Norah Binnie was arrested on April 1st 1909. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in May the previous year. In June of that year she assisted Sylvia Pankhurst in organising a suffragette procession in Chelsea. On March 30th 1909 a large number of women gathered at Caxton Hall, Westminster for a women’s Parliament. Emmeline and Christine Pankhurst stood on the platform and addressed the gathering. It was resolved that a deputation would carry a resolution to the House of Commons to be handed directly to Herbert Asquith stating that women demanded the vote. Norah was one of the women chosen to participate. The women swiftly met a police cordon which some managed to break through. Although they failed in handing the resolution to Asquith they did succeed in placing it in an envelope and leaving it at the door.
At that stage the march was peaceful but as the police closed in arrests took place, one of them was Norah who was charged with obstruction. In court she gave her address as the WSPU headquarters. Found guilty of obstruction refusing to be bound over she was imprisoned for one month. It is not clear whether she served all or part of her sentence.
Norah was the youngest daughter of Sir Alexander and Lady Binnie. Born in 1885 she had two elder sisters and two elder brothers the younger of whom was five years older than her. Her father was a civil engineer who became chief engineer for the London County Council. He was responsible for projects such as the Greenwich foot tunnel under the River Thames and Vauxhall Bridge. He was knighted by Queen Victoria for his services to engineering. Norah’s mother died when Norah was sixteen years old. After her brush with the law there is no further record of Norah being politically active. Two years later on April 8th 1911 she married Cecil Thomas Carr, a barrister. He was appointed counsel to the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1943 and made a significant contribution to administrative law. His father was a wealthy woollen manufacturer and Cecil went to Cambridge University before joining the Bar. He served during World War One and was knighted in 1939. In December 1940 Cecil and Norah survived a torpedo attack on the ship they were sailing although fifteen people were lost. Cecil died in 1956 and Norah in 1979. They did not have any children.
The next entry is for “Miss Black” who was arrested on December 22nd 1913 in Cheltenham. She was charged alongside another woman who gave her name as “Miss Red”. They were charged with setting fire to Alstone Lawn, an unoccupied mansion, owned by Colonel De Sales La Terriere whose mother had lived who had lived in the house as a child and adult. A beautiful substantial house it had been placed on the market when the Colonel inherited it but had failed to sell as the area surrounding it was becoming less rural. The fire was brought under control swiftly but not without damage to the roof which was left with a hole in it and the staircase which was completely destroyed. The two charged women were said to have arrived in Cheltenham by train from Birmingham on the day of the fire. It was found that paraffin had been sprinkled at the seat of the crime and that footprints led away to the door. Suffragette literature was found in the house and the two women who were said to be wearing clothes that smelt strongly of paraffin were arrested the next day. The damage was estimated at £400. The house was left empty and later demolished.
The two appeared in court bare foot with long loose hair, other than commenting on man-made laws they said nothing. They were taken to Worcester jail pending a full hearing. Miss Red was later identified as Lilian Lenton, the Illusive Pimpernel. On Christmas Day the pair were released on licence under the provisions of the Cat and Mouse Act as they were refusing food or drink. They failed to appear in court for the trial at the beginning of January 1914. The police applied to the court for a warrant for their arrest to which the magistrate pointed out none was necessary for an arrest if they had been released under the provisions of the Cat and Mouse Act. The police replied that they had been specifically directed by the Home Office to request a warrant. The magistrate, although perplexed by the police’s insistence, complied and issued a warrant.
The pair were not without front as a couple of weeks later a solicitor appeared before the same court requesting the return of a postal order, jewellery and money found on the women when they were arrested. On being questioned as from whom he had received his instructions the solicitor stated it was a representative of the two women whose names he did not know. Not unsurprisingly the request was denied.
In a BBC interview first aired on January 1 1960[i] Lilian described her escape. When the women were released on licence under the Cat and Mouse Act they would be delivered, often by the police, to a house where they were to remain until their health sufficiently recovered for them to be returned to prison. Whilst in residence the house would be placed under police surveillance. In the interview Lilian states that her speciality was “escapes” from these houses often under the noses of the police. Lilian, who does not mention Miss Black, was taken by the police to house in Birmingham on Christmas Day. Being a day of festivities there was a delay of a few minutes before the Birmingham police arrived to place the house under surveillance during which Lilian escaped. To her amusement the police duly arrived and surrounded the house not realising she had already fled.
Lilian was identified from fingerprint evidence connecting her to a fire at Kew Gardens. Although this does not follow alphabetically it seems an appropriate place to write about Lillian who is also included in the arrest record as Ida Inkley, May Dennis or unknown woman. She is on the Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners twice as Lilian and as Ida.
Her first arrest was March 3rd 1912 when she gave her name as Ida Inkley from Slough. Born Lilian Ida Lenton in 1891 she was the eldest daughter of Isaac, a carpenter and joiner and Mahalah Lenton. She grew up in Leicester becoming a dancer adopting the stage name Ida Inkley. Lilian joined the Women’s Social and Political Union early in 1912 and shortly afterwards she was sentenced to two months imprisonment for smashing windows in Oxford Street, a harsh sentence for what appears to be a first offence. Imprisoned alongside May Billinghurst in Holloway prison she held May, who concealed stones under her rug which kept her warm in her invalid tricycle, in high regard and they struck up a friendship which last until May died. Lilian wrote a moving tribute to May when she died in 1953.
