Tag Archives: Clara Lambert

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At 62 Manor Park (above), the Leighs had been replaced by the Coates.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.
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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

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