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
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.
- Common Cause – 30 December 1909
- Common Cause – 5 May 1910
- Common Cause 04 July 1913
- Common Cause – 5 May 1910
- Common Cause – 25 May 1911
- Common Cause 17 November 1910
- Common Cause 22 February 1912
- Common Cause 18July 1913
- Common Cause 30 June 1910
- Common Cause 10 March 1910
- Common Cause 30 December 1909
- Common Cause 05 October 1911
- Common Cause 28 March 1912
- Common Cause 4 July 1912
- Common Cause 03 October 1913
- Common Cause 29 May 1914
- From information board outside Lewisham Archives March 2018
- Common Cause 08 August 1913
- Common Cause 18 July 1913
- The photograph of 113 Blackheath Park is via British Listed Buildings
- The 1866 Petition is via the Parliamentary Archives
- The press photograph is via the Lewisham Archives, Lewisham Heritage Blog, with permission