Category Archives: Rebels & Radicals

Olive Llewhellin – A Lewisham Suffragette Activist

During 2018, in the centenary of (some) women getting the vote, Running Past celebrated the militant Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.  The name of Olive Llewhellin was mentioned in several posts, including a section within a post on activities in Lee and Hither Green.  Her significance though was a little understated, largely due to an error in court and newspaper reporting where she was incorrectly referred to as Margaret.   This post corrects this and tells Olive’s story.

Olive was one of many suffragettes who refused to register in the 1911 census; she was living at 114 Burnt Ash Hill – where the only occupants listed were her mother Sarah Jane and her sister Daisy. Olive’s activity was a mixture of militancy and organisation. She was arrested at least three times– the first time was with fellow Lewisham branch member Clara Lambert in late January 1913 after the smashing of 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 (1).  One of her arrests may well be pictured below; it is a picture in her adopted family’s collection, they believe it to be Olive.

She was arrested in Downing Street in the spring of 1913 for smashing the window of the Chief Whip at number 12 (2).  In all the press reports, she was listed as ‘Margaret.’  Later editions of ‘The Suffragette’ corrected the mistake reporting the date that she was due to be released from Holloway in late April 1913 (3). Olive is listed in the roll of imprisoned suffragettes.

The severity of Olive’s sentence  was raised by Keir Hardie in the House of Commons in relation to the proportionality of the fine and whether there was an instruction to treat suffragettes differently to male defendants convicted of similar ‘crimes’.  Olive was still incorrectly referred to as ‘Margaret.’  He pointed out that a Mr E W Hills  who smashed windows valued at 2s 6d (12½p) at the WSPU Offices at Lincoln’s Inn House, was fined 5s (25p) or 7 days imprisonment.  Olive was fined £2, had £2 2s costs awarded against her, and had to pay for the window, also valued at 2s 6d, a total of £4 4s 6d – over 33 times the total penalty of the male defendant.

If there was any doubt as to her time in Holloway, her ‘adopted’ family still have the lovely portcullis brooch given to imprisoned suffragettes.

Olive 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 later in 1913 (4).

Olive was the driving force behind the Lewisham WSPU banner, above, (5) – she had designed a well-received poster for the office window in 1912 (6). This seems to have led to her designing the banner (7) and being in charge of the fundraising for it (8).  She is pictured bottom right below, with Caroline Townsend to her left; above her to the left is Clara Lambert and a Miss Warwick to the right (9).

Olive was Branch Treasurer from early 1913 (10) and briefly acted as Branch Secretary in mid-1913 (11). She was an occasional speaker at the public meetings held most Sunday evenings at 7:00 in Lewisham Market – such as on Sunday 21 September when she spoke with Eugenia Bouvier (12).

Olive had been born on 8 October 1888, in Lewisham, and lived at 114 Burnt Ash Hill (a house probably built by John Pound) from around 1899 – her father appeared on the electoral register there from that year. She is pictured below aged 7.

Her 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, Olive and her elder sister Ethel were active members – they were included in the branch photograph probably taken in mid-1913 at 3 Ravensbourne Park.  Sarah is second from the left on the back row, Ethel is on the front row with her niece on her lap, and Olive is to the right of her (13).  There is detail on the rest of group in the post on the Lewisham WSPU Branch.

Sarah was widowed in 1906 and listed as living on her own means in the 1911 census; times obviously became harder for the family after Arthur died in early 1911. 114 was the first house in that part of Burnt Ash Hill to be split between two households – all the others had gone the same way be the time the 1920 Electoral Register was complied though. Sarah was mentioned several times in ‘The Suffragette’ for donations, producing food for sale and catering, including for the Annual Branch meeting in 1912 (14).

