Author Archives: Paul B

Blackheath’s Suffragists – From John Stuart Mill to a ‘Pilgrimage’

During 2018, Running Past has been celebrating some women getting the vote in 1918.  The focus so far has largely been on the Lewisham Branch of the Women’s’ Social and Political Union (WSPU).  This post looks at both those who came before the WSPU and some of those who disagreed with the approach of the WSPU in terms of direct action including damage to property –the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) – they were the suffragists rather than suffragettes.  As there was a clear Blackheath link to the early campaigning for votes for women, we’ll look at the Blackheath branch of the NUWSS too.

One of the earliest proponents of women’s suffrage in Blackheath was John Stuart Mill.  He seems to have moved to 113 Blackheath Park soon after his marriage to Harriet Taylor in 1849.  He was to live there for around 20 years – including much of the time that he active in work on women’s suffrage and other issues around the emancipation of women.  Although after Harriet’s death in 1858 her daughter, Helen Taylor acted both as his housekeeper and secretary, living at 113 Blackheath Park – she worked with his on his treatise The Subjection of Women.

The house is still there, a Grade II listed building, although very secluded by trees

Mill stood in the 1865 General Election as the Radical candidate for the Westminster seat in Parliament and was elected. Once in the Commons Mill campaigned with others  for parliamentary reform and in 1866 presented the petition organised by Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett and Dorothea Beale in favour of women’s suffrage.  The petition was the first mass petition for Votes for Women presented to Parliament – it contained just over 1500 signatures – including around 10 from Blackheath and neighbouring parts of Lewisham.

  • Dean, Ellen – Blackheath
  • Laird, Ellen – 22 Woodlands Terrace Blackheath S.E.
  • Laird, E. B. – 22 Woodlands Terrace Blackheath S.E
  • Lindley, Caroline – Kidbrooke Terrace Blackheath
  • Strahan, Elspet – Eliot Lodge Blackheath S.E.
  • Taylor, Helen – Blackheath Park S.E.(Mill’s Stepdaughter)
  • Drayson, A – 17 Essex Terrace Lee S.E.
  • Ellis, L – 17 Essex Terrace Lee S.E.
  • Lewin, E. – 12 Blessington Road Lee Kent
  • Harman, Emmeline L. – 2 Limes Grove North Lewisham

The petition, pictured below, was defeated but Mill added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men, this too was defeated.

There is a slightly tenuous women’s suffrage and Blackheath in a link to Millicent Garrett Fawcett (pictured below); along with her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was educated at an odd little school in Dartmouth Row run by the Browning sisters who were aunts of Robert Browning who lived from 1841 in New Cross.  It was known as the  College for the Daughters of Gentlemen; Millicent Garrett Fawcett attended from about 1845 to 1854.

Millicent’s  mother, Louise, seems to have taken the sisters to hear John Stuart Mill speak on the issue of Women’s Suffrage in 1865, probably in relation to his Parliamentary campaign.  Millicent was clearly impressed by Mill – “This meeting kindled tenfold my enthusiasms for women’s suffrage.”   Millicent Garrett Fawcett remained active in the struggle for votes for women throughout her life with involvement in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, disagreeing fundamentally with the approach taken by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

A statue of her was unveiled in Parliament Square in April 2018.  She remains one of the tiny number of suffragists and suffragettes with a blue plaque (in Gower Street in Bloomsbury).  English Heritage although at the time of writing (November 2018) English Heritage were considering an application for the Blackheath born May Billinghurst.

The Blackheath and Greenwich Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) informally formed in mid-1909 with several meetings published in the NUWSS newspaper, ‘The Common Cause.’  It wasn’t formally constituted until October 1909 (1).  By its first Annual General Meeting in December, held in Jobbins Tea Rooms at 21 Montpelier Vale, it had 115 members (2), it had already held several   drawing room’ meetings mainly at the home of Constance Duckham at Red House, Dartmouth Grove (3).

The activities of the Blackheath NUWSS branch in many ways were similar to their more militant counterparts in Lewisham WSPU who had public meetings in Lewisham town centre most weekends, a series of shops and offices and well as some bigger public meetings in halls.  Despite the level of membership probably being higher than the WSPU branch, the number and scale of activities was always much lower.

The Blackheath NUWSS meetings were much in the form of ‘At Home’ events – these continued throughout the period that the branch was active – Red House was used frequently, such as ones in 1910 (4) and (1913 (5), Jobbins Tea room often used to during 1910 (6), with St German’s Lodge, Shooters Hill Road, home of Helen Ward, being added as a venue in 1911 (7).

There were a couple of meetings in Blackheath Concert Halls (above) – in late 1910 Millicent Garrett Fawcett returned to Blackheath and saw the Halls ‘quite filled… and the audience most enthusiastic.’  She and a Mr Cholmley gave ‘witty and convincing speeches.’ (8).   Maud Pember- Reeves and Rev Llewyllin Smith were due to speak there on 29 February 1912 (9).

There were a small number of open-air meetings in open meetings, although nothing like the volume of those undertaken by the WSPU.  Maude Royden (pictured, on a Creative Commons) spoke at Whitfield’s Mount in July 1913 (10).  There were also a couple of open air meetings at unspecified locations on the Heath in June 1910 (11).

 

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

There was briefly a shop at what was then 5 Blackheath Village, now occupied by Winckworths Estate Agents, opposite the station (pictured above from a postcard of a similar era).  It opened in February 1910 and the branch sold The Common Cause from outside there (12).  An edition from soon after the shop opened is pictured (13).

The branch seemed to go through a steady stream of branch secretaries – it was initially Miss Duckham from Red House (see above) (14); by 1911 the incumbent was a Miss Theobald from 49 Micheldever Road; she had been replaced by a Miss Bowers from 38 Boyne Road by March 1912 (16) closely followed by a Miss Peppercorn from 97 Blackheath Park by July 1912 (17); a Miss Frood from 14 Royal Parade had taken over the reins by October 1913 (18) and finally handing over to a Mrs Shuttleworth from Crooms House, Crooms Hill – her tenure lasted through much of the Great War (19).