On February 20th 1913 Lilian was arrested alongside Joyce Locke [aka Olive Wharry] charged arson in respect of the destruction by fire of the tea rooms at Kew Gardens. A policeman stated he had seen them fleeing the scene and dropping a portmanteau which was found to contain among other things cloth smelling strongly of paraffin. Suffrage literature was found near the building. The police recommended that bail should not be granted to which Lilian grabbed some paperwork and threw it at the magistrate. Forcibly removed from court the two women were remanded in custody. The damage was estimated to be in the region of £1000.
Lilian immediately went on hunger strike and was freed only a few days later when the process of being force fed and allowed food into her lungs causing pleurisy. She was taken to the family home of May Billinghurst in Barnes. Released quicker than anticipated no plans had been put in place for Lilian to escape. As she was sick an ambulance was summoned and another woman purporting to be Lillian was taken away. Only a couple of policemen were left at the house as it was believed she had left. Lilian then dashed across the road towards a moving bus which she jumped onto. The policemen gave chase shouting but the bus driver oblivious to the commotion continued on his way.
Joyce was brought before the magistrate. She had also been force fed but not released. Lilian, on the run, did not appear. The counsel for the Crown stated that the Home Secretary had been informed that Lilian would “infallibly die” unless she was released and thus he had ordered her liberty from Holloway prison. A warrant was issued for her arrest and the magistrate expressed his astonishment at this turn of events. Joyce was released on bail of £1000 pending trial.
Enquiries were made at the headquarters of the WSPU as to Lilian’s whereabouts but on being informed she was still dangerously ill it was decided not to implement the warrant. The resulting protests in the press led the Home Office to issue a statement which made it clear that the Home Secretary had had three choices to let her die, force feed her which could have caused her death given the state of her health or release her on licence. Joyce meanwhile was tried and found guilty being ordered to pay the trial costs, damages and spend eighteen months in prison.
The release of Lilian and the general question regarding the correctness of releasing prisoners who were force feed and too ill to remain in prison rumbled on. In the House of Commons questions were asked of the Home Secretary by several MPs who felt that he was failing to uphold the rule of law where the suffragettes were concerned. Three doctors wrote to the Times reiterating the claim that Lilian had been made gravely ill by process of force feeding and using this case as an example to condemn force feeding. According to the Home Secretary he had spoken with Lilian’s own doctor who was of the view that the pleurisy was not caused by the factors cited by the three doctors who had not in fact examined her. The government was in a difficult position not wishing the women to starve themselves to death thus becoming martyrs.
Throughout all the furore Lilian remained on the run even if the Home Office believed she was recuperating. She made a dramatic reappearance during a trial at the Doncaster courts for burglary with the intent of burning down a house. May Dennis was called as a defence witness and announced that it was in fact she who had committed the offence not one of the defendants. It was then discovered that May was actually Lilian or Ida. She was remanded in custody charged with entering Westerfield Manor with the intent of setting fire to the premises. The charges against one of the original accused were dropped but those against Harry Johnson, a sixteen year old, stood. He and Lilian had been disturbed by an elderly housekeeper who they reassured by informing her they were part of the suffragette movement. Lilian, who refused to any information or recognise the authority of the court at the trial, gave a speech to the jury throughout the whole proceedings. She was sentenced to one year and Harry a year’s hard labour.
Lilian held in Armley Gaol went on hunger strike. After seven days the hospital doctor signed the paperwork releasing her on licence to allow her health to recover. Perhaps in light of previous events no attempt was made to force feed her. She was taken to house of a suffragette in Leeds which was surrounded by police. Lilian remained there only a few hours before escaping. A fellow suffragette Elsie Duval came in through the back door dressed as an errand boy eating an apple and carrying a large and heavy hamper. Lilian swopped clothing with Elsie and went out carrying the now empty hamper and eating the apple. She jumper into a cart and disappeared. Travelling by taxi to Harrogate and then Scarborough she then adopted the disguise of a children’s nurse carrying the baby son of a fellow WSPU member. On arrival at the station a policeman helpfully opened the taxi door where upon Lilian heard behind the child to prevent the officer recognising her. From there she took a train to Edinburgh.
Lilian alluded the police until October 7th when she was arrested at Paddington Station collecting a bicycle from left luggage. She was formally charged with the fire at Kew Gardens. Sent to gaol on remand Lilian again went on hunger strike and was released again on licence. The press named her the “elusive suffragette” when again she escaped and disappeared. She next appeared when she was arrested in Cheltenham. On May 4th 1914 she was spotted walking down the street in Birkenhead by an eagle eyed detective and arrested. She was taken to Armdale Goal to await trial refusing food both at the police station and the gaol. At her trial she adopted the same tactic of addressing the jury throughout including sentencing to twelve months imprisonment. On May 12th having again refused food she was released on licence. By this point she had such a high profile the Home Secretary was left with little choice. She was taken to a house which was heavily guarded by police. The day before she was due to return to prison fifty veiled women arrived at the front door and were admitted one by one. When they left they did so in one big group the police had no means of knowing if Lilian was amongst them or not nor were there sufficient men to follow every woman. Again she had successfully given them the slip.
According to an interview Lilian gave to the BBC in October 1961 when she escaped she fled to the Lake District where she met D H Lawrence who was described as having only one thing on his mind. Later she read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and said she could not remember anything special about it. The women were all technically freed on the outbreak of the First World War. Lilian served as an orderly during the war with the Scottish Women’s Hospital Unit. After the war she worked in Norway and was a spokesperson for the Save the Children Fund. She continued to be interviewed on the campaign. She died in 1972.