Olive and the rest of the family had moved on by the time the women were able to vote in Parliamentary elections in Lewisham.  By 1927 she was living in the Stockwell/Camberwell borders at Dover House on Cormont Road – she registered from there as a teacher and also corresponded with Chrisatbel Pankhurst, following the death of Emmeline in 1928 (see above). Dover House is a large Victorian mansion block on an estate created by a family of Protestants fleeing religious persecution in France in the 17th century centering on Myatt’s Fields.

She was living in Poole in Dorset in 1939, she later returned to London –she died in Wandsworth in 1972 – she is photographed below in her later years.

Notes

  1. The Suffragette 31 January 1913
  2. The Suffragette 04 April 1913
  3. The Suffragette 25 April 1913
  4. The Suffragette 13 October 1913
  5. The banner is part of the collection of the Museum of London, as is the photograph, the Museum allows its use for non-commercial research such as this – add exact link
  6. The Suffragette 25 October 1912
  7. The Suffragette 4 July 1913
  8. The Suffragette 20 December 1912
  9. The photograph of the Lewisham Banner is part of the collection of the Museum of London who allow its use for non-commercial research such as this
  10. The Suffragette 24 January 1913
  11. The Suffragette 1 August 1913
  12. The Suffragette 19 September 1913
  13. The branch photograph is part of the collection of the Museum of London, who allow its use for non-commercial research such as this
  14. The Suffragette 25 October 1912

I am indebted to Ruth Knapton for this post; Olive was ‘adopted’ as family by one of her friends; her photographs and some papers relating to her WSPU activity have been passed down within that adopted family to Ruth.   The photographs that are used here are done so with Ruth’s permission but remain her copyright.

Census and related data comes via Find My Past; the Electoral Register information comes through the always helpful Lewisham Archives.

Suffragette City – Getting the Vote

During 2018 (and just before) Running Past has looked at the activities of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) branch and many of its activists. In this last post on the Lewisham’s militant suffragettes, which coincides with the centenary of the first General Election that women were able to vote in on 14 December 1918,  we look at the first electoral registers that they appeared in and those early elections that women were able to vote in.

The Electoral Registers

Sadly, Lewisham’s electoral registers for 1918 and 1919 seem to not have been retained – annual electoral registers were introduced in the Representation of the People Act of 1918); the earliest post-women’s suffrage records that Lewisham’s Archives possess are an addendum to the 1919 Electoral Register and the full Register of 1920. The previous Lewisham Register had been collected in 1915.  As part of the research for this post, the Electoral Registers of the addresses of all the key activists were reviewed to see who was there, and who was entitled to vote in 1920.

In virtually all of the properties where the suffragette activists had lived before the war the WSPU member and their household have moved on.  It had been thirteen years since Eugenia ‘Jeannie’ Bouvier had set up the Lewisham WSPU branch, and at least 6 years since most of the women had been actively involved in the WSPU.   The exodus was not surprising, as around three quarters of housing nationally was privately rented in 1918, and it was a sector with relatively little security of tenure, so moving home was relatively common.

7 Oakfield Road (above) had been the home of May Billinghurst – it was the address given at her various arrests and that used when May was secretary of the Greenwich WSPU branch.  Her father had died in 1912 (the top Register in the group above was for that year) and the family had moved on by the end of World War 1.  The Marsdens were living there with Henrietta’s name appearing on the 1920 Electoral Register, in part, at least due to a previous occupant’s sacrifices.

At 62 Manor Park (above), the Leighs had been replaced by the Coates.  Even had the Leigh’s still be there the Miss Leigh in charge of selling ‘Votes for Women’ (it was never clear which of the sisters it was) would not have appeared in 1920 as Cornelia would have been 29 and Gladys 27 – both younger than the 30 year old qualifying age for women voting.    The differences in the two registers is clear though with the large number of women appearing in the 1920 variant.

Perhaps the most militant of Lewisham’s suffragettes, or at least the one with the most brushes with the law, was Clara Lambert.  The Lamberts had moved on from the family home at 174 Glenfarg Road by 1916 (they weren’t there in the 1916 Kelly’s Directory) where they have moved in around 1906.  The beneficiary of suffragette activities there in 1920 was Kathleen Tidy.

