The Mysterious Ada Chatterton
The next entry is Ada Chatterton who was one of eleven women arrested in December 1906, the amnesty record erroneously records the month as November. Five suffragettes managed to enter unhindered the Central Hall of the Houses of Parliament. Ejected by the police, other women joined them in Old Palace Yard. The police attempted to navigate the women towards Parliament Street. One by one they resisted the women were arrested including Jennie Baines (see earlier blog). The charges against Ada were behaving in a disorderly manner and resisting arrest.
Ada, wearing a blouse with buttons inscribed with Votes for Women, and Jennie was the first in the dock. The police were at pains to point out they had tried patiently to move the women along and had no desire to see them sent to prison, if fines were not paid, over the Christmas period. Ada was fined twenty shillings or fourteen days in prison. Ada refused to pay the fine. From prison, she sent the message conveyed by Edith Howe Martyn and Christabel Pankhurst who were allowed to visit the prisoners: ‘I have gone to prison to help to get better conditions for working women and to get equal pay for equal work for schoolteachers. I shall continue to fight till such reforms are carried.’ After her visit to Holloway, Prison Edith gave an interview to the press; the women were being treated as Division I prisoners allowed ‘books, newspapers and sewing materials’ but were not permitted to converse and were in solitary cells.
Some of the women were released just after Christmas. They recounted being fed brown bread, a sample of which was produced for the reporter who described it as ‘a queer, bricklike thing’, three potatoes and an unidentifiable soup for lunch on Christmas Day. One observed that she had never been to chapel so much in her life having been required to attend twice a day. Another commented on the incongruity of receiving Christmas cards from a women’s mission with messages written in red ink such as ‘Keep from strong drink’ or You have been Satan’s captive, dear sister.’ Ada, it was believed, was in the sanitorium. Ada was released on 31 December.
Ada gave an interview to the Manchester Evening News. Like others, she complained that the journey from court to prison was ‘horrible’ with seventeen prisoners, men and women, cooped up with little ventilation. Ada spent her first night in a cell, but a bad cough led to the medical officer admitting her to the sanitorium. Recounting the ‘milk, beef tea, custard, fish and bread and butter’ she was fed, her fellow inmates exclaimed ‘What luxuries.’ Ada was moved back to an ordinary cell but complained about the noise from the nearby padded one so was relocated into a room with non-suffragette prisoners whose company she enjoyed.
Early in February, the following year, a group of suffragettes attended a Liberal meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester where Winston Churchill was to speak. The Manchester Courier described the treatment of Adela Pankhurst, Mary Gawthorpe and Ada as ‘brutal.’ The venue had been filled with what the newspaper described as ‘Liberal chuckers-out’ to deal with any interruptions. The suffragettes in the audience listened attentively to Churchill’s speech before rising to ask questions. Several men interrupted but were allowed to remain. When Emmeline Pankhurst rose to ask her question, several stewards attempted to eject her but desisted when Churchill agreed to respond. He then invited Mary onto the platform but as arms stretched out to help her up, the stewards tugged her down. She fell back into the crowd and ‘was badly knocked about.’ Adela asked a question but when she attempted a second the stewards dragged her out pushing her down a flight of stairs. The reporter noted that Mary’s face ‘bore evidence of the treatment she had received.’ Ada who attempted to ask Churchill to complete answering Emmeline’s question ‘was struck … under the chin with [a fist.’ She was pushed from the hall protesting at the treatment Mary was receiving: ‘You shall not do this without my protest.’ As Ada spoke, a man scooped her up, carried her down the stairs and threw her into the gutter.
A week later Ada was arrested in London for her part in the demonstration which accompany an attempt to present a petition to the Prime Minister. Ada refused to stand in the dock as she was tired. The magistrate permitted her to sit. From her chair, Ada kept up a loud chatter during the evidence forcing the magistrate to delay her case. When she was requested to vacate the dock, Ada replied ‘Don’t touch me. I am not so tired as to be unable to get up when I think I will in my own time.’ This drew laughter from the onlookers and supporters in the gallery. The policeman carried Ada from the court as she called out ‘Oh, this is lovely!’ Later, when Ada returned to the dock, she pleaded not guilty. She was fined forty shillings or one month imprisonment in the first division. A witty reporter headed his article ‘Chattering Mrs Chatterton;’ another observed that Ada neither by name or nature ‘appears to endorse the opinion of Sophocles that ‘women are adorned by silence.
Ada was released from Holloway Prison on 27 February. The reason for her early release is not known. The WSPU placed a brass band outside the gates of the prison which played for an hour before the women were released. Accompanied by songs such as Men of Harlech and As we go marching home, the women made their way to Holborn for a celebratory breakfast.
On 21 March Ada was arrested, one of seventy-six, for a third time, again in connection with an attempt to enter the House of Commons. Ada made a complaint against the police alleging that a policeman had deliberately tripped a woman up as they were marching towards Parliament Square. Ada was sentenced to one month in prison without the option of a fine. Florence Macaulay, WSPU, who visited the women in prison reported that Ada ‘is quite cheerful and unrepentant.’
The following November there was a by-election in the Kingston upon Hull West constituency caused by the resignation of the Liberal Member of Parliament who had succeeded to his father’s title. Ada joined the suffragette campaign during the election.
Ada joined other members of the WSPU at a series of meetings. Seconding a resolution Ada observed that in her view ‘some compelling power had caused magistrates to be severe in their sentences on the women who are at present in gaol.’ Several suffragettes including Ada organised a meeting in Albert Square, Manchester, despite a ban such gatherings. The police arrived as Ada began to speak. After a brief scuffle, one of their number, Mrs Robinson, was arrested. Ada was, by now, the literature secretary of the Manchester Branch of the WSPU, encouraging women to sell Votes for Women as she would ‘much rather send cash to headquarters every week rather than returns.’ As the summer wore on the WSPU organised a demonstration as part of the specific Manchester campaign in Heaton Park. A preliminary demonstration was held in the same location and the branch was thrilled at the attendance of around ten thousand. Two platforms were erected, one of which Ada spoke from. It was concluded that ‘the feelings of the meetings were a substantial guarantee to the interest which will be displayed’ at the forthcoming demonstration. Again, Ada was to speak.
When Christabel Pankhurst wrote a history of the suffrage movement to date published in Votes for Women Ada was described as ‘a Manchester working woman.’ There is no mention of Ada either in the national, local or suffrage newspapers after 1908. The official files give the year of birth as 1857 which the majority of the newspapers also record. This would make Ada roughly fifty years old which potentially ties up with the newspaper picture above. One newspaper reports that Ada lived in Portland Street, Manchester but no trace has been found. All the records and newspaper reports note that Ada was married but again, this does not assist.
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