One of the best known names in the Branch was Florence Gadesden (Gadsden) She was born in Paris in 1853, her mother Ester (nee Atlee) was from Lewisham, her father was a Professor of Music.  After attending Girton College she taught at several fee paying schools before becoming Headmistress of Blackheath High School in 1886. She became president of the Association of Head Mistresses (AHM) for 2 years from 1905 to 1907 and backed a resolution demanding women’s suffrage in terms which avoided support for militancy.

Her support for women’s suffrage was always non-violent – she was one of the signatories of the Clementina Black’s Women’s Franchise Declaration Committee’s petition demanding the vote (20), which was signed by 257,000 women.

She retired to Norfolk from the school in 1917.

The most significant activity that the Blackheath NUWSS branch were involved with is the Pilgrimage in July 1913 which was organised in order to show Parliament how many women wanted the vote but also in reaction to the increasingly militant activities being carried out by the WSPU both nationally, and as we have seen in various posts, locally as well.  There were pilgrimages from several parts of the country.

The Kentish Pilgrims had congregated at Lee Green, something covered in the post on Lee and Hither suffrage activities.  They were met by the Blackheath NUWSS and marched to Whitefield’s Mount (pictured above) where speakers included Maud Royden (see above) and Ruth Young (21).

The following day the Pilgrims marched down the A2 to another meeting in Pepys Road, New Cross before heading to the Kings Hall at Elephant and Castle (22).  On July 25 the various pilgrimages walked from various locations around central London, the Kentish Pilgrims from Trafalgar Square (23) with around 50,000 converging on Hyde Park.

Notes

  1. Common Cause – 30 December 1909
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Common Cause – 5 May 1910
  5. Common Cause 04 July 1913
  6. Common Cause – 5 May 1910
  7. Common Cause – 25 May 1911
  8. Common Cause 17 November 1910
  9. Common Cause 22 February 1912
  10. Common Cause 18July 1913
  11. Common Cause 30 June 1910
  12. Common Cause 10 March 1910
  13. ibid
  14. Common Cause 30 December 1909
  15. Common Cause 05 October 1911
  16. Common Cause 28 March 1912
  17. Common Cause 4 July 1912
  18. Common Cause 03 October 1913
  19. Common Cause 29 May 1914
  20. From information board outside Lewisham Archives March 2018
  21. Common Cause 08 August 1913
  22. Ibid
  23. Common Cause 18 July 1913

Picture Credits

 

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Remembering Lewisham’s World War One Combatants

This week marks the centenary of Armistice Day and the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of the Great War. No doubt, there was celebration and relief about the end of the bloodshed in Lewisham and elsewhere.

Ultimately victory had come at a high cost; around six million British men were mobilised, with just over 700,000 were killed; that’s around 11.5% of the combatants.

In every community there had been deaths; Lewisham, Lee and Hither Green were no different – almost every street had seen it residents slaughtered, every family had lost a son, a relative or a friend. The German bullets, rockets and grenades were no respecter of social class, officers were slightly more likely to die. The same was no doubt the case for the German conscripts on the end of the British weaponry.

The number of men from Lewisham who lost their lives is uncertain, while many of the records on Commonwealth War Graves website contain a reference to an address (there were 624 in Lewisham, 552 in Catford, 213 in Lee and 440 in Blackheath), the records are sadly incomplete in terms of addresses so probably fail to show the enormity of loss felt in local communities.

What is less clear is what happened to those who came home disabled in body or mind as a result of experiencing things that no one should see. This was a country a generation before the NHS with little understanding of mental health or dealing with even the practicalities of physical disability.  At least 80,000 soldiers suffered from shell shock, now referred to as post traumatic stress disorder. There was often little sympathy for the soldiers who suffered and at least 20,000 were still suffering as the war came to an end.

Dotted around Lewisham are several dozen memorials to those who perished in France, Belgium and elsewhere – many are in churches or other buildings where access is limited; or in graveyards where the number of passers by is small. There are a few memorials though which are out in the open, easy to see, easy to visit and easy to reflect on when passing by, whatever your mode of transport. This post visits three of them, at each ‘stop’ we’ll remember one of the many names chiselled or engraved in the memorial.

St Mildred’s, Lee

The memorial is on the South Circular, just beyond the traffic lights at the junction with Baring Road. It is clearly visible from the road, but surrounded on three sides by dense hedging, it is a surprisingly calm location. It has three faces and two thirds of the way up on the left panel in Leonard Cole, along with his brother, Henry.

Leonard Cole was born Eltham in 1883, he was one of at least eight children born to Edmund and Sarah. In the 1911 census most of the family who were living at 31 Butterfield Street (now Waite Davies Road) in Lee, next door but one to the Butterfield Dairy, where the family hav moved to in 1904. Leonard was working on his brother-in-law’s farm in Harefield, near Uxbridge in Middlesex when the census enumerators called in 1911.

Leonard enlisted in Eltham and was a Gunner who served with A’ Battery of 307 Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He died of wounds less than three weeks before the end of the war on 23 October 1918 and was buried at Awoingt Cemetery near Cambrai, along with 707 other British servicemen. His listed address was Butterfield Street.

St Andrew, Catford

The war memorial is on the western side of the church, on Torridon Road. The top of the left panel has been largely worn away from being out in the open, in the firing line of the prevailing winds, names only just visible.

Julian Baxter is one of those largely eroded names; he was one of at least a dozen children of Alfred and Charlotte Baxter who had lived at 68 Arngask Road in 1911, the family had been at 55 Holbeach a decade earlier, Julian attended the school named after the street.

Julian joined the 12th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, he was killed in action on the 15th April 1918, aged just 20. He has no grave and in addition to the fading memorial in Catford he is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial.  While the metal inlay makes Julian’s name just visible, it is still hard to see, but he is certainly not forgotten.

The Lewisham Victoria Cross Memorial

Just to the side of the main Lewisham war memorial, opposite the hospital, is a smaller one, easy to miss from the main road. It is to the recipients of the Victoria Cross who were born in the Borough. For several such as, John Lynn, it was their final act of courage that saw a posthumous award for bravery. The names are remembered in the stones in front of the memorial.