The Berlin Road that Christina Campbell had lived in was no more, it had been renamed Canadian Avenue after the War.  The occupants in 1920 were the Cowells; Alice Cowell was to appear on the Electoral Register there in 1920, along with several male household members.

114 Burnt Ash Hill (below) had been home to the Llewhellin’s, they had moved on although what was, perhaps, more interesting in terms of social history was that the extent to which houses had been subdivided since 1911 into flats.  In 1911 the Llewhellins had been the only house split, this seems to have happened after Arthur’s early death in 1906.  By 1920, virtually all the houses in that part of Burnt Ash Hill had been divided into flats.

32 Mount Pleasant Road, had been home to the founder and stalwart of the Lewisham branch, Eugenia (Jeannie) Bouvier.  Jeannie was still just at Mount Pleasant Road in 1920, there were adverts offering Russian tuition there in the Workers’ Dreadnought in early 1921.  However, the only name on the Electoral Register for 32 in 1920 was George Lapman; it is quite possible that despite her years devoted to the struggle she never became a British Citizen.  In any case, she returned to Russia late in 1921, and, as we will cover later, she would never have had the opportunity to vote in a Parliamentary election anyway.

The only active Lewisham WSPU member that remained in the home she was active from was Caroline Townsend.  Caroline and her sisters, Annie and Hannah, had been living at 188 Malpass Road, but had moved to 27 Murillo Road (pictured below) ahead of the 1911 census.  They had presumably bought the house as Annie and Hannah were on the elector register for County and Local Council elections in 1915 – the 1894 Local Government Act had given the small number of women who were homeowners non-Parliamentary voting rights. But the 1920 Register saw the former Branch Secretary on the Elector Register too.

The Elections

The first election under the new rules brought in by the Representation of the Peoples Act that meant women over 30 (and all men over the age of 21, plus all soldiers of 19 or over) could vote was held on Saturday 14 December 1918. The election had been due in 1916 but had been postponed due to the war. There was subsequent legislation, which received Royal Assent in November 1918, which allowed women to stand for election – the age limit was to make little sense in that women over 21 were able to stand for Parliament but couldn’t vote until they were 30.

While many women up and down the country exercised their right to vote – a few stood for election including Christabel Pankhurst standing for the short-lived Women’s Party in Smethwick and one, Constance Markievicz, of Sinn Fein won a Dublin seat although like other members of the party she didn’t take her seat.

In Lewisham though, there were no elections, and women had to wait to exercise their vote for the first time in Parliamentary terms at least.  In both Lewisham East and Lewisham West there were Conservative Coalition Candidates who were elected unopposed Assheton Pownall and Sir Edward Feetham Coates respectively.

The reason for the unopposed election lay within the Coalition of Conservatives and part of the Liberal Party that had emerged from World War One.  Most Conservatives, some Liberals and a couple of Labour candidates were given what were referred to as ‘Coalition Coupons’ which meant that they were not opposed by other parts of the coalition.  The Conservative candidates in both the Lewisham constituencies had Coalition Coupons.

The constituencies of Lewisham East and Lewisham West were not wildly different to their current counterparts; Lewisham East consisted the following wards – Blackheath (Blackheath north of the railway), Church (centred around St Margaret, Lee), Manor (much of the present Lee Green ward), South (Grove Park and south Lee), along with parts of Lewisham Park (Hither Green), and some of Catford (the largely rural area to the south of Brownhill Road).  Lewisham West consisted of Brockley, Forest Hill, Sydenham, and the remaining parts of the wards of Catford and Lewisham Village.

