable and improper manner’. It is not clear whether, after this hearing, Janet paid the fine or went to prison.
While the appeal hearing was pending Janet was active in the Govan Branch, in the south west of Glasgow, of the WFL. During the 1910 general election Janet was active in Dundee. The branch held a Cake and Candy sale and after an opening ceremony four of them, including Janet, went to see Winston Churchill address a meeting for women at the YMCA. The four of them stood up and asked questions in response to Churchill’s statement that ‘Men have a vote because they are men’. The stewards attempted to eject them, but the women swung out of the gathering having received a cursory reply from the speaker. By November 1910 Janet was the Honorary Secretary of the Glasgow branch based in Sauchiehall Street.
Janet’s next brush with the law was being fined twenty shillings for keeping a dog without a licence. She was a member of the Tax Resistance League, the WFL being the first suffrage group to make such a protest part of its campaign. Janet argued, in court, that it was unjust to tax women who were unable to vote, and a licence was a form of taxation. Both the WFL and the WSPU demonstrated outside the court room. Janet was found guilty and fined twenty shillings. She refused to pay the fine and was given ten days to do so. The alternative was ten days in gaol. Again it is not clear whether Janet paid the fine. Like many she had her goods distrained for failure to pay taxes due. On one occasion Janet’s property was entered for sale while she was absent campaigning. A close friend of hers, a member of the WSPU who had also had her own goods seized, attended the auction where the property was to be sold buying back her and Janet’s.
In June 1913 Janet and Marianne Hyde were arrested on the corner of Downing Street and charged, again, with obstruction. Janet and Marianne had been attempting to hold a meeting to protest at the refusal to grant the former bail when she had been charged recently with a similar offence. Sadly, no report of the first instance has been located. The two women were fined forty shillings or fourteen days in gaol. They both elected to go to prison. On their release a reception was held at Caxton Hall and they were presented with bouquets ‘as a sign of the League’s appreciation of their services’. Janet observed that ‘twenty and a-half hours out of every twenty-four in solitary confinement were not conducive to good health or clear thinking’.
In the summer, the Glasgow branch moved its operation to the Isle of Rothesay dubbing it ‘On the Clyde Coast’. The idea was to appeal to the holidaymakers. Volunteers including Janet were described as ‘very literally [bearing] the heat and burden of the day’. During the summer season of 1914 the group held between four to six meetings in the day often with another in the evening. The following year Asquith stood uncontested in the East Fife by-election. Ahead of Asquith addressing a meeting in Cupar Janet and Ada Broughton placarded all ‘the most important buildings, hoardings, telegraph poles etc with a large poster protesting against the re-election of the Premier because his pledges to women remain unfulfilled’. This included every other telegraph pole from Springfield to Cupar, about three miles.
During the First World War the WFL adopted a pacifist stance while undertaking voluntary work. Although they suspended the campaign for suffrage fundraising continued to support the fight for the vote and the voluntary efforts. A big part of this was the annual Green White and Gold Fair. The American suffrage movement had garnered much publicity in 1908 by dressing a mannequin with a hundred pockets, women, in return for a donation, picked ‘a treasure to bring funds to the suffragette cause’. At the 1917 Green White and Gold fair Janet copied the idea but instead of a mannequin she dressed herself as the woman with a hundred pockets described as a ‘picturesque and irresistible figure’.
When the 1939 register was taken Janet was living in Littlehampton, Sussex with her brother, John, and his wife.
Thomas Mortimer Budgett was the brother-in-law of Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. Born in 1865 Thomas was the son of James, a manufacturer of rope and twine and Sarah. The family lived in Crimchard, Somerset. Thomas had two elder brothers, Henry, and Frederick. In 1879 his father, James died. Twenty years later Thomas, married Annie Pethick, often known as Nance, Emmeline’s sister. Thomas and his brother Frederick, settled in Bromley, Kent where they worked in partnership as timber merchants. Thomas and Annie had four children.
