Tag Archives: Eugenia Bouvier

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At 62 Manor Park (above), the Leighs had been replaced by the Coates.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 – 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 – Lewisham’s Activists & its Branch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, a branch photograph….

It was probably taken in the summer of 1913, because that’s when the banner at the back was finished, the photo was taken at ‘Yoroshi’, which appears to have been 3 Ravensbourne Park and was home to Caroline Selby.  It is where her nieces, and branch activists, Violet Long and Frances Samson also lived, they both worked as nurses.

Notes

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

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

Census and related data comes from Find My Past

Picture Credits

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

From Russia to Rushey Green and Back – Eugenia Bouvier, a Lewisham Suffragette

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Assent of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave some women the right to vote (it would be another decade before voting equality with men was to be achieved). It is worth reflecting on, and celebrating, the life of a woman who made Lewisham her home and was actively involved with the struggle – Eugenia Bouvier, usually known as Jeannie.

She was a Russian émigré who was born, Eugenia Anna Weber in 1865.  Little seems to be known about her early years but she married the Italian born Paul Emile Bouvier in St Petersburg in August 1888 

They settled in Catford, just off Stanstead Road, at 21 Ravensbourne Road – they were there when the census enumerators called in 1891 – he was a French teacher, initially at King’s College, London and then at the nearby St Dunstan’s College in Catford.  They were well enough off to be able to afford a servant – a 20 year old, Alice Whiffin.  They remained there for the rest of the decade as, somewhat ironically, given later events, Paul appeared on the electoral register there until 1899. They had a daughter, Irene Eugenie, in 1893 whilst living there.

There is no mention of them in the 1901 census, although given the struggles that officialdom seemed to have struggled with both her names they may just be hidden in spelling errors and poor handwriting.  It is known that at some point Jeannie was living at 32 Mount Pleasant Road (1).  She was widowed in 1904 when Paul died, aged just 46.

Her home in Mount Pleasant Road (immediately to the left of the house shown below) was badly damaged during the Blitz, along with several neighbouring properties which were largely destroyed. The site had been cleared by the time the Ordnance Survey surveyed the area in 1949 and had flats on it built soon after.

Like the two other suffragettes that Running Past has covered, May Billinghurst and Emily Davison, Jeannie was actively involved in direct action and was arrested twice due in the struggle.  She was known to have interrupted a meeting in Reading in January 1908 being addressed by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, she and others shouted ‘Votes for Women’ at regular intervals.

In February the same year she was arrested as part of the ‘pantechnicon incident’ when a hired lorry was used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ in an unsuccessful attempt to enter the House of Commons.  There were scuffles with the police, mainly in an attempt to resist arrest, and lots of arrests including Jeannie.

There were 50 suffragettes arrested and they appeared Westminster Police Court – the press noted that the ‘ wily leaders escap(ed) arrest.’

The defendants, including Jeannie, were described as mostly being ‘ladies of refinement and education’ and charged with ‘disorderly conduct.’ The sentence was to find a surety of £20 or 6 weeks in jail (2)

There were further incidents later in 1908 where Jeannie is reported as peacefully disrupting meetings and receptions attended by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.

In July 1909 she was arrested again in a ‘raid’ on the House of Commons – Jeannie threw a stone through the window of the Privy Council Offices, she was one of the first militants to adopt the tactic of window-breaking and was arrested and charged with criminal damage.  Jeannie said that the action was to show “what we thought of the Prime Minister in refusing these ladies admission to the House of Commons.”

She appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court in front of London’s Chief Stipendiary Magistrate – Albert de Rutzen.  He compared her to ‘hooligan boys in the street’; she compared her actions with men who had used similar methods protesting against the Reform Act.  She demanded to be considered as a political prisoner; he regarded her as a common criminal.  He was the magistrate; she was the prisoner and was fined £5 plus 2/6d damages or a sentence of a month at Holloway – she didn’t pay the fine (3).

Like many suffragettes sentenced to imprisonment she went on hunger strike and was released early, after just 10 days in Holloway (4).

She was secretary of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union for several years – regularly chairing meetings – including  at a ‘rowdy meeting at Blackheath’ Concert Halls in October 1909 when medical students broke up seating and let of stink bombs and fireworks – leading to the police being called (5) as well as meetings in New Cross in May (6) and November 1908 (7).  She was a regular speaker for the Women’s Social and Political Union both locally – including street meetings like this in Catford (8).

She is known to have spoken at a meeting on Blackheath, presumably at Whitefield’s Mount, in September 1909 and in 1912 was present at the opening of new WSPU offices in Lewis Grove in Lewisham where a crowd of around three thousand became hostile throwing eggs (9).

She went well beyond her local area and was a regular speaker in favour of women’s suffrage elsewhere in the country – including a meeting with Annie Kenney where a firecracker was let off inside the meeting (10).   She gave a provocative speech in  Lewisham market in early 1913 (11)

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

She was ‘followed by 200’ mainly men and had to be escorted to the tram by police amidst a ‘good deal of jeering (12).’

The last definitive political involvement was work in the East End with Sylvia Pankhurst speaking at conferences opposing conscription in 1915 and 1916.  Pankhurst described her as a ‘brave, persistent Russian.’ In addition to be an asset to the work of Sylvia Pankhurst in her own right, she proved useful in being able to translate and interpret for the Russian emigres in the East End.

She returned to post-revolutionary Russia in 1921, proud that her family wealth had been seized after the Revolution, suggesting that the wealth ‘ought to have taken.. from me years ago, and from all of us who lived on the backs of the people’.

She remained there until her death in 1933 (13), working for at least some of this time at the Comintern in Moscow.

Notes

  1. Iris Dove (1988) Yours In The Cause – Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich & Woolwich p5
  2. 13 February 1908 – Sheffield Independent
  3. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Feb 17, 1909; pg. 10; Issue 38885
  4. 12 July 1909 – Yorkshire Evening Post
  5. Kentish Mercury 15 October 1909
  6. Kentish Mercury 08 May 1908
  7. Kentish Mercury 20 November 1908
  8. Woolwich Gazette 11 June 1909
  9. Dove op cit p7
  10. Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 06 November 1909
  11. Lewisham Borough News 7 February 1913
  12. ibid
  13. Dove op cit p7

WPSU Banner Photo Credit – this 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.

For more detail on Eugenia’s life after Lewisham an excellent starting point is ‘From Russia to East London — and back again: Eugeníe Bouvier (1865-1933), suffragette and socialist.

Census and related data via Find My Past