The first election then that Lewisham’s women and poorer men would have been able to vote in were the London County Council (LCC) elections on 6 March 1919.  The LCC was a forerunner of the current Great London Authority, albeit over a smaller area and having very different responsibilities. The Conservatives and Liberals didn’t stand in the LCC elections using what were effectively proxy parties, Municipal Reform and Progressive Party  as surrogates.  In Lewisham West the two Municipal Reform candidates narrowly defeated those put up by the Progressives.  In Lewisham East, as in several other constituencies, Municipal Reform candidates were elected unopposed.

So, for the women of Lewisham East, there was an even longer wait, until the Borough Elections in November 1919 to be able to put their marked voting slips into a ballot box.

In Parliamentary terms, the first time that Lewisham women had a vote was in a by election in Lewisham West in September 1921, following the death of Sir Edward Coates.  This was a slightly odd affair – with the Conservative, Phillip Dawson, then known as Unionist, candidate just holding off the Anti-Waste League, backed by the Daily Mail owner in protest against what it saw as high levels of Government spending; a Liberal candidate also stood.   The National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, the successor of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, had held a public meeting during the campaign with all three candidates speaking.  In the end the NUSEC decided not to back any candidate.

In Lewisham East, the first Parliamentary vote in the constituency was not until the General Election of 1922,  but like buses, three came along quite quickly with further elections in 1923 and 1924. The Conservative/Unionist Sir Assheton Pownall was returned on each occasion, he was finally defeated by Labour’s Herbert Morrison in 1945.

Credits

  • The press cutting is  from The Times of Thursday, Sep 08, 1921
  • Access to the Electoral Registers was via the always helpful Lewisham Archives, the help was particularly beneficial on this occasion, as I had failed to notice the early registers in a separate cupboard.

Suffragette City – Blackheath

Running Past has been celebrating the centenary of (some) women ‘getting the vote’, looking at some of the awe inspiring women that were involved in the struggle in Lewisham as well as a number of posts about the branch itself and area based actions within Lewisham, Hither Green and Lee.

Blackheath, as has already been covered, was active during the late 19th century attempts to advance women’s suffrage including bills by local resident  John Stuart Mill and various petitions including one in 1866. Blackheath also had a moderately active branch of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which was looked at a few weeks ago. Also covered have been one of Blackheath’s most famous suffragette daughters, Emily Wilding Davison, who died after being trampled over by the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913; as well as May Billinghurst. May was a well-known, and visible, figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) through her invalid tricycle who was imprisoned for a pillar box outrage on Aberdeen Terrace. This post looks at other WSPU activity within Blackheath.

Perhaps the most important element of Blackheath for WSPU activity was the Heath itself and notably, Whitefield’s Mount. It offered the opportunity for large meetings in a location that was free.  The Lewisham WPSU branch was able to attract many of the leading lights nationally to speak on the Heath.

One of the early meetings there was in May 1908 (1). when Jeannie Bouvier, Caroline Townsend and Nancy Lightman (who spoke several times around Lewisham – including at Lee a couple of months later) (2). They should have spoken at Whitefield’s Mount but were attempts to take over crowd by a group of male Young Socialists – so the WSPU moved to a different ‘mound’ – it should be remembered that before World War 2 the surface of the Heath was much more serrated.

Greenwich resident, Edith New (left – on a Creative Commons) spoke on 17 May 1908 and kept ‘unruly elements’ in check by ‘her ready wit and cleverness of repartee’ in a meeting designed to help publicise a demonstration in Hyde Park that summer (3).  She was to smash windows at 10 Downing Street a couple of weeks later and, along with Mary Leigh (see below) was one of the first suffragettes imprisoned for damage like this.  By August 1908 ‘Votes for Women’ noted that attendances were growing for the meetings and that women of all walks of life were attending the Sunday afternoon meetings on the Heath. Winifred Auld was ‘quite a favourite’ as a speaker (5).

The first reports of organised disruption were reported in November where ‘rowdy elements’ tried to disrupt a meeting where Evelyn Sharp was the speaker on child labour to a crowd of 2,000 (7).