The Men’s League for Suffrage, a group described as being founded on non-political lines, was founded in 1907. Thomas was appointed one of two honorary secretaries, a post he held until April 1908. While Annie wrote a pamphlet for the WSPU titled Facts Behind the Press discussing the misrepresentation of the woman’s movement which sold for 1d.
In February 1909, twenty-nine were arrested following another attempt to garner an interview with the Prime Minster at the House of Commons. A deputation set off from Caxton Hall, following a meeting, and as they approached Parliament Square the following crowd were prevented from proceeding. The deputation was permitted to continue while the police attempted to push the followers back towards Caxton Hall. Emmeline Pethick Lawrence led the group who arrived at the door of the House of Commons to find their way blocked by policemen. She was informed that Asquith was not in the House, but the petition would be given to him. Several of them attempted to push past the police cordon and members of the crowd followed suit leading to many the arrests. Thomas was the only man detained.
At a crowded court, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were given seats in the dock. The police gave evidence which Emmeline declined to question, electing instead to make a statement. One by one the other defendants entered the dock, each declining to call witnesses or make any statement other than Constance Lytton who entered the dock and observed how proud she was of her actions. The last to enter the dock was Thomas who, according to the police, had attempted to breach the cordon. Described as being ‘in a very excited state’ Thomas had told the police ‘I am not going away: the women are not going to do all the dirty work’. Thomas offered no defence but said ‘it was quite obvious that he could not stand by and see English women treated in such as disgraceful way’. The Magistrate responded that if Thomas had been in court, he would have heard the women talk of the police ‘in the highest terms’. Thomas had interfered for no reason. He was bound over for a payment of £20 and £20 surety or sentenced to one month in prison allocated to Division II. All the women elected to go to gaol, but Thomas did not. His brother-in-law, Frederick, acting as surety.
The WSPU started a fundraising campaign called the £50,000 fund. By April 1909, an impressive £33000 had been raised and that month Annie donated £50. During 1910/11 Thomas served on the committee of the Men’s League for Suffrage. The 1911 census only records Thomas, across the form is written: Women refuse all particulars. No votes = no information’. The couple do not appear to have had any further direct involvement with the movement. Annie died in 1926 and Thomas in 1942.
Emma Birchell or Buchell was arrested in October 1913. Beatrice Sanders , financial secretary of the WSPU, and Harriet Kerr , manager of the WSPU had been released under the Cat and Mouse Act in June 1913 and in accordance with the terms of their release refrained from any overt WSPU activities. In October it was announced that both women were to return to their posts at Lincoln’s Inn House.
In no time several plain clothes policemen were dispatched to the premises. When the two women left for lunch the officers informed Beatrice and Harriet, they were under arrest for infringing the conditions of their release. Several women, including Emma, rushed out to rescue Beatrice and Harriet. After a struggle and an influx of uniformed officers the two were taken away. Emma, Annie Ford, Alice Virtue and Gwendoline Cook were arrested and charged with assault and obstructing the police. Each was fined 40 shillings or one month in gaol.
Nothing further has been found about Emma.
Agnes Buckton was found guilty of maliciously damaging three windows at 65-66 Piccadilly the property of De Castro & Sons valued at four shillings and sixpence during March 1912. Agnes was sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour. If the value of the windows is correctly recorded this is a very harsh sentence for a first offence and reflects a pattern which can be seen in sentencing; increasingly harsher sentences as the authorities tried to stay on top of the suffragette actions.
On the records her year of birth is given as 1868 but no further details have been located.
Constance Bryer was arrested for the first time on 29 June 1909. Under the auspices of the WSPU an attempt was made to approach the House of Commons to speak to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. It was estimated that over three thousand police were drafted in to secure the area. One newspaper describes the phalanx of police ‘as far north as the War Office in Whitehall, the south side of Westminster Bridge, the top of Victoria Street and the gates of St James’s Park’. The women gathered at Caxton Hall, where behind the speaker’s platform hung banners ‘Come on, Brave Soldiers’ and ‘Doubt not of the day’. Nine women including Emmeline Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence made up the deputation intent on conveying to the Prime Minister a resolution demanding Votes for Women.
