The next entry is for “Miss Black” who was arrested on 22 December 1913 in Cheltenham together with “Miss Red” who was subsequently identified as Lilian Lenton. The identity of Miss Black was never known for sure. Lilian used several aliases and became a thorn in the side of the authorities. Column inches in the press were dedicated to discussing her actions and treatment at the hands of the authorities.Lilian’s first arrest was in March 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. She grew up in Leicester. When Lilian, later, became a dancer she adopted 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 Post Office windows in Oxford Street valued at £3. Isabel Inglis, who was charged along with Lilian, received the same sentence.
In February 1913 Lilian was arrested alongside Joyce Locke [aka Olive Wharry] and charged with 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 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 arrived at Holloway prison on 21 February. She refused to be examined, declined to provide the medical staff with any details of previous medical conditions or her name. The deputy medical officer formed the opinion that ‘she was of rather spare physique …. not being a particularly strong looking woman.’ The same day Lilian was reported and punished for misconduct. Her general conduct was described as ‘bad, very defiant’. Lilian smashed everything she could in the first cell in which she was placed and was removed to a ‘special strong cell’ separated from other prisoners.
Lilian immediately went on hunger strike. A decision was made to commence force-feeding two days after her admission on 23 February as Lilian was ‘presenting symptoms of malnutrition.’ An examination, which she resisted, did not present any signs of ‘organic mischief in the chest’ to suggest the process should not take place. Although, the caveat was added that the examination had not been full due to Lilian’s violent resistance. Her colour was noted to be ‘not particularly good’ but, this was put down to her refusal of food over several days. Lilian regurgitated most of the liquid, ‘peptonised milk’, rich in calcium and carbohydrate, with which she was force-fed and her colour ‘became rather worse.’ At some point, but, when is not clear, a note was added to Lilian’s records ‘It would be highly dangerous to forcibly feed in this case again.’Nearly three hours later Lilian was found ‘in a very collapsed condition….blanched, with lips cyanosed -sighing respiration and a thin running pulse.’ Lilian said she had pain around her heart and chest. The doctor administered strychnine and digitalis. Only when Lilian was told she would be released on condition she returned did she take some food. The doctor described her state as critical for several hours.
So concerned were the medical attendants that one accompanied Lilian on her release to her friend’s house in Mornington Crescent. The friend informed the medical officer that Lilian had been complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain for some time. The officer formed the view that Lilian might have pleurisy. Discussion with Lilian’s doctor led to a diagnosis of pneumonia; although doubt is thrown on this verdict in a file note. Whatever the case, the file notes that this condition could not be caused by force feeding but was made more likely by starvation. In a letter to the magistrates explaining the reasons behind Lilian’s release the author wrote that the medical officer had felt that if force feeding had continued or Lilian had been permitted to continue starving herself her life ‘had been in immediate danger.’
In all the communications that centred around her release, no mention is made of her critical condition or the suspicion of pleurisy.Lilian later gave a statement to the press. When the decision was made to administer force feeding, she was tied to the chair. Seven wardresses and two doctors were present. Lilian resisted strenuously managing to expel the nasal tube, which was immediately reinserted. This time Lilian states her breathing became noisy and rattling. She coughed up the majority of the food and struggled to breathe. Two further attempts were made with the same result. When Lilian was untied; she could not stand. She was helped to a mattress and pillow which were brought in and placed on the floor.Worried by the rapid deterioration in her health Lilian rang a bell for help. A doctor, who attended, sent for blankets and a hot water bottle. Lilian would be released, the doctor and prison governor who had been summoned informed her, if she undertook to appear at court. Verbally Lilian agreed but was not requested to sign any paperwork. In the flurry of concern over her health, the prison authorities forgot to complete a medical report on discharge which they then had to prepare retrospectively to provide to the court and others.Joyce, her fellow arrestee, was brought before the magistrate. Lilian, now on the run, failed to appear in court.
Letters on the file indicate that the authorities believed that Lilian would not present herself at court due to her ill health and were shocked she was now missing. 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. The magistrate expressed his astonishment at this turn of events.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. Her accomplice, Joyce, meanwhile was tried and found guilty being ordered to pay the trial costs, damages and sentenced to 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 the process of force feeding and, condemned the practice. According to the Home Secretary, he had spoken with Lilian’s personal 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 an awkward position not, wishing the women to starve themselves to death and 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 on 10 June during the trial at the Doncaster courts of Harry Johnson and Augusta Winship accused of burglary with the intent of committing a felony, 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. She was arrested and placed in the dock alongside Harry. Lilian refused to enter a plea as she did not recognise the court.