Helen Ogston, who used a whip to try to prevent her removal from the Albert Hall following heckling when Lloyd George refused to make a pledge on votes for women in early December 1908. She spoke about events at Albert Hall and gave a passionate defence of militant action a couple of weeks later at Whitefield’s Mount (8).

Mrs Tanner (pictured, centre above – (9)) spoke at a rally at Whitefield’s Mount on Sunday 20 June 1909 as a part of the building for the mass deputation to attempt to present a petition and speak to Asquith on 29 June 1909 (10).  She had been arrested the previous year during a suffragette ‘raid’ of the House of Commons. There were also meetings at Lee Green, which Eugenia Bouvier and Grove Park resident, Lizzie McKenzie, spoke at, as well as in Lewisham Market where a Miss Smith provided the encouragement which was to mark the start of more militant activity around Westminster. Over 100 were arrested including Emmeline Pankhurst.

Mrs Tanner, who was secretary of the Brixton WSPU, was the speaker again at the last Sunday afternoon meeting of 1909 on 21 November 1909. ‘Several thousand’ came to hear her and Eugenia Bouvier, although there were again attempts as disruption by ‘rowdy youths.’ (11)

The biggest meeting on the Heath, again at Whitefield’s Mount, was in the summer of 1912 when around 30,000 attended a rally attended by Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, Flora Drummond and Georgina Brackenbury.

Christabel Pankhurst in her report of the rally made parallels with previous rallies of rebels on the Heath – particularly with the speech of John Ball delivered at Whitefield’s Mount.

Wat Tyler and his men were defeated by fraud. They went home too soon. We women must continue to demonstrate until the charter of our freedom is on the statute book. (12)

Hundreds of young men from Guy’s in white boaters came to disrupt the rally, they congregated in front of the lorry stage that Christabel Pankhurst was due to speak from. Jeannie Bouvier, and other Lewisham WSPU members held the fort there, whilst Pankhurst spoke from a different lorry, much to the annoyance of the students. Georgina Brackenbury, Miss Tyson and Flora Naylor spoke at the other three lorries (13).

Whitefield’s Mount wasn’t the only open air local location on the Heath used by the WSPU, Mary Leigh (arrested and imprisoned with Edith New, see above) and Emily Davison held a ‘successful’ open meeting on Blackheath Hill, presumably either at The Point or in front of the Green Man (pictured (15)).

The most badly disrupted meeting was at Blackheath Concert Halls (below) in October 1909 where the speakers were Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence, editor of Votes for Women, and Constance Lytton, one of the more aristocratic members of the WSPU. It was an important meeting for the Lewisham WSPU and the branch had been selling tickets for a couple of months (16).

The meeting was chaired by Jeannie Bouvier but the police had to be called when medical students broke up seating and let of stink bombs and fireworks (17). While the branch had to pay £12 for damage to furniture and fittings caused by ‘rowdies’ at the meeting, they still made £15 for the group’s funds from the meeting (18).

There was a physical presence in the Village – the WPSU branch had a shop for a while  at 72 Tranquil Vale which served a useful purpose in terms of propaganda however seemed rather ill equipped, lacking table and enough chairs (19).

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

The branch was later to use a shop at 5 Blackheath Village, previously used by the NUWSS (pictured above) opposite the station – in 2018 the ‘home’ of Winckworths.

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 30 July 1908
  2. Votes for Women 28 May 1908
  3. Votes for Women 21 May 1908
  4. On a Wikipedia Creative Commons
  5. Votes for Women 20 August 1908
  6. On a Wikipedia Creative Commons
  7. Votes for Women 5 November 1908
  8. Votes for Women 17 December 1908
  9. Photograph via Museum of London who own the copyright, but usage in non-commercial research such as this is permitted.
  10. Votes for Women 18 June 1909
  11. Votes for Women 26 November 1909
  12. Votes for Women 21 June 1912
  13. ibid
  14. Votes for Women 21 October 1910
  15. From Greenwich Photo History Wiki
  16. Votes for Women 10 September 1909
  17. Kentish Mercury 15 October 1909
  18. Votes for Women 5 November 1909
  19. Votes for Women 11 June 1909

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

 

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

Suffragette City – Hither Green & Lee

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.