While the police gave free passage to the deputation; the followers access was barred. One woman caused quite a stir by leaving Caxton Hall mounted on a horse sporting the WSPU colours. When Emmeline Pankhurst reached the door at the St Stephen’s entrance to the Houses of Parliament, she was handed an envelope inside which was a letter from Asquith stating he was unable to receive the deputation. The nine women refused to leave and were arrested. The following crowd repeatedly tried to approach Parliament Square, but the police attempted to move them towards Trafalgar Square. In the ensuing melee several windows were broken. Around one hundred people were arrested among them Constance who was described in Votes for Women as ‘always been a rebel against the unfair conditions of women’s life’. In an interview, after her arrest, Constance said of herself ‘not a bit of pluck’. The charges against her were discharged.
Constance Elizabeth was born in 1870, the daughter of Thomas, a bullion merchant, and Elizabeth. Baptised at St George’s Church, Tufnell Park, the family lived, at the time, at 2 Shaftesbury Villas, Hornsey Rise, a short walk away. Constance, a talented musician, was the eldest daughter preceded by a brother, Edgar of a family of nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. By 1901, the family were living in a substantial house, 30 Avenue Road, on the edges of Crouch End, north London. Ten years later, they had moved to 49 Tufnell Park Road, only a few miles away.
Constance’s father, Thomas, had joined his father’s, John, firm of watchmakers. During the 1870s John acquired a business refining and smelting gold and silver based at 53-54 the Barbican which he ran alongside a business making chronometers and watches. After his death, his three sons including Thomas continued. They rebuilt the premises in 1900 adorning it with a frieze depicting the process of gold refining which is preserved to this day. Thomas’s attitude or the census enumerator’s approach is reflected in both the 1901 and 1911 returns which lists the sons of the family first regardless of age and then the daughters.
Constance was charged with obstruction for her part in Black Friday but as with all the other participators the charges were dropped. She gave an account to Henry Brailsford and Jennie Murray. Constance described her injuries as ‘principally bruises on the arms, although I was knocked about all over really. The only remaining injury is a knock or strain on the shoulder, which seems to get no better’. She had intervened in Downing Street by pulling on a policeman’s belt ‘to relieve’ an arrested woman who was being taken ‘away with great unnecessary roughness’. Constance believed violence would not have ensued if the police had not deployed plain clothes officers misleading wearing Men’s League badges which she described as ‘an unspeakable act of meanness and treachery’.
Constance became secretary of the North Islington branch of the WSPU in December 1910 with many of the meetings hosted at her home. Some gatherings were held in the St Mark’s vicarage garden in Tollington Park, north London as guest of Reverend Finlay Green and his wife. Finlay went on to be the editor of the journal, Church League for Women’s Suffrage, first published in 1912 by the League of the same name. During November 1911, Constance was arrested and found guilty of breaking a window at a Local Government Office. She was fined five shillings or five days in prison. Charged and convicted alongside Mrs Eleanor Adams (see earlier blog) Constance said in court that ‘she did it because it was the only thing the Government understood’.
Early in 1912 the North Islington branch acquired premises at 19 St Thomas’s Road, Finsbury Park. Thanks are given in Votes for Women to the people who had helped to make the office habitable by providing a table, oil stove and curtains. Another benefactor pledged a shilling a week towards the rent. The article closes with a plea for more furniture and books for a proposed lending library. The following month Constance was sentenced to four months in prison alongside women discussed in earlier blogs such as Violet Aitken, Dorothy Bowker, Grace Branson, and Louise Archibald for maliciously damaging a window valued at £15 and another the property of the Raoul Shoe Company worth £30, both in Regent Street. Due to the sheer volume of women some, including Constance, were sent to Winson Green prison in Birmingham. Constance was allocated to Division III.
