Tag Archives: Blackheath Concert Halls

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

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