During 2018 Running Past has covered several of the leading suffragettes who lived in Lewisham with posts on Clara Lambert, Eugenia Bouvier and Caroline Townsend along with an update on the post on May Billinghurst. This post seeks to bring together some of the other suffragette and suffragist activity in Lee and Hither Green that hasn’t been covered so far, it will be followed by a similar one on Lewisham and possibly one for Blackheath too before the year is out.
There were occasional public meetings at Lee Green, seemingly outside including one addressed Nancy Lightman in July 1908 (1), Lightman (pictured – 2) was a teacher who regularly appeared on Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) platforms, particularly in the early days of the campaign – she spoke at a large suffragette demonstration held in Hyde Park on 21 June 1908.
A later one was addressed by a Mrs Brailsford on 4 October 1910 who gave ‘a most interesting address’; her name appears a lot in reports of local activity so she was probably a member of the Lewisham WSPU branch (3).
One of the regular features of the WSPU campaign in Lee and Hither Green, and elsewhere, were attacks on pillar boxes. They were targets because they were seen as an obvious institutions of the state, resplendent with the mark of the Monarch and would disproportionately impact on the wealthy, business and the Government who were denying women the vote.
May Billinghurst’s conviction for a ‘pillar box outrage’ in December 1912 has already been covered in Running Past; the same evening as she was arrested pillar boxes attacked in Beacon Road, Staplehurst Road (then probably on the corner of Leahurst, where the post office was then located and Northbrook Road – all between 6:30 and 7:30 pm – with tar being placed inside. While The Suffragette reported two arrests this was presumably May Billinghurst and Grace Michell – no one seems to have been charged for the Lee and Hither Green ones (4).
The original Victorian Beacon Road pillar box attacked is still there at the junction with Hither Green Lane (see above). I did suggest to Royal Mail, that it might be appropriate to paint it in suffragette colours of purple, green and white – sadly, their courteous response declined the request.
In early 1913 there were further reports of ‘pillar box outrages’ outside 124 Burnt Ash Road (almost opposite Upwood Road) which had a copy of ‘The Suffragette’ posted into it, along with another at the junction of Manor Park and Northbrook Road (5) – below.
There were reports of further attacks on post boxes in unspecified locations in Lewisham and Hither Green later in the year on 26 October (6). Late in 1913 wax vesta matches and gunpowder were found in the post box in an unspecified location in Lee High Road but they failed to explode (7).
In July 1913 there was a march from various locations within Kent which was converging on Blackheath that was organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies who supported a more gradualist and non-militant approach to attempting to get the vote for women. They were described in the local press as the ‘law abiding and constitutional groups in women’s movement.’ (8)
The marchers, who were described as ‘pilgrims’ gathered in Taunton Road to march to Whitefield’s Mount on Blackheath before heading towards New Cross, Deptford and eventually Hyde Park a couple of days later. They received some barracking but nothing of the level often received by the WSPU. Banners on show included – ‘Home makers demand the vote.’ (9)
At the other end of the spectrum of suffrage and suffragette activity was the likely burning down of a cricket pavilion in Lee. Suffragettes had started attacking sports facilities in early 1913 after Asquith’s Government had rejected demands for Votes for Women; it marked an extension on the damage to property of the window smashing campaigns. The pavilions, golf clubs and the like attacked tended to be those not allowing woman members and left unattended for long periods.
In January 1914 the Northbrook Cricket Club pavilion was burned down – it was somewhat ironically located just off Burnt Ash Road, next to the railway – its pavilion was mid-way along what is now Holme Lacey Road (10).
Press reports nationally in ‘The Times’ were circumspect about who or what was responsible, noting that ‘nothing was found to support the theory that suffragists were responsible’ (11). Elsewhere though there were strong indications that it was the work of the WSPU; the Daily Herald merely reported the fire not mentioning any possible cause or culprit – however, they carefully juxtaposed the report with an advert for the paper’s ‘Suffrage Week’ which was to start a few days later (12).
While responsibility was not directly claimed for the blaze either locally or nationally, it was covered as part of a series of reports in that week’s ‘The Suffragette’ (see bottom right hand corner below) headed ‘Fires and Bombs as Answer to Forcible Feeding’ – so the implication about the cause of the fire was pretty clear (13).
While as noted above the arson attacks on pavilions tended to be on buildings left unattended for long periods, there may have been an added ‘incentive’ in this case – the club was named after previous Lords of the manor and major landowners – the Northbrooks, who were Liberals in the House of Lords, the then Baronet having been a Liberal MP before succeeding to the Earldom in 1904. Oddly, it wasn’t the first time the pavilion had burned down – there had been a major fire there in the early 1890s (14).
No one was every arrested or charged with the fire.