Placed on remand pending trial Lilian was taken to Armley prison where she refused food and to be medically examined. Lilian who had declined to request bail at court was urged to do so by the prison governor who felt the magistrates would not refuse. The governor relayed this information by telephone to the Home Office who then wrote to the magistrates. Given the furore that had been stirred up by Lilian’s time at Holloway, it is clear the authorities wished to avoid a repetition. While it was possible to free Lilian under the Cat and Mouse Act; the preferred option was for the magistrates to grant bail with sureties. This neatly avoided any apparent involvement by the Home Office who had to sanction release under the Cat and Mouse and would potentially encourage Lilian to return to court if her sureties stood to lose their money if she did not. It was a strategy that relied on sureties being provided and, as a solicitor, approached by the Director of Public Prosecutions, pointed out this could prove difficult if not impossible.
Letters were exchanged as to the basis on which Lilian could be released given the belief she would abscond. As the suggestion as to bail appeared to be destined for failure the next idea was to send her to hospital with, if necessary, the expense being borne by the authorities. The problem with this plan was the possibility that Lilian would continue to refuse food at the hospital. Suspension of the sentence could not be made as Lilian had yet to be tried. As she was on remand awaiting in effect two trials, she was going to remain a thorn in authorities side opening them up to criticism if she fled again and failed to face the court.To ensure that Lilian could be identified in the future, the prison officers took her fingerprints. A note on the file reports that while a set of fingerprints is held, they are not particularly useful, as Lilian violently resisted them being taken.
Lilian continued to refuse food, informing the medical officer that she had not eaten for two days, before her appearance at court, knowing she would be returned to prison. The medical report two days after her admission indicates that Lilian was far from well: ‘her breath is very foul-she has not had any action of the bowel since admission…her pulse is thin and rapid and today she complains of neuralgia – and of giddiness.’ The medical officer recommended bed rest which Lilian agreed to. An addendum to the note by the prison governor states that Lilian informed him subsequently that she last ate on the 8th, seven days previously.
The following day, 16 June, a handwritten note indicates that pleurisy was suspected. Lilian was released the next morning and taken to the house of Mrs Rutter of Chapel Allerton, Leeds. She was not released on bail but by the Secretary of State under the Cat and Mouse Act. The Chief Constable of Leeds was requested to deploy officers to keep Lilian ‘under close supervision.’ She was released for two days after which time she had to present herself back at the prison. If she absconded before the expiration of the two days, Lilian could not be arrested but should be kept under surveillance. If she boarded a train to London, a telegram had to be dispatched to the Metropolitan police as they held a warrant for arrest in connection with the previous charge of arson. Even if Lilian remained at large after two days so long as she did not abscond, she was to be left alone at least until the date she was due to appear in court. The reasoning being that if Lilian was well enough to flee, she was well enough to return to prison. If no attempt was made, Lilian was still too ill. It was imperative that Lilian was not aware she was being watched.The Chief Constable deployed a Detective Inspector and two Detectives at the house.
By 8.30 pm on the 17th, the day of her release, Lilian had gone. In a well-organised plan, 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, eating the apple. She jumped into a cart and disappeared. The police at the front and the rear of the house stood by believing it was a genuine delivery.Travelling by taxi to Harrogate and then Scarborough, Lilian adopted the disguise of a children’s nurse carrying the baby son of a fellow WSPU member. On arrival at the railway station, a policeman helpfully opened the taxi door at which point Lilian hid her face behind the child to prevent the officer from recognising her. From there she took a train to Edinburgh.The legal advice was that Lilian’s accomplices could be prosecuted but, this approach was rapidly abandoned when it was pointed out that, in court, an escape ‘so humorous and so successful … could not fail to bring ridicule upon the police officers who unconsciously assisted.’ The authorities were aware that Lilian was in Scotland and photographs were circulated to the Scottish police. Although, this step was not taken until early July when concerns began to be raised that Lilian would fail to appear in court which she did.
Lilian alluded the police until 7 October when she was arrested at Paddington Station collecting a bicycle from left luggage. Sent to gaol on remand Lilian again went on hunger strike. The medical report on admission concludes ‘physique spare mental condition apparently normal.’ Lilian was taken before the court on the 9th. Returned to prison, she continued to refuse food. A note from the medical officer states that force-feeding ‘in view of the previous history …would be attended with considerable risk.’ Despite this warning, Lilian was force-fed the following day by oesophageal tube, following an examination by Herbert Smalley, medical advisor to the Home Office who concluded that if Lilian was deemed to be an improper person to be released under the Cat and Mouse Act she should be force fed. This was despite her medical history and the fact Lilian refused to be examined; another doctor supported his finding.The force feeding continued twice a day. Lilian often vomited and only then would the feeding stop. It was noted that Lilian ‘wore very thin and scanty attire and walks about in bare feet, evidently with the intention of making herself ill.’