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Source eBay September 2016

Nancy LightmanThere 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).

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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.

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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.

northbrookCricket

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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

Lewisham Suffragette banner

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).

WSPU banner

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.

 

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 30 July 1908
  2. Picture copyright is held by the Museum of London, but use is allowed for non-commercial research purposes such as Running Past.
  3. Votes for Women 14 October 1910
  4. The Suffragette 27 December 1912
  5. Lewisham Borough News 3 January 1913
  6. The Suffragette 31 October 1913
  7. The Suffragette 4 January 1914
  8. Lewisham Borough News 1 August 1913
  9. ibid
  10. Map on a creative commons via the National Library of Scotland
  11. The Times 26 January 1914
  12. Daily Herald 26 January 1914
  13. The Suffragette 30 January 1914
  14. Blackheath Gazette 28 April 1893
  15. The Suffragette 12 September 1913
  16. Votes for Women 15 July 1910
  17. The Suffragette 12 September 1913
  18. The Suffragette 4 July 1913
  19. The Suffragette April 11 1913
  20. Votes for Women 26 August 1910
  21. The Suffragette 25 October 1912
  22. 31 January 1913 The Suffragette
  23. The Suffragette 13 October 1913
  24. 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.
  25. The Suffragette 25 October 1912
  26. The Suffragette 4 July 1913
  27. The Suffragette 20 December 1912
  28. The photograph of the Lewisham Banner is part of the collection of the Museum of London (on a creative commons)
  29. The Suffragette 24 January 1913
  30. The Suffragette 1 August 1913
  31. 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

Clara Lambert – A Militant Catford Suffragette

Running Past has covered several of the leading members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Lewisham and Blackheath – May Billinghurst, Caroline Townsend, Eugenia Bouvier as well as the locally born Emily Wilding Davison.  Another of the prominent local militant suffragettes was Clara Lambert who lived at 174 Glenfarg Road on the Corbett Estate in Catford.  Clara went by a number of aliases too – Catherine Wilson and May Stewart.

Clara came from a very different background to many of the other active suffragettes – she was working class, having worked as a seamstress and in the family laundrette.  Many of the local ones such as Eugenia Bouvier and May Billinghurst, were from much wealthier backgrounds – reflecting Lewisham’s then position in the newly developing south London suburbia.

Clara joined the WSPU in 1903, around the time that it formed.  While her address in arrests is usually given in Catford, she was certainly involved with the setting up of the WSPU branch in Walthamstow in 1910. 

Clara was one of 300 suffragettes who met at Caxton Hall in November 1910 on what became known as ‘Black Friday’ and then marched to Parliament to attempt to lobby Asquith.  There was considerable brutality from the police and hostile bystanders, including sexual assaults.

It was noted in ‘The Vote’ that women were ‘thrown down, cuffed, pushed, gripped, pinched, battered, bruised, thrown back again and again by police and rowdies.’ ‘Arrest followed arrest’ with those arrested including Clara Lambert (1).

115 women, along with four men, were detained on Black Friday, but the following morning Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, dropped all charges on the grounds of public policy ‘on this occasion no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution.’

In March 1912 the WSPU started a programme of window smashing, described in one syndicated paper as an ‘exceptionally malignant attack…. (with) wild scenes in London.’ (2) The sheer scale of the attacks one weekend overwhelmed the police in central London; this related both to the numbers of angry shop and business owners all wanting to press charges as well as noisy suffragettes who kept up a barrage of chants of “Votes for Women”‘ which echoed around the police stations of the centre of the capital.  Clara along with many of the others had her bail surety given by Frederick Pethwick Lawrence.