Alan Jerrard was born and briefly lived in Vicars Hill in Ladywell – he had served in the Staffordshire Regiment and then the nascent Royal Air Force. His Victoria Cross was awarded for repeated attacks on an Italian Airfield in the face of overwhelming fire – he destroyed several aircraft before being shot down himself and being taken prisoner – the citation for award was listed in the London Gazette of 1 May 1918.

His story is deliberately last, because, like most of the combatants he returned home, while his home was no longer Lewisham, he returned. He was awarded a Victoria Cross, and is rightly remembered, but there were no doubt hundreds of local men who carried out small acts of courage, that may not have been noticed by officers but will have been remembered by their comrades in arms.

Next time you pass one of Lewisham’s war memorials do stop, do pause for thought, do remember the sacrifices – not just of the men whose names are listed, but think of their families and those who returned having experienced things that no young man should ever see. To quote the words of Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen.’

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

 

 

 

Notes

The census and related data comes from Find My Past; the numbers of local war dead and some of the other information about them comes from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

There have been several other posts in Running Past relating to those who died in World War 1 which may be of interest:

Suffragette City – Lewisham’s Activists & its Branch

While the national struggle for women’s suffrage has been well documented, the picture is much less clear at the local level. In the year of the centenary of (some) women getting the vote Running Past has been looking back at the work of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) branch, putting it in the context of what was happening nationally.

The Lewisham branch seems to have been one of the most active – Running Past has looked at a number of the key members of the branch along with activities in Lee, Hither Green as well as the public meetings and repeated attacks on the Lewisham Post Office. This post continues this with looking at the branch itself, the people involved, where the branch was based and some of the activities not covered in other posts.

The newspapers ‘Votes for Women’ (see above (1)) and ‘The Suffragette’ in days when print media was vital in getting the message across to the public at a time when the local and national press wasn’t always that supportive. One woman was key in this, Miss Leigh from Manor Park, she organised the sellers around Blackheath, Catford and Lewisham. Regular sales pitches included several of the cinemas, the market and at the Obelisk (2). There is a bit more on her in the post on activity in Hither Green and Lee.

The Obelisk was the location of one of their shops – it was just around the corner from Sainsburys which we will return to below; but the major public presence in Lewisham was a shop front rented at 107 Lewisham High Street, between 1908 and 1911. This was just the second shop opened by the WSPU, after one in Kensington (3). It is pictured below, probably a few years later, as J H Fletcher.

The location was convenient for communications of the era as it was next door to the Lewisham Post Office, this was to be somewhat ironic given the level of suffragette attacks on the building in 1913. In the September 1913 attack, the former WSPU shop was used to try to put out the fire (4).

The shop in the middle of what was still then referred to as the Costers Market and was open daily from 2 to 8 and on Thursdays between 10:00 and 12:30 (5). The last reference to it was in June 1911 when a clearance sale was reported (6).

The next shop was at The Obelisk, pictured below, a few years later, almost next door to the Sainsbury’s shop was at 9a Loampit Vale; for those with only recent knowledge of the town centre – it was at the station end of the High Street more or less opposite the church of St Stephen. The area was lost the late 1980s to the major roundabout and it is now covered by the tower blocks of the current redevelopment. It may well have been on a short-term lease as it only referred to in copies of Votes for Women from February to August 1912 (7).

Their next base was very much an office rather than a shop, it was an upper floor office at 1a Lewis Grove (pictured below).  They took up the lease at the end of August 1912 (8). It certainly wasn’t a visible presence from the street – when the Lewisham Borough News visited them in early March 1913, there was no mention of the WSPU on the street door, just on the door at the top of the stairs. As militancy grew the divisions in terms of their activities locally grew too and the paper described them as ‘troublesome women’ (9).

7BB52F9E-FAC0-4576-A063-CEB25D0C2926

Pressure was brought on their landlord, variously described as Mr Dundas or Dubois, to move the Lewisham WSPU on and towards the end of March, the Lewisham Borough News announced that ‘Lewisham Suffragettes Vacate their Citadel.’ (10)

There were also short term shops in a couple of locations in Blackheath, which will be covered in a forthcoming post. In the gaps between the various Lewisham shops the branch was effectively run from Christina Campbell’s home at 28 Berlin Road (see ‘box’ below).

After the loss of Lewis Grove, branch and other meetings were held at The Priory Rooms, 410 Lewisham High Street – more or less opposite Mount Pleasant Road. One of the first reported meetings was in early May 1912, another period when they were ‘homeless’, where the ‘cycling suffragette’ Rose Lamartine Yates spoke – so many turned up that had to move halls (11).

Christina Campbell lived at 28 Berlin Road – she was one of several suffragettes who had evaded being recorded in the census locally – only listed was her father, John a ‘Brazilian Merchant’ and her siblings John and Jean.  Christina who had the same name as her mother, was born in 1873 in Aberdeen where the family hailed from.  They had lived in Montague Avenue in Brockley in 1901.  Christina was a founding member of the Free Church League for Women’s Suffrage as well as being joint secretary of the Lewisham WSPU (12).Berlin Road became Canadian Avenue after the World War One.

The Branch Secretary was one of the key roles in the branch – Christina shared the role with Caroline Townsend from mid-way through 1911, after branch stalwart Jeannie Bouvier stood down – seemingly to spend more time speaking around London. May Billinghurst took over role of Lewisham branch secretary briefly whilst Jeannie Bouvier was recovering from her hunger strike in 1909 (13), before the Greenwich branch was set up in 1910. All of these women have specific posts on them.

Another woman who briefly acted as secretary was Lizzie McKenzie when Jeannie Bouvier stood down in mid-1910, for ‘private reasons’ (14). She lived with her railway employee husband Arthur, they were in Nelgard Road in Catford in the 1901 census.  While they were living at La Quinta, on Baring Road by 1911 neither was registered in the 1911 census. Like most of the branch activists she was an occasional speaker, including one of the rarer meetings at Lee Green in June 1909 (15).

Any self-respecting political group needed a banner; the first one seems to have some rather strange wording as a 1907 local press report noted that a meeting in Catford their ‘usual banner …..with the well-known cry of the unsexed female’ was not there, led to some odd interchanges and interruptions.

