Ellen Barnwell was arrested in September 1909 in Birmingham for taking part in the protests connected with Herbert Asquith’s, the Prime Minister visit to the city. In consequence of other disturbances Asquith was by now being accompanied by a team of bodyguards. When he arrived at Euston Station for his journey to Birmingham, he was so closely guarded that his own sister had difficulty in joining the party. Anticipating trouble, the city of Birmingham was heavily policed, and barricades were placed to prevent any protestors reaching Asquith who was to speak at Bingley Hall. Most of his journey to the venue was conducted through underground passageways and even when he was travelling by car mounted police heavily flanked him. The roads around Bingley Hall were closed and barricaded, the windows of the building padded and barred. The attendees at the meeting were escorted along a passageway lined with mounted police and in front of them another row of policemen.
To ensure that they were not barricaded out several suffragettes had taken lodgings in the road behind and in front of Bingley Hall. Two women threw stones from the lodging room breaking a window in the Hall, the police charged into the building and arrested them. Two others climbed onto a roof behind the Hall and with the help of an axe dislodged some roof tiles which they threw onto the roof and Asquith’s car. At this the police turned hoses onto them to dislodge the women. Soaked to the skin the women stayed put even though the police were now throwing stones at them. They were eventually removed by officers who climbed behind them onto the roof. Wet and in one case bleeding from a head wound the women were marched to the police station in their stockinged feet. Another pair locked themselves into a room and continuously operated a car horn until the door was broken down and the horn removed. Many of the crowd had come to support the suffragettes who repeatedly attempted to break through the barricades. Anyone who objected in the Hall was forcibly ejected. Even during Asquith’s carefully planned departure to the station Ellen and Hilda Burkett managed to throw stones at his train’s window breaking one.
The women were refused bail, the right to talk to Mrs Pethick Lawrence or Christabel Pankhurst who had arrived from London to discuss their defence, or dry clothes. Ellen was sentenced to one month in prison. On her arrival at Winson Green she immediately went on hunger strike and was force fed. Two of her fellow prisoners, Laura Ainsworth and Mrs Leigh launched actions in the courts regarding their treatment and being force-fed. This garnered considerable press coverage and many of the press cuttings are included in the official files. Clearly the authorities were concerned at the public perception of the treatment of suffragette prisoners.Various medical reports are included in the files. One dated 10 October notes that Ellen was being forcibly fed by cup ‘the compulsion required to make her drink …is of the slightest’. The following day it is noted that she ‘is regaining her strength’. On 15 October Ellen successfully refused food presented by means of a cup or teaspoon. Therefore, in the evening the nasal tube was used. Ellen, it was reported, did not resist; her hands being held by two wardresses. Ellen stated that her throat was sore the following morning, but an examination did not substantiate this and therefore the nasal tube was again used. Ellen declared that ‘she was quite well’. The following report noted that Ellen was ‘progressing favourably’.Ellen and five others complained to the prison authorities about their treatment. A meeting of the prison visiting committee was convened to hear their complaints. Ellen objected to being allotted to the Second Division, ‘treated as a common criminal’ and being force-fed. She had no complaints against the prison staff whom she said had treated her kindly. The testimony of the other five women sheds light on the treatment metered out to all of them. One described being fed by a nasal tube while ‘wrapped in blankets with hands tied down’.The day before her release Ellen was examined by two doctors who noted to be ‘in good health and free from injury’. Ellen was released on 16 October. A report notes that Ellen stated, ‘she felt quite well but not very strong’.
Ellen was born in Birmingham in 1881 to George, an electroplate worker and his wife, Sarah. In 1908 she married John Beamish Barnwell, a school attendance officer. They do not appear to have had any children and this one skirmish appears to have been the end of Ellen’s suffragette activities. She died in Birmingham in 1943.
Henrietta Barwell was part of the deputation that headed the protest which became known as Black Friday. They arrived at St Stephen’s entrance to the Houses of Parliament at about 1.30 in the afternoon where they stood for two hours corralled by the police helplessly watching as proceedings unfurled. Then Mrs Pankhurst, Mrs Garrett Anderson and Mrs Ayrton were shown into the Prime Minister’s room and were informed by his secretary that the Prime Minister would not see them. The three women were then shown back to the St Stephen’s entrance where they remained until six in the evening when the House of Commons rose.
William Barwell Browne Barwell married Elise Victorine, Countess Leiningen Westerbourg in 1873 in Budapest, Hungary. The couple had three children, Lilian born 1877, Henrietta born 1878 and Richard born 1879. By 1894 Lilian had died. Nine or ten years after the birth of Richard the marriage ran into difficulties. In her petition for divorce Elise stated that William was cruel to her. When Lilian was ill with TB contrary to doctor’s orders, he insisted on her travelling abroad where she tragically died. Following Lilian’s funeral William then blamed Elise for their daughter’s death and prevented her having any contact with either Henrietta or Richard.
When Elise was permitted to return to the marital home William instructed the servants not to take any orders from her and regularly spat at her feet in contempt. Elise discovered that William was present in Henrietta’s room when she was bathing. She locked the door to prevent him whereupon he attacked her. Elise was not given any money by William and was driven to pawn her jewellery to raise funds. William’s cruelty escalated; in one incident he wrenched her hair out with a button hook. William had several mistresses; some of whom he brought back to the marital home. The affidavit of Elise makes for sad reading. Her petition was granted with maintenance of £300 per annum being awarded. Elise had custody of Henrietta; William could see her at the weekends but only at the home of a nominated person. Unusually for the time Richard could apply to the court himself for a discussion regarding his custody arrangements.
Like many suffragettes of any class or background personal tragedy influenced Henrietta’s support of women’s suffrage and rights. Following the divorce, which was considered socially unacceptable at the time whatever the reason, Elise, Henrietta and Richard are recorded as residing in a lodging house in Paddington. For appearances Elise states she is widowed. Ten years later, Elise is living alone but although she petitioned for the divorce and William has remarried, she this time states she has been married for thirty-seven years. Like so many suffragettes Henrietta is not included in the 1911 census return.
Henrietta was arrested twice in November 1910. On the first occasion the charges were dropped. On the second occasion she was charged with breaking windows at the War Office along with two others. Although the previous charge had been dropped it was taken into account when sentence was passed. All three strenuously objected which fell on deaf ears. Henrietta was sentenced to two months in prison.
In 1920 Henrietta married Leonard Whibley, a Greek scholar and confirmed bachelor aged fifty-seven. Leonard died in 1940 and Henrietta in 1949.
 DPP 1/19