The case was heard a few days later and Clara pleaded guilty (3)  to smashing the windows of 5, 6 and 9 The Strand (4), close to Charing Cross, with a hammer.  The businesses were Joshua Turner, a hat and cap make; Samuel Smith and Son, speed indicator makers and the London and South Western Railway booking office.  She refused to give an undertaking to be bound over to keep the peace, so was sentenced to 4 months in prison (5).

Her parting shot after being sentenced was that “I shall come out of Holloway more determined than ever.”  (6)

Clara actually ended up at Aylesbury Prison, along with several others sentenced at the same time.  She was released on 15 June and greeted at 10:26 arrival on that day at Marylebone Station by a crowd of suffragette well-wishers (7).

While the spell in Aylesbury Prison was the first for Clara, it wasn’t her last.  She was again arrested in late January 1913 after another bout of window smashing – on this occasion it was the windows of the Hamburg American Line in Cockspur Street off Trafalgar Square.  She was arrested with Olive Llewhellin who lived in Burnt Ash Hill in Lee – both were remanded in custody, although Olive Llewhellin was later discharged (8).  Clara is top left and Olive bottom right on the photograph below (see picture credits).

She was committed for trial for ‘wilful damage’ in mid-February 1913 (9) before being tried in front of an all-male jury – women were not allowed to serve on juries until 1919.

She expected little sympathy from the jury “I have not come to appeal to your intelligence because I have come to the conclusion that men do not have any.” Clara was sentenced to six months imprisonment which was described as being ‘vindictive’ in ‘The Suffragette’ (11).  On hearing the sentence she told the court (12):

I shall not accept imprisonment under any circumstances. I shall do the hunger strike, and if it means my life to save the lives of thousands of other women, it must be so.

She was probably released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ which came into force mid-way through her sentence.  There had been considerable public disquiet about hunger strikers being force-fed by the prison staff, the act allowed prisoners to be released on licence as soon as the hunger strike affected their health. Woman were allowed a predetermined period of time in which to recover after which they were rearrested and taken back to prison to serve out the rest of their sentence.

On 16 March 1914, she entered the House of Commons in male clothing with a male companion and made her way to the Central Lobby, presumably the security in the early 20th century was less tight than the airport style checks for current visitors.  It seems that the police based in Parliament had been warned by Special Branch ‘to be on the alert to detect a woman who dressed as a man.’  She was noticed by a Constable on entering the Commons and followed to the Central Lobby and when she sat down she was then arrested.  When searched she was found to have a riding whip hidden in her left overcoat sleeve.  She was charged under the Vagrancy Act with being a suspected person found in an enclosed area; she was said to have replied to the police when charged, “If I had carried out my purpose they would have had it hot.”  She was subsequently sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour.

The whip has used by several militant suffragettes – notably by Helen Ogston at the Royal Albert Hall when she attacked those attempting to remove her after a protest against Lloyd George there.

Clara was again released early under the Cat and Mouse Act.  Her next arrest seems to have been in early April 1914 for smashing a number of glass cases and a porcelain saucer in the Asiatic section at the British Museum with a butcher’s cleaver. Clara was thought to have smuggled in the cleaver under her skirt.

The case appears to have been heard under her alias, Mary Stewart (13), at Bow Street Magistrates Court, where she was described as being ‘in a very excited manner began to shout and declaim’ to the magistrate, refusing to recognise the authority of the court.  Her hearing was adjourned for a few hours but but when she returned she was ‘disorderly and continued speaking loudly’ while two officers held her firmly in the dock.

Presumably she was bailed and absconded because on 24 April 1914, Scotland Yard circulated a memorandum to all police stations in the country featuring a Special Branch surveillance photograph (below – see picture credits) her giving her details: she was five feet one inch tall, had a sallow complexion, brown hair and grey eyes – along with a surveillance photograph.   She wasn’t on the run long and was arrested and sentenced to six weeks hard labour.