The final version was the work of Olive Llewhellin, also carried an unusual motto ‘Dare Never Count the Throe’ – it is suggested by the Museum of London who now own the banner, that this is a warning for people not to underestimate the suffragettes’ struggle.

In terms of the imagery on the banner of the figure of Justice is to emphasise the justice of the Votes for Women cause and the arrows in the corner are prison ones (several branch members ended up in Holloway and other prisons).

The branch attempted to organise in workplaces e It wasn’t just shops that sought support from – hospitals, nursing homes, offices and factories being visited (17), with May Billinghurst trying to organise amongst teachers.

There was support in the town centre from Chiesmans, who asked local woman Edith New to address their sports day in 1908 (18). Edith was one of the first suffragettes imprisoned and became a national organiser. There were suffragette themed displays at an unnamed drapery shop in 1910 (19) and in 1908 at Sainsbury’s (20) – who had a series of shops at the Obelisk next to the Roebuck (above).

And finally, while women did not have the vote, it didn’t stop them using the 1910 General Election as a means of campaigning and challenging the views of candidates. ‘Votes for Women’ noted that Liberal candidates were ‘triumphantly kept out’ although this seems to have been as much to do with views of the party nationally as the local candidate in Lewisham had expressed support in his manifesto, to a greater extent than the sitting Conservative candidate. One of the most ‘indefatigable workers’ locally was significantly noted as May Billinghurst (21) – pictured.

 

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 13 June 1913
  2. Iris Dove (1988) Yours in the Cause, Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich p4
  3. Votes for Women 24 September 1909
  4. Lewisham Borough News 12 September 1913
  5. Votes for Women 21 October 1910
  6. Votes for Women 16 June 1911
  7. Votes for Women August 16 1912.
  8. Votes for Women 6 September 1912
  9. Lewisham Borough News 7 March 1913
  10. Lewisham Borough News 21 March 1913
  11. Votes for Women 10 May 1912
  12. Elizabeth Crawford (2006) The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey p202
  13. Votes for Women 30 July 1909
  14. Votes for Women 29 July 1910
  15. Votes for Women 18 June 1909
  16. Lewisham Borough News 6 September 1907
  17. Votes for Women 3 June 1910
  18. Dove, op cit p11
  19. ibid
  20. Votes for Women 2 July 1908
  21. Votes for Women 21 January 1910

Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News

Census and related data comes from Find My Past

Picture Credits

Pentland House – One of the Country Houses of Lee

The area around Old Road in Lee was one of the three original parts of Lee – a three centred village, the other concentrations being around the original St Margaret’s Church and Lee Green. Old Road at various stages was ‘home’ to some of the largest houses in the district, the first two of which were at least partially funded through slavery – Lee Place, the Manor House, The Firs, Cedar House (which was at the top of what is now Aislabie Road) and Lee House  (roughly where the Lee Centre is now).  The final one that still remains is Pentland House, known for a while in the second half of the 19th century as Foclallt House – shown  in the mid 1860s surveyed Ordnance Survey map below (1).

It is a Grade II listed building which was built at the end of the 17th century, probably by a John Smith on land bought from the Boones of Lee Place – on the opposite side of Lee Road. It predated the adjacent Manor House by about a decade and is probably the oldest inhabited building in Lewisham.

It seems that the house stayed in the ownership of the Smith family for about 170 years – the commonness of the name though, may have hidden some elements of the past.  Around 100 years after the house was built its occupant was Matthew Smith, who became Mayor of the Tower of London in 1793

It seems that Matthew Smith moved out at the beginning of the century, and let the house, initially to Sir Thomas Baring whilst his father, Sir Francis, lived next door at the Manor House.  Pentland House was then home to a ladies boarding school which taught ‘French language and manners’.  It was run by William Grimani who was probably a Hugenot refugee.  He was one of the signatories of the Lee Petition in 1814 – one of part of a campaign begun to insert a clause in the treaty with France to make France abolish their slave trade, which had been reintroduced by Napoleon.

Matthew Smith died in 1812 and his son, also Matthew, inherited the house; he was a navy Captain with a less than distinguished record – his vessel was sunk after hitting a rock and he was court martialled and dismissed from the service in relation to an incident in 1794.   While he appealed and was re-instated, he never commanded a ship again.

Matthew Smith did not extent the lease of Pentland House to Grimani beyond 1822 moving in himself and making major alterations.  The building was extended to the east, almost to the boundary with the Manor House, probably adding the Doric porch at around the same time.  It seems that rather than repairing the external brickwork on original house, the entire structure was rendered.

Lee Place was demolished and sold after its last tenant Benjamin Aislabie moved out in 1824, Smith bought one of the lots, the land opposite – now surrounded by the newer part of Old Road,  Market Terrace on Lee High Road and the western side of Bankwell Road. It had been used as a kitchen garden but seems to have been converted into an orchard (as the Ordnance Survey map above shows).

Matthew Smith appears to have moved to Richmond before his death and let Pentland House to another naval family Admiral Sir George Martin, whose wife, Ann, was sister of Rev. George Lock, then Rector of Lee.  The couple were there, along with two servants, when the census enumerators first visited Lee in 1841. Ann died a year later and it seems that Sir George moved to central London – he died in Berkeley Square in 1847.

When Matthew Smith died in 1844, he left the house to his nephew Colonel Bellingham J. Smith.  He was still there in the 1851 census where he was described as a ‘fund holder’, aged 60 – the other occupants were his wife Priscilla and four servants.

While Bellingham Smith sold up in 1856, it was another Smith that bought the house – the unrelated John T Smith, a retired Colonial Marine Engineer who lived there with his wife Maria Sarah with 10 children living at home in 1861 and 6 in 1871.  It was a family that had moved around the Empire a lot with children born in India, the East Indies and South Africa before arriving in Lee where one of their children was born in 1859.  Living in one of the larger houses in the area they clearly had standards to maintain – there were 9 servants in 1861, a complement that had grown by 2 in 1871.