In terms of the activists in Lee there were a three households that were really important in the struggle for votes in Lee – the Townsends who lived at 27 Murillo Road on what was then referred to as The Firs estate. One of the sisters, Caroline Townsend was covered in a post in early 2018.
The second was 62 Manor Park – this was home to the Leighs – John, a Canadian, and Eda an American had 4 daughters and a son, the adult daughters in the 1911 census included Cornelia, 20, and Gladys, 18. One of these two, probably Cornelia, generally known as ‘Nellie’, organised the sale of ‘The Suffragette’ (15) and its earlier incarnation, ‘Votes for Women’ (16) in Lewisham for much of the time it was produced, it isn’t totally clear though as she was just referred to a ‘Miss Leigh’ – however, ‘Nellie’ appeared in a photograph of branch activists in 1913. It was presumably Nellie who organised jumble sale collections too (17). Nellie was to live in Lewisham until her death in 1977, Gladys died in Sussex the year before. There was presumably at least tactic support for the cause of women’s suffrage from John and Eda, as the house was used for displaying the new Lewisham banner in July 1913 (18). Saturday rallies were held there too from the spring of 1913 (19).
It is possible that Eda Leigh was a regular speaker in the early days of the campaign – a Mrs Leigh is frequently mentioned giving speeches in the area – including one in Catford in August 1910 (20). However, the speaker is much more likely to be Mary Leigh. A ‘Mrs Leigh’ was also involved in the day to day activity in the branch; she was more likely to have been Eda from Manor Park rather than Mary though.
The other family was the Llewhellin’s of 114 Burnt Ash Hill, above, a house probably built by John Pound. The parents were Arthur Jones Llewhellin, the mother was Sarah Jane (nee Thomas) – both were from Pembroke Dock in south west Wales, where they married in 1873. Arthur worked for the Inland Revenue and the family moved around a lot with children being born in Dublin, the Potteries, Malvern, Greenwich and Lewisham (Olive). In terms of the local WSPU branch both Sarah and more particularly Olive were active members. Sarah was widowed in 1906 and living on her own means in the 1911 census. Sarah was mentioned several time in ‘The Suffragette’ for donations, producing food for sale and catering, including for the Annual Branch meeting in 1912 (21).
Olive was one of many suffragettes who refused to register in the 1911 census. Olive’s activity was a mixture of militancy and organisation. She was arrested twice – the first time was with Clara Lambert in late January 1913 after smashing the windows of the Hamburg American Line in Cockspur Street off Trafalgar Square. While Olive was remanded in custody, unlike Clara, she was later discharged (22).
She was also arrested as part of protest by the Cymric Suffrage Union, which she was also a member of, due to her Welsh ancestry, when Lloyd George refused to see a deputation (23).
Olive was the driving force behind the Lewisham WSPU banner, above, (24) – she had designed a well-received poster for the office window in 1912 (25). This seems to have led to her designing the banner (26) and being in charge of the fundraising for it (27). She is pictured bottom right below, with Caroline Townsend to the left; above her to the left is Clara Lambert and a Miss Warwick to the right (28).
Olive was Branch Treasurer from early 1913 (29) and briefly acted as Branch Secretary in mid-1913 (30). She was an occasional speaker at public meetings held most Sunday evenings at 7:00 in Lewisham Market – such as on Sunday 21 September when she spoke with Eugenia Bouvier (31).
Olive became a teacher, registering in 1927, when she was living in Stockwell. She was living in Poole in Dorset in 1939, she later returned to London –she died in Wandsworth in 1972.
- Votes for Women 30 July 1908
- Picture copyright is held by the Museum of London, but use is allowed for non-commercial research purposes such as Running Past.
- Votes for Women 14 October 1910
- The Suffragette 27 December 1912
- Lewisham Borough News 3 January 1913
- The Suffragette 31 October 1913
- The Suffragette 4 January 1914
- Lewisham Borough News 1 August 1913
- Map on a creative commons via the National Library of Scotland
- The Times 26 January 1914
- Daily Herald 26 January 1914
- The Suffragette 30 January 1914
- Blackheath Gazette 28 April 1893
- The Suffragette 12 September 1913
- Votes for Women 15 July 1910
- The Suffragette 12 September 1913
- The Suffragette 4 July 1913
- The Suffragette April 11 1913
- Votes for Women 26 August 1910
- The Suffragette 25 October 1912
- 31 January 1913 The Suffragette
- The Suffragette 13 October 1913
- The banner is part of the collection of the Museum of London, as is the photograph who allow its use for non-commercial research such as this.
- The Suffragette 25 October 1912
- The Suffragette 4 July 1913
- The Suffragette 20 December 1912
- The photograph of the Lewisham Banner is part of the collection of the Museum of London (on a creative commons)
- The Suffragette 24 January 1913
- The Suffragette 1 August 1913
- The Suffragette 19 September 1913
Census and related data comes from Find My Past
Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News