There were a couple of other incidents which were noted in the records of her friend Violet Croxford – Clara apparently planned to attack the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, at Waterloo Station on his way to a wedding with a whip that she had concealed.  She missed him there, followed him to the wedding and took a taxi to the venue, but again missed him but set fire to a haystack instead.

She claimed responsibility for throwing an over-ripe tomato which hit Public Prosecutor, Mr Archibald Bodkin, during the trial at the Old Bailey for arson of fellow WPSU member, Rachel Peace in 1913 (14); she was arrested and held until court rose.

So who was Clara Lambert?  She had been born in or around West Ham in 1875; certainly that is where her birth seems to have been registered, although in censuses she was variously reported as being from Walthamstow, Hackney and London (Middlesex).  It was a family that had moved around a lot her parents (George and Elizabeth) were living in Bethnal Green in 1871 with 4 children.  The eldest of those seems to have died by 1881, but there were still 9 children (all of school age) of which Clara was the 5th oldest at the home in Hackney.  George was listed as a ‘Coffee Tavern Manager’ which seemed to be the only income coming into the home which was shared with another couple.

By 1891 the family had moved south of the river and were now in Plough Road, Rotherhithe – there had been another child in the intervening decade although the older of Clara’s twin sisters was no longer there.  George was now a ‘Book Keeper in the Iron Trade’ and the older children were all working – including Clara who at 16 was listed as a dressmaker and her two remaining older sisters who were both listed as laundresses.  By 1901 the involvement in the laundry trade seemed to have increased with George listed as a laundryman, Clara and her youngest sister, Edith, were collar dressers, presumably linked to the laundry trade, and the oldest sister at home, a shirt dresser.

Whether George’s involvement with the laundry is as worker, manager or owner isn’t clear.  However, by the 1906 Kelly’s Directory some, or all, of the family had moved to Glenfarg Road and Arthur Lambert, one of the son, was listed as a laundry proprietor – the location of the business was listed as Glenfarg Road although this seem unlikely in a small terraced house.  This was the just built suburbia of the Corbett Estate, and while not one of the biggest houses, was a step up from where the family had been living before, and suggested that the family laundry business was doing well.

The 1911 saw many suffragettes evading being returned in the census.  At Glenfarg Road only two of Clara’s brothers, Arthur and Frank, and a sister Jane were listed.  It is almost certain that Clara was living there – court reports from before and after list her in Catford.  It may be that here mother and other sisters were ‘evaders’ too.  The family seems to have moved on by the time the First World War finished as the business wasn’t listed in Glenfarg Road in the 1919 Kelly’s Directory.

During World War 1 Clara somewhat surprisingly joined the Women’s Police Service (WPS) where she seems done social work type activities in South Wales.  She continued to campaign for votes for women after the War – speaking at a “well attended meeting” in Lewisham Market in June 1918 (15).

She met Violet Croxford in the WPS and the pair of them continued with similar work in London’s West End with Dick Sheppard and later set up a women’s refuge in Kent.  In the 1939 Register, they were living in South Road, Hythe, and both listed as ‘Boarding House Proprietress.’  They retired and moved to Farncombe, Surrey in 1953, where Clara lived until her death in 1969; Violet lived until 1985.

Notes

  1. 26 November 1910 -The Vote
  2. 2 March 1912 – Shields Daily News
  3. 14 March 1912 – Shields Daily News
  4. 8 March 1912 – Votes for Women
  5. 14 March 1912 – Staffordshire Sentinel
  6. 14 March 1912 – London Daily News
  7. 14 June 1912 – Votes for Women
  8. 31 January 1913 The Suffragette
  9. 14 February 1913 The Suffragette
  10. 22 February 1913 – Leeds Mercury
  11. 28 February 1913 – The Suffragette
  12. Ibid
  13. 11 April 1914 – Manchester Evening News
  14. Monday, Nov 17, 1913 – The Times
  15. 28 June 1918 Britannia

Picture credits

Census & related information come via Find My Past