It seems to have been John Smith that changed its name to Foclallt House, it is referred to as this in electoral registers in the 1860s.  Where this name came from isn’t clear though; it is a Welsh word although the only definitive reference elsewhere is to a farm of that name near Tregarron.

The house was sold on to Robert Whyte in the early 1870s; the Whytes were already in Lee in the 1860s, living at 126 Lee Park in 186.  Robert Whyte’s father was described as a Colonial Merchant.  By the time Robert (snr) died in 1869 the family was living further down Lee Road at 20.  Where Robert was listed as the head of household in 1871.  During the 1870s they moved to Old Road, returning the Pentland to the House name.

Whyte, according to F W Hart, the Victorian historian of Lee,  ‘modernised the interior and improved the whole for domestic and personal convenience, so as to render it available for the requirements of the present age.’  By 1881 he had married Ruth (nee Jay) and they already had 4 children and 6 live-in servants, he was listed as a ‘General Merchant’ in the census. In 1891 there were more children and more servants.  Whyte and his extended family remained at Pentland House until around 1911 – they were listed there in that year’s Kelly’s Directory.  In 1912 there was no mention of the house but in 1913 it was listed as ‘Hostel (Goldmsiths College) for Women attending the Training Department at the College.’

There were occasional adverts for staff in The Times – in 1926 there was an advertisement for a kitchen maid and housemaid offering  ‘wages £26 : good holidays and outings :  might suit sisters’ (2) and a decade later ‘a lady to assist the Housekeeper’ (3).

The house remained a student hall into the 21st century when it seems to have been sold by Goldsmiths.  It then went through a variant to the hall – basic bedsits with shared cooking facilities before being refurbished around 2016 to effectively become a backpackers hostel – with prices starting from as little as £16.20 (September 2018) a night in a shared dormitory, with breakfast for a further £3.  At the time of writing there were very mixed reviews on Trip Advisor and regular complaints about noise from neighbours, particularly in Manor Lane Terrace and Manor Lane.

Notes

  1. The map is via the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  2. The Times (London, England), Friday, Mar 26, 1926; pg. 3; Issue 44230
  3. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 16, 1936; pg. 3; Issue 47481

Census and related data is via Find My Past

Kelly’s Directory information is via Lewisham Archives

Suffragette City – Public Meetings in Lewisham

In the year of the centenary of (some) women getting the vote Running Past has been looking back at the work of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) branch. It was an active branch with a number of militant members – this post looks at one of the main vehicles of bringing public attention to the cause – the (mainly) open air public meetings held in and around Lewisham town centre from 1908 until the outbreak of World War 1.

The earliest of these were around The Obelisk, for those with only recent knowledge of the town centre – it was at the station end of the High Street more or less opposite the church of St Stephen. The area was lost the late 1980s to the major roundabout and it is now covered by the tower blocks of the current redevelopment.

These public meetings, while they sometimes saw well known suffragettes from the wider movement, were frequently addressed by members of the local branch – the WSPU had a programme of training women on public speaking. One of the earliest of these open air meetings saw Jeannie Bouvier, for many years the Branch Secretary, and a Mrs Auld speaking there in July 1908 (1).

In October 1910, Russian émigré Eugenia Bouvier again spoke at the Obelisk to ‘large and interested crowds.’ (2) She’d spoken with Ellen ‘Nurse’ Pitfield there a couple of months earlier too (3). Ellen Pitfield was arrested several times, latterly putting herself at considerable risk of death in an arson attack after she discovered she had an inoperable cancer – she died in 1912.

Caroline Townsend, later WSPU Branch Secretary, spoke there too in late October 1910 to a ‘sympathetic audience.’  (4) The Blackheath born Emily Davison was a speaker there later in the autumn of that year (5).

For most of the active WSPU period in Lewisham public meetings were in the market area, what was still referred to then as the Costers’ Market.

While the road layout is little altered, it looked very different to modern Lewisham – the remnants of the Lewisham of the suffragette era was destroyed with a V-1 attack in July 1944 and in the development of the Shopping Centre in the late 1960s.

The meetings in the market were a regular feature of the weekend, one of the earlier meetings saw local activist, and later branch secretary, Caroline Townsend speak there in November 1909. It enable ‘good propaganda work’ and ‘brisk business’ for the nearby branch shop (6).

Townsend and her co-secretary Christina Campbell, spoke in the market in response to Asquith dropping the Franchise Bill noting that ‘the Government had done what it was expected that it would do and had broken faith with women in letter and in spirit.’ (7)

The crowds attending were considerable regularly reaching several hundred by the spring of 1913. Certainly, there were hundreds there when, the almost ever present Jeannie Bouvier told the assembled crowd in early February

The life of men will be made so miserable that they will rush to the Prime Minister and beseech him to give the vote to women….men would cry for mercy….Miltancy had brought the women’s question to the forefront of politics.

There was a ‘good deal of jeering’ and Jeannie had to be escorted back to her tram towards Catford by police as she was ‘followed by 200.’ (8)

The level of disruption, heckling and threats of violence increased during the year, with youths storming the stage in June following the death of Emily Wilding Davison, there were crowds of up to 2,000 at this point (9).

The market area also saw ‘poster parades’ with branch members marching up and down the High Street, holding posters, often to draw attention to a major meeting. There seem to have been speakers at the end of the parades. Georgina Brackenbury, who had been imprisoned with Jeanie Bouvier following the pantechnicon incident, spoke at the end of one and ‘created a sensation.’ (10)

There was a procession by a Drum and Fife Band in early October 1909 – part of the publicity for a big meeting in Blackheath later that month, it was a band that regularly appeared at WSPU events (11).

There were similar open air meetings by the tram terminus in Catford – close to the old Town Hall (above). Jeannie Bouvier chaired a meeting there in June 1909 where a Mrs Massie spoke, it was ‘well attended and uninterrupted’ and the ‘clever speaker’ spoke in defence of militant tactics, but was ‘accorded an attentive hearing.’ (12)

Later in 1909 disabled suffragette, Adelaide Knight (pictured, middle, with Annie Kenney, right and Jane Sparborough) spoke to a large audience in Catford in October 1909 (13).