A report in the official files notes that Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary from February 1910, had instructed that ‘there was to be no squeamishness’ as to commencing force feeding which should be started after an examination by a medical officer to determine if the prisoner was deemed sufficiently fit to cope with the procedure. Churchill had suggested that force feeding should be commenced twenty-four hours after food had first been refused. However, it was pointed out that the procedure had to take place if it was decided it was a medical necessity and therefore it was for the medical officer to deem when the need for intervention arose. By 25 June twenty-two women at Winson Green were being force fed: sixteen with a tube; six with a cup, voluntarily or semi-voluntarily. Across four prisons including Brixton, where one male supporter was jailed, a total of fifty-seven were being fed by force including Constance although the files do not contain any specific details.
The issues of having suffragette prisoners foisted upon them is highlighted by the Visiting Committee at Winson Green which raised concerns at the presence of the women moved from London. The prison did not lend itself to being able to segregate the suffragettes from other women prisoners. The Committee observed that ‘with the suffragettes the discipline has been so relaxed, that only detention has been secured … the Suffragettes have been allowed to conduct themselves as they pleased, and this in the sight of other prisoners’. This, they felt, was ‘likely to create a feeling of discontent’ among the ordinary prisoners. Constance formed a lifelong friendship with Olive Wharry while in Winson Green who, on her death in 1948, bequeathed to Constance her hunger strike medal and a monetary annuity.
In 2012 an autograph book came up for sale in which, on 2 May 1912 while in prison, Constance wrote:
Suffragettes we sit & sew
Sew &sit & sit & sew
Twenty-five are we
Making shirts & socks for men
Cannot get away from them
Even here you see
Constance was released on June 29 1912. The picture below depicts Constance and Eleanor in the garden of St Mark’s vicarage. On the back is written ‘Miss Adams and Miss Constance Bryer’ after their release from Prison’. The two women lived close to each other in north London. The photograph is taken in the summer probably in July 1912.
Constance continued her work as secretary of the North Islington Branch which intended to stage weekly meetings outside Holloway Prison. Eighteen months later, in January 1914 Constance resigned as secretary but remained a member of the North Islington branch. Constance appeared in the newspapers for a matter unrelated to suffragette activities. A man was charged with committing a burglary at Constance’s family home. He had gained entry through the scullery window which Constance believed the burglar had broken the week before. The Magistrate questioned Constance as to whether she had actually seen the burglar break the window: ‘When was the window broken woman?’ Constance declined to respond to such a rudely worded question observing ‘You are very rude to me’. When the accused’s mother pleaded for clemency, she claimed her son had been influenced by suffragettes who lived in the same house as him. The women, his mother claimed, had declared ‘that capitalists were withholding [their] rights’ and had incited him to commit a crime. Interviewed by a medical officer at Brixton prison the defendant had stated that the suffragists had told him he ‘could take what [he] liked except human life’.
Constance, through her friendship with Finlay Green, was a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage. During the First World War Constance worked in Home Defence and munitions. Constance died in 1952 still living in the same area of London.
Violet Bryant is an interesting insight into discrepancies between official records and fact as told by the arrestee. Both versions are included below.
Violet Bryant was arrested alongside Ellen Pitfield, Dorothy Shallard and Lily Asquith (see earlier blog) for breaking windows valued at £3 7 shillings and 6 pence at the Liberal Club in Newcastle upon Tyne ahead of a visit to the city by Lloyd George. The night before Violet addressed a meeting asserting that ‘no barriers would prevent them; they were prepared to go to any length to get their rights even to death itself’. Each of the women pleaded guilty and were sentenced to fourteen days with hard labour. The Votes for Women newspaper reported that Violet was a nurse who was so outraged at the force feeding of the suffragette prisoners in prison in Birmingham she had resigned her position and travelled to Newcastle to support the cause.
From the police station in Newcastle eleven women involved in the demonstration wrote to the WSPU at its headquarters in Clement’s Inn. The letter opens ‘Friends, -All is well’ and asserts their collection dedication to women’s suffrage and their intention to refuse food which would leave the Government with the option ‘To release us in a few days; to inflict violence upon our bodies; to death to the champions of our Cause by leaving us to starve; or – the best and only wise alternative – to give women the vote’. On reception at prison Violet declared that she intended to break her cell window and was therefore allocated to a reception cell with additional blankets supplied. Violet was 6 feet two inches tall and weighed fourteen stone which posed a problem as no prison skirt fitted. She was, therefore, confined to bed until one could be made.