Lilian resisted each time, and, by day three, the nasal tube was tried instead of the oesophageal tube to see if this prevented her vomiting. The idea failed as Lilian retched, bringing back both the food and the tube. The medical officer felt Lilian was being exhausted by the process and did not try a second time that day. Instead, deciding to wait upon instructions from the Home Office. Dr Smalley visited Holloway prison and assisted in further attempts to feed Lilian which failed. In a report to the Home Office, he pointed out that force feeding had primarily failed and that Lilian had not received any meaningful nutrition in over six days. He concluded ‘I think the question will arise tomorrow whether she can be retained much longer without considerable risk.’
By the 15th of the month, a handwritten note on the file records that Lilian had received only a small amount of food via force feeding which had been tried by both nasal and oesophageal tube and that otherwise, she had been without food for eight days. Lilian refused any form of examination. In consequence, Lilian was released on licence to return to prison on the 20th. A file note records that the police had been requested to supervise Lilian but, given her previous behaviour ‘their task will be a difficult one.’ She was dispatched in a taxi to stay with a Mrs Diplock in Putney. Before Lilian left, she took a ‘very little milk and soda.’ Although her condition was described as ‘fairly satisfactory’ it was noted that ‘the signs of malnutrition were well marked.’ Lilian, a doctor notes, was complaining of ‘gastric pains’ and her hand was observed to be twitching. ‘Self starvation after today’ was considered inadvisable.
Not unsurprisingly Lilian failed to present herself at Holloway prison on the 18th. The press named her the “elusive suffragette.” On 22 December Miss Black and Miss Scarlett appeared before the court in Cheltenham. The women were charged with setting fire to Alstone Lawn, an unoccupied mansion, owned by Colonel De Sales La Terriere whose mother had lived in the house as a child and adult. A beautiful and substantial house; it had been placed on the market when the Colonel inherited, but, it 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 to the staircase which was utterly 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 fire 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 barefoot with long loose hair, other than commenting on man-made laws they said nothing. They were taken to Worcester jail pending a full hearing. On arrival, Lilian did the same as she had done previously announcing she had not eaten for two days. She refused to give her name, age, or to be examined. An officer was dispatched from Holloway prison with photographs of Lilian on Christmas Eve which allowed an identification. Lilian continued to refuse both food and water. Her condition was described as ‘the pulse is decidedly weak & the breath offensive… She seems much weaker than on admission.’ Her trial date was the 29th, but it was not believed Lilian could survive without food that long.On Christmas Day Lilian was released and taken by train and cab, accompanied by a prison matron, to an address in Birmingham. Learning of her impending release, Lilian took some water, and a friend met her partway through her journey with sandwiches and milk. Lilian was dubbed in the press the Illusive Pimpernel. Lilian failed to appear in court for the trial at the beginning of January 1914. The police applied to the court for a warrant for her arrest. The magistrate pointed out none was necessary for an arrest as Lilian 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 one.
Neither women were not without front. 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 to 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 1 January, 1960 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 a 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 time Lilian escaped. To her amusement, the police duly arrived and surrounded the house, not realising she had already gone.
On 4 May 1914, she was spotted walking down the street in Birkenhead by an eagle-eyed detective and arrested. She was taken to Armdale Gaol to await trial. Lilian refused food both at the police station and the gaol. A report was sent to the prison stating that any condition Lilian had was not due to force-feeding and the only difficulty experienced in the past was due to vomiting. It was suggested that she should be force fed. The Leeds medical officer described her as of ‘very poor physique’ and did not consider ‘her case a very desirable one for force feeding.’ If he was ordered to attempt force feeding, he was not willing to do so without a second medical opinion.When Lilian was taken to court, she was described as having ‘legs a little tremulous’.At her trial, she adopted the tactic of addressing the jury throughout including sentencing. On her return to prison later that day, her condition had deteriorated. On 12 May having again refused food she was released to return on 18th. In the meantime, Lilian was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months in prison. Lilian was taken by car to a house in Havergate 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 her BBC interview, Lilian fled to the Lake District where she met D H Lawrence, who she 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 suffrage campaign until she died in 1972.