The almost ever present Jeannie Bouvier and a Miss Froude had ‘splendid meetings’ there in September 1912, along with similar meetings at Hillyfields (14).

One of those influenced by the meetings in Catford was probably Eliza Simmons, she had been born in Hoo in Kent in 1886, she had started working for the Hart Family who lived at Carn Brae on Ravensbourne Park in early 1901.  She was registered there in the 1901 census, although had moved on by 1911 when the Harts were living in Lowther Hill.

She was present at Black Friday in late 1910 and was awarded the WSPU badge for this.  She was arrested the following week for throwing stones at the home of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, in Eccleston Square.  After her arrest she was described in Votes for Women as a housemaid ‘who would devote her whole time to help the cause if she were in a position to do so.’ (15)

She and eight other women pleaded guilty to committing wilful damage and were sentenced to 14 days in prison or £2 fine, like the others Eliza took the former course. One of her co-defendants, Margaret Fison, told the court ‘I want to say this: We were forced to make a protest. I want you to know that I am a law-abiding woman, but I have had to do this for political reasons. I am not in the habit of throwing stones through windows.’ (16)

 

Around Lewisham Town Centre there were also meetings in Limes Grove – one example of this is a meeting that Eugenia Bouvier spoke at in late May 1911 (17)

There were regular ‘at home’ meetings in a house in Avenue Road (around the main entrance to Lewisham Shopping Centre), one had to be broken up by police after it became disorderly with chants of ‘why did you burn the Pavillion down.’ It isn’t clear which pavilion they were referring to – the probable suffragette arson of the Northbrook cricket pavilion was 9 months later (18).

Earlier in the struggle there were meetings in many other locations in and around Lewisham Town Centre – Charlotte Despard and Christobel Pankhurst spoke in Ladywell – the latter was heckled. Also speaking was Edward Aveling, Sydenham resident and long term partner of Eleanor Marx, and, according to Rachel Holmes’ biography, her murderer (19)

Christobel Pankurst was due to speak at Ladywell Baths in late February 1910, with the Lewisham branch spending much of the early part of the year publicising and promoting the meeting – including a dozen meetings largely to promote it. Oddly, there wasn’t a report of it (20).

Ladywell also welcomed Millicent Garrett Fawcett – her non militant brand of suffrage was ‘heartily received’ as she pointed to the enfranchisement of women in Australia and New Zealand to a Parish Hall only two thirds full (21).

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 30 July 1908
  2. Votes for Women 21 October 1910
  3. Votes for Women 10 August 1910
  4. Votes for Women 4 November 1910
  5. Votes for Women 11 November 19105
  6. Votes for Women 26 November 1909
  7. Lewisham Borough News 3 January 1913
  8. Lewisham Borough News 7 February 1913
  9. Iris Dove (1988) Yours in the Cause, Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich p5
  10. Votes for Women 5 November 1908
  11. Votes for Women 15 October 1909
  12. Kentish Mail Greenwich and Deptford Observer 11 June 1909
  13. Votes for Women 15 October 1909
  14. Votes for Women 20 September 1912
  15. Vote for Women 25 November 1910
  16. Votes for Women 2 December 1910
  17. Votes for Women 26 May 1911
  18. Lewisham Borough News 18 April 1913
  19. Lewisham Borough News 31 May 1907
  20. Votes for Women 25 February 1910
  21. Lewisham Borough News 3 April 1914

Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News

Census and related data comes from Find My Past

Picture Credits

The photograph of Adelaide Knight et al is via the Museum of London website and reproduction is allowed for non-commercial research such as this

Eliza Simmons Black Friday ‘badge’ is via her grandson Nick Flint

Copies of postcards are via eBay at various stages over the last four years

The header drawing is via Spartacus Educational, although originally appear in Punch

 

Variety, Soap Suds and Building Supplies – The Story of Lee Public Halls

At the Burnt Ash Road end of Holme Lacey Road, set back from the road, is a London Stock brick building which has been largely covered by the signage of its current owners – Travis Perkins. While the building itself has been much extended and altered, at its core is a 1870s building that started as Lee Public Halls – briefly home to variety, light entertainment and numerous Victorian Societies and later, as the title suggests, put to a variety of other uses.

The ‘proprietor’ and no doubt builder of the Lee Public Halls was John Pound – builder of much of Burnt Ash, Grove Park and bits of Blackheath along with a quartet of the area’s pubs. There were two linked brick buildings one holding up to 1000 the other 400 which were ‘suitable for concerts and public meetings’, they were probably built around 1876. The original site included a frontage onto Burnt Ash Hill, now largely occupied by Bellamy’s Citroën dealership.

The Victorians liked their Societies and needed venues for them – Blackheath had the Concert Halls, built by William Webster’s firm of builders, and the Arts Club; the northern part of Lee had the Lee Working Men’s Institution on Old Road (which was nothing of the sort and will be covered in a later post), but South Lee had nothing equivalent in the way of halls for Societies and entertainment. Lee Public Halls, along with the Station, the shops and the pubs was probably part of the package that Pound was using to sell the homes he was building.

The earliest references to the Halls are at the beginning of 1878 where Professor Era ‘the Popular Illusionist’ performed giving his ‘marvellous and amusing entertainment.’ Like many of the evening entertainments, it was effectively a benefit, with proceeds going to the ‘Burnt Ash Mothers Meeting.’ (1)

Another early benefit was by the Lee Literary and Musical Society who gave a musical recital in aid of Lee Crèche, an organisation which provided for ‘poor children’ in the absence of their mothers during working hours (8 am to 9 pm). The Hall was filled and the ‘audience good’ (2).

During the day the Halls were regularly used as an auction hall for furniture (3). There was an attempt to set up a school there in 1879, although this doesn’t appear to have come to fruition (4).

Political meetings were held there from early in its life, the first recorded one being a large one concerning flooding in the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments in May 1878 – an early incarnation of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group, perhaps (5).  It noted that 2000 homes had been flooded in the area in April 1878 and asked the Metropolitan Board of Works to do something about it.