Various reports are on the files regarding force feeding. On 13 October Violet was fed by nasal tube twice which led to ‘slight bruises on both arms’ where she had been restrained. The report the following day, records Violet violently resisted force feeding by nasal tube in the morning when one pint of egg and milk was administered. In the evening two pints with the addition of brandy were administered. Her general condition is described as fair. The next day Violet took a mixture of milk, egg, and Valentine’s beef juice from a cup in the morning and evening.
The four women were released on 22 October and taken to a nursing home. Each had been force fed and forced to wear prison clothing, none, however, had undertaken any hard labour. Frederick Pethick Lawrence was one of the occupants of a carriage sent to collect the four on their release. As a crowd had gathered outside the prison the carriage driver was instructed to drive into the prison yard. Frederick writes ‘The prisoners were then brought into the yard. They looked exceedingly ill, not a vestige of colour showing in their faces, and were with difficulty helped in …’ Violet recounted how she had resisted all the attempts to force her lips open and when the nasal tube was inserted, she had managed to eject it by coughing. However, she had become too weak to continue resisting.
Only weeks later Violet was arrested for a second time and charged with breaking windows at the Liberal Club in Haslingden, a town in Lancashire having apparently carried the stones four miles from the village of Waterfoot. The damages were stated to be £4 and 15 shillings. Violet refused to pay either the damages or a 20 shilling fine and was imprisoned for one month.
Very tall, Violet was dubbed the ‘Suffragist Giantess’. On her arrival at prison on 6 December Violet was described by the prison doctor as ‘an exceptionally fine and strong young woman. Violet refused to give her name announcing her intention not to comply with orders, declining to bathe or don prison uniform. The Governor ordered that physical force should be used but Violet immediately stripped off the uniform into which she had been forced and then refused food. He concluded that Violet was very tall ‘strong, and heavy in proportion. Difficult to handle’. Five days after her admission Violet is described as ‘still insubordinate and insolent and refuses to obey any orders’. However, she was wearing the uniform. On the advice of the medical officer Violet had been placed in a special cell. She was by this point being force fed. While authorities concur that Violet, see below, cut through the canvas dress provided for warmth rather than scratch on to the cell wall with a shard of glass Violet had used her own blood from a cut to her finger to write ‘Votes for Women’. As Violet writes no bedding or mattress were given as she was on punishment.
A report on the file dated 13 December notes Violet was force fed by oesophageal tube twice. One each occasion a pint was administered of milk, cream, and a whipped egg with the addition of either plasmon, a powdered milk protein, or a tonic. One of the assistants during the process complained of ‘the force of her grip’ on their wrists. A further report, written the same day, describes Violet who had been confined to a special cell as ‘still obstinate’. On 14th Violet was moved from the special cell to which she had been confined for seven days. Violet requested a library book but was informed she was not entitled to anything other than devotional books. When asked her religion Violet replied, ‘Votes for Women’. In protest Violet smashed four panes in her cell windows. In the margin of the report of Violet’s actions someone has noted that after this incident Gladstone amended the policy for the provision of books and later, Winston Churchill, established a committee to investigate. Matron reported to the Governor that Violet had broken the glass and was violent although absolutely no mention is made of any such behaviour in other reports. In consequence, he ordered that Violet should be removed to a special cell with ‘handcuffs behind her back’ which were removed to allow force feeding several hours later. The report states that handcuffs were not used when Violet was returned to the special cell. It is interesting to note that this is a key difference between her account, see below, and the Governor’s.