Penny Readings were regular fayre; they seemed to follow the standard, well established form that had been in place for 20 years consisting of readings and other performances, usually by local people. While when they were introduced the charge was as the name implied, by the time they reached Lee, the charges were 2/- (10p) for the reserved seats and 6d (2.5p) for unreserved seats (6). The Penny Readings were popular entertainment with, in the early years, 800 often present (7).

The next door neighbour to Lee Public Halls when they opened was Northbrook Cricket Club, which we have covered before in relation to a suffragette arson attack on their pavilion in early 1914. The Halls were the venue for an annual fundraising concert for the club, the 1878 edition saw the Hall was ‘tastefully arranged and adorned with evergreens and flower, (and) was comfortably filled with a select and appreciative audience.’  (8)

The 1880 version saw apparent favourites of Queen Victoria, the Royal Hand-Bell Ringers and Glee Singers perform. The tickets were only slightly more expensive than the Penny Readings (9).

One of the regular variety acts at Lee Public Hall was the Royal Black Diamond Minstrels (see below, 10)  – they were described as ‘popular exponents of negro minstreley.’ While such entertainment is racist and very dated, it remained popular up until the late 1970s when one of their successor groups, the Black and White Minstrels, still regularly appeared on prime time television on Saturday evenings – oddly for a while featuring Lenny Henry. In the 1880s it was considered family entertainment with generally white performers using burnt cork as make up and ‘enacting comic songs and dances with often grotesquely stereotyped caricatures of black behaviour.’  The Black Diamond Minstrels appeared several times to packed houses, ‘crowded to excess.’ (11)

The local Societies regularly used the Halls as a venue – a regular was South Lee and Burnt Ash Dahlia Society which held annual competitions there (12).

As noted above, benefit concerts and amateur dramatics were a staple fayre at the Halls – an early one in May 1878 was a fundraiser for the building of St Mildred’s – there was a poor turnout due to the ‘inclement weather’ (13).  By the autumn of the following year there were fortnightly concerts and entertainments raising funds to build the church (14) and pay for the organ – there was a concert with piano, several violins and vocalists in November 1879 (15).

Indirectly, the funding of benefit concerts for St Mildred’s was probably one of the things that contributed to the Halls demise as a venue. The building of churches and other halls locally will have reduced the revenue stream and it is noticeable from the early 1880s that local press coverage of events there diminished considerably.

By mid-1885 the building had been put to a new use – an advertisement in the Kentish Mercury in July announced that ‘The Public Hall Sanitary Steam Laundry’ was now in operation. A smaller advert in the same edition ‘Ladies desiring the van to call may send post card to the Manageress’ and could also come and have a look at the new machinery (16).

These were days before washing machines and, in middle class Lee, it would not be expected that the women (and certainly not the men….) of the households would be undertaking domestic drudgery of this type. As we saw in the first of the posts on Ardmere Road, taking in laundry for wealthier neighbours was commonplace. A step up from this were laundries – a little later local suffragette Clara Lambert came from a family that had set up a laundry and worked in it herself for many years.

There were adverts most weeks for staff in the ‘Kentish Mercury’, a few examples included:

  • Woman & boy for wash house (17)
  • Experienced preparer ‘none but good hands need apply’ (18);
  • Best ironers, tall drier also good washer (19);
  • Experienced folder wanted (tall preferred) (20).

It is possible that John Pound still had an interest in the building into the 1890s; there were attempts to sells it, along with Pound’s Estate Office (2 Burnt Ash Hill) opposite in the months after his bankruptcy. The laundry was let at £150 pa, and was noted as having a frontage of 81′ onto Burnt Ash Hill ‘thoroughly ripe for the erection of business premises.’ (21)

There were several similar adverts over the next few months, so perhaps surprisingly, the laundry remained and the frontage onto Burnt Ash remained undeveloped (22).

By 1905, it appears that a small portion of the frontage was let to decorators – Edmund James Tagg, but the Public Halls Steam Laundry, then under the control of W P Cowan remained as having an address with a frontage onto Burnt Ash Hill.

Little changed until the 1920 when two motor trade businesses were to take over the front – in the 1927 Kelly’s Directory Albert Tooley’s Station Garage and Lee Auto Services were on the Burnt Ash Hill frontage, with the shortened Public Hall Laundry now accessed from the W J Scudamore developed Holme Lacey Road (the map below shows the site from 1950 (23))

By 1941 Scudamore’s were using part of the site of the laundry, whether this marked a slight scaling back of operations isn’t clear. By 1953 the ‘Public Halls’ had been dropped from the name – it was now known as ‘Supreme Laundry.’ The last mention of the laundry was in 1962, when Lee Public Halls name had been restored. In 1963, the Halls were home to South London Engineering and Sheet Metal – they seem to have diversified into electrical equipment and air conditioning and were still there in the late 1980s when the last local Kelly’s Directories seem to have been published – replaced over time by Yellow Pages, Thompsons and the Internet.

View of rear of building from the Chiltonian Industrial Estate

As for Scudamores, they remained on the site until they went bankrupt in 1966; for a few years another building contractor – M E Lee seem to have used part of the site but they had gone by the mid-1970s. The current occupants are Travis Perkins and while the overall impression is of a builders supply yard, bits of the original building can still be glimpsed and it is still just about possible to imagine the carriages drawing up at 9:45 for the wealthy suburban citizens of Lee having seen the Royal Handbell Ringers and Glee Singers in February 1880 (24).

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 05 January 1878
  2. Kentish Mercury 16 February 1878
  3. Kentish Mercury 07 December 1878, but lots of other examples
  4. Kentish Mercury 05 July 1879
  5. Kentish Mercury 04 May 1878
  6. Kentish Mercury 19 April 1879
  7. Kentish Mercury 26 October 1878
  8. Kentish Mercury 02 February 1878
  9. Kentish Mercury 24 January 1880
  10. Kentish Mercury 01 November 1879
  11. Kentish Mercury 08 November 1879
  12. Kentish Mercury 20 September 1879
  13. Kentish Mercury 25 May 1878
  14. Kentish Mercury 15 November 1879
  15. Kentish Mercury 01 November 1879
  16. Kentish Mercury 31 July 1885
  17. Kentish Mercury 27 February 1891
  18. Kentish Mercury 03 February 1893
  19. Kentish Mercury 14 May 1897
  20. Kentish Mercury 12 August 1910
  21. Kentish Mercury 29 May 1896
  22. Kentish Mercury 04 December 1896
  23. On a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/view/103032888
  24. Kentish Mercury 24 January 1880

The non-hyperlinked references to Directories are from the Blackheath, Greenwich and Lee Kelly’s Directories (pre-World War 2), the later ones are from the Kelly’s London Directories. Both were accessed via the always helpful, and under resourced, Lewisham Archives.