Still confined to the special cell Violet declined to take any exercise. By this point she had submitted two petitions, one queried her allocation to the Third Division as Violet passionately believed the Magistrate had ordered her to the Second Division and the other was requesting to see her solicitor. Both were declined. The report of 17 December notes that Violet had ‘discovered a new method of obstructing the passage of the tube with her tongue’ but it did not prevent her being fed twice. The following day the process took place again but, it was noted, Violet had consented to do some needlework which she had hitherto refused to do or clean her cell. A few days later Violet requested a hot water bottle, and it only becomes known at this point that her prison slippers did not fit and therefore she could not walk in them. The Governor, noted, that her own boots were returned to her. Violet, who remained in the special cell as she refused to undertake not to cause any more damage, then began to take exercise along a prison corridor and the following day took a half an hour walk around the prison yard.
By Christmas Eve Violet had been force fed for over two weeks. For the first time she complained of feeling faint. The doctor felt this was surprising as Violet had, in his opinion, had an exciting day. She had requested to see the Governor to ask that dirty washing she had brought in with her be laundered. This was agreed to so long as Violet paid to which she consented. Still confined to the special cell Violet asked to attend church on Christmas Day which was granted so long as undertook to refrain from causing a disturbance. It was also agreed that Violet could return to a normal cell. On Christmas Day Violet attended the Roman Catholic service twice but was as usual force fed twice. Concerned at the exertion of the day the doctor advised her to lie down for the remainder.
The force feeding continued. Violet attended a church service again and requested a bucket of water with which she cleaned her cell. However, when she requested to attend again permission was only given if Violet agreed to take some food beforehand as she had complained of feeling faint. This she did eating some bread and butter accompanied by a cup of tea. By this stage Violet had been force fed twice a day for twenty-three days. In his report on New Year’s Day the Governor notes that Violet apologised to him for her previous behaviour. Arrangements were made for Violet’s release. She was to be conveyed in a cab to a friend’s address in Preston accompanied by a prison officer dressed in plain clothes.
Violet was released on 5 January 1910. She sent an account to Votes for Women of her experience in Preston Gaol. The Governor informed Violet that there had been prisoners before her ‘who were not amenable to reason, but we have ways to manage them’. Violet observed that all that followed bore out the Governor’s threat ‘till the authorities found my principals stronger than their regulations’. When she refused to wear prison clothes eight wardresses stripped her but as soon as Violet was locked in her cell, she shed the uniform until only one garment was left. This was all she had to keep her warm as both her bed and bedding had been removed. When nothing happened when Violet complained of her cell being airless, she smashed the windows. As a result, she was taken before the Visiting Committee who sentenced her to seven days in close confinement.
Violet refused food and the decision was taken to commence force feeding. The wardresses forced, Violet recounts, her into a canvas dress with ‘straps at neck, wrists, and waist’. Violet remained undefeated using a shard of glass to cut through the straps and then using one of the straps to smash the glass pane over a gas jet. She then etched on to the wall ‘Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow’. When all of this was discovered, Violet was taken to a punishment cell and placed in irons. Twenty-four hours later and unshackled Violet was force fed by nasal tube; too weak she did not put up any resistance. The following day the nasal tube was abandoned in place of the oesophageal one. The punishment cell was bitterly cold so Violet requested a hot water bottle which the doctor declined instead suggesting she wore her boots rather than bare feet.
By now weak Violet wished at attend the Catholic services over Christmas. As she had collapsed the doctor agreed she could attend New Year’s Day mass if she ate which reluctantly Violet agreed to but thereafter the force feeding continued. Only when the Priest intervened was Violet allowed to take Holy Communion. After seven days in the punishment cell Violet was returned to the regular accommodation but after only a day, she was sent back for breaking a window in protest at not being allowed a book. This time the handcuffs were only in place for a few hours as the skin of her wrist had been pinched in the hinge.
In a ceremony at the Albert Hall Violet was presented with a hunger strike medal by Emmeline Pankhurst.
The official records state that Violet was born in 1883 and this concurs with all the newspaper coverage but there are no births recorded that year. While it is said she was a nurse in London it could be that she moved to the city to train rather than being born there. Sadly, no further trace has been found of a woman who had a gigantic resolve to match her physique.
The next entry is M Browne arrested in July 1909. There is in sufficient information to delve any further.