Suffragette City – The Attacks on Lewisham’s Post Office

During recent months Running Past has celebrated the work of Lewisham’s suffragettes both individually – looking at May Billinghurst, Eugenia Bouvier, Caroline Townsend and Clara Lambert, and collectively in the first of a series of ‘Suffragette City’ posts in Lee and Hither Green, all being brought together on a Lewisham Suffragettes page

This post continues with this, looking at the repeated attacks on Lewisham Post Office, Sorting Office and neighbouring pillar boxes within Lewisham Town Centre by Lewisham’s militant suffragettes, presumably members of the Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The main Post Office, marked PO above, was in roughly the same location as its last independent location, in Lewisham High Street within the market.  The sorting office was more or less opposite behind 108 Lewisham High Street – this is now land covered by the Lewisham Shopping Centre and would have been close to the current location of the residual Post Office within W H Smiths.

Oddly, the suffragettes weren’t the first to attack Lewisham Post Office; as Running Past has already covered, Rolla Richards, a Deptford Anarchist with mental health issues had attacked it in 1896 along with several other local Post Offices.

Before looking at the attacks, it is worth looking, briefly, at the history of and reasons given for damage to and destruction of property by militant suffragettes. The WSPU had believed in Direct Action almost from its formation in 1903 – Emmeline Pankhurst had disrupted a Liberal meeting in 1904.  The move to greater militancy and targeted damage to property seems to have been born out of a frustration with lack of progress, not just since 1903, but for a generation before. Despite a majority of MPs elected in 1906 supporting women’s suffrage Asquith (Liberal Prime Minister and opponent of women’s suffrage) contrived to ensure that Bills were never enacted.  This came to a head between 1911 and 1913 with levels of militant activity increasing dramatically.  There were also serious concerns about the extent to which the initial form of protest, demonstrations, were being met with considerable brutality by the police – notably Black Friday and events the following week in late 1910.

One of the first examples of a more direct approach was by a woman with a Greenwich link, Edith New, who smashed windows in Downing Street in 1908. This remained a rarity until 1911, but the following year 240 women were sent to prison for smashing windows, arson and pillar box ‘outrages.’

So why were the Post Office and pillar boxes targets? Presumably it was because they are obvious institutions of the state, resplendent with the mark of the monarch and would disproportionately impact on the wealthy, business and the Government. In practice, it was at least partially targeting those who were denying women the vote. One of the first recorded incidents was in 1911 when Emily Wilding Davison attacked three post boxes in late 1911 including one in Parliament Square. It started to be used on a larger, more coordinated scale in November 1912.

The post box at the main Lewisham Post Office (pictured above) was attacked on 17 December 1912, the same evening at several others in Lewisham, Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath – after the latter attack May Billinghurst and Grace Mitchell were arrested. A black, tar-like, substance was poured into the box, damaging letters (1).

There was to be another ‘pillar box outrage’ at the Lewisham Post Office on 3 May 1913 when a packet of partially burnt gunpowder was found, it had only ‘partially fired’ and around 30 letters were damaged (2).

In September 1913 there was a significant explosion and fire there, which ’caused some alarm.’ A loud bang was heard in the market and then (3)

a portion of the letter box fell into street and this was immediately followed by flames bursting from inside. The fire spread to other parts of the building which was quickly alight…..By the time the firemen arrived (from Lee Green and Ladywell) the flames had got a firm hold of a section of the premises and their efforts were directed at confining the fire to as limited an area as possible.

It took around 45 minutes to put the fire out although the local newspaper report suggested that there was relatively little damage to the building itself (4).

As the local press noted, by this stage it was obvious that the Post Office was ‘steadily becoming the objective of malicious suffragette activity in this neighbourhood.'(5). What was perhaps more surprising was that the attack in September 1913 was immediately after a public meeting in the market, which would probably have had a relatively high police presence and that no one seemed to have been watching what had become a clear target.

Less than a month later there was an almost repeat at around 7:00 pm on a Saturday evening in early October 1913 a loud explosion occurred at the Post Office and moments later flames were seen to be coming from the letter box. A large crowd gathered and while the flames were put out quickly hundreds of letters were damaged or destroyed (6).

Late in 1913 wax vesta matches and gunpowder were found in the post box at the Post Office, but they failed to explode.  The same evening there was also an attack on a pillar box in Lee High Road, that too failed to ignite as intended (7).

There was a further attack on Saturday April 18 1914 when phosphorous in an envelope and a cycle tyre containing a black liquid, wrapped in ‘The Suffragette’, was pushed through the letter box at Lewisham Post Office. The same evening an envelope containing sulphur was put in a post box at 160 Rushey Green (above). The damage on this occasion was quite limited.

As for the Lewisham Post Office while the attempts to destroy it, initially by Rolla Richards and then suffragettes, failed – it was very badly damaged in the V-1 attack on 28 July 1944 (it is on the right edge of the photograph above). It was initially rebuilt as a Post Office after the war although is now used for other retail purposes.

 

Notes & Credits

  1. The Suffragette 27 December 1912
  2. Lewisham Borough News 12 September 1913
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. The Suffragette 10 October 1913
  7. The Suffragette 4 January 1914
  8. The Suffragette 1 May 1914

Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News

Picture Credits

The picture of the Post Office is courtesy of Luke Anthony Briscoe on the excellent Catford and Lewisham Way Back When Facebook Group.

The picture on the pillar box in Catford is via Google Streetview.

The map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland

The photograph of the destruction of the town centre in 1944 is on a Creative Commons via the Lewisham War Memorials Wiki