Tag Archives: suffragettes

Olive Llewhellin – A Lewisham Suffragette Activist

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

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

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

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

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

Olive was also arrested as part of protest by the Cymric Suffrage Union, which she was also a member of, due to her Welsh ancestry, when Lloyd George refused to see a deputation later in 1913 (4).

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

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

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

Her parents were Arthur Jones Llewhellin, the mother was Sarah Jane (nee Thomas) – both were from Pembroke Dock in south west Wales, where they married in 1873. Arthur worked for the Inland Revenue and the family moved around a lot with children being born in Dublin, the Potteries, Malvern, Greenwich and Lewisham (Olive).

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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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 – Public Meetings in Lewisham

In the year of the centenary of (some) women getting the vote Running Past has been looking back at the work of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) branch. It was an active branch with a number of militant members – this post looks at one of the main vehicles of bringing public attention to the cause – the (mainly) open air public meetings held in and around Lewisham town centre from 1908 until the outbreak of World War 1.

The earliest of these were around The Obelisk, for those with only recent knowledge of the town centre – it was at the station end of the High Street more or less opposite the church of St Stephen. The area was lost the late 1980s to the major roundabout and it is now covered by the tower blocks of the current redevelopment.

These public meetings, while they sometimes saw well known suffragettes from the wider movement, were frequently addressed by members of the local branch – the WSPU had a programme of training women on public speaking. One of the earliest of these open air meetings saw Jeannie Bouvier, for many years the Branch Secretary, and a Mrs Auld speaking there in July 1908 (1).

In October 1910, Russian émigré Eugenia Bouvier again spoke at the Obelisk to ‘large and interested crowds.’ (2) She’d spoken with Ellen ‘Nurse’ Pitfield there a couple of months earlier too (3). Ellen Pitfield was arrested several times, latterly putting herself at considerable risk of death in an arson attack after she discovered she had an inoperable cancer – she died in 1912.

Caroline Townsend, later WSPU Branch Secretary, spoke there too in late October 1910 to a ‘sympathetic audience.’  (4) The Blackheath born Emily Davison was a speaker there later in the autumn of that year (5).

For most of the active WSPU period in Lewisham public meetings were in the market area, what was still referred to then as the Costers’ Market.

While the road layout is little altered, it looked very different to modern Lewisham – the remnants of the Lewisham of the suffragette era was destroyed with a V-1 attack in July 1944 and in the development of the Shopping Centre in the late 1960s.

The meetings in the market were a regular feature of the weekend, one of the earlier meetings saw local activist, and later branch secretary, Caroline Townsend speak there in November 1909. It enable ‘good propaganda work’ and ‘brisk business’ for the nearby branch shop (6).

Townsend and her co-secretary Christina Campbell, spoke in the market in response to Asquith dropping the Franchise Bill noting that ‘the Government had done what it was expected that it would do and had broken faith with women in letter and in spirit.’ (7)

The crowds attending were considerable regularly reaching several hundred by the spring of 1913. Certainly, there were hundreds there when, the almost ever present Jeannie Bouvier told the assembled crowd in early February

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

There was a ‘good deal of jeering’ and Jeannie had to be escorted back to her tram towards Catford by police as she was ‘followed by 200.’ (8)

The level of disruption, heckling and threats of violence increased during the year, with youths storming the stage in June following the death of Emily Wilding Davison, there were crowds of up to 2,000 at this point (9).

The market area also saw ‘poster parades’ with branch members marching up and down the High Street, holding posters, often to draw attention to a major meeting. There seem to have been speakers at the end of the parades. Georgina Brackenbury, who had been imprisoned with Jeanie Bouvier following the pantechnicon incident, spoke at the end of one and ‘created a sensation.’ (10)

There was a procession by a Drum and Fife Band in early October 1909 – part of the publicity for a big meeting in Blackheath later that month, it was a band that regularly appeared at WSPU events (11).

There were similar open air meetings by the tram terminus in Catford – close to the old Town Hall (above). Jeannie Bouvier chaired a meeting there in June 1909 where a Mrs Massie spoke, it was ‘well attended and uninterrupted’ and the ‘clever speaker’ spoke in defence of militant tactics, but was ‘accorded an attentive hearing.’ (12)

Later in 1909 disabled suffragette, Adelaide Knight (pictured, middle, with Annie Kenney, right and Jane Sparborough) spoke to a large audience in Catford in October 1909 (13).

The almost ever present Jeannie Bouvier and a Miss Froude had ‘splendid meetings’ there in September 1912, along with similar meetings at Hillyfields (14).

One of those influenced by the meetings in Catford was probably Eliza Simmons, she had been born in Hoo in Kent in 1886, she had started working for the Hart Family who lived at Carn Brae on Ravensbourne Park in early 1901.  She was registered there in the 1901 census, although had moved on by 1911 when the Harts were living in Lowther Hill.

She was present at Black Friday in late 1910 and was awarded the WSPU badge for this.  She was arrested the following week for throwing stones at the home of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, in Eccleston Square.  After her arrest she was described in Votes for Women as a housemaid ‘who would devote her whole time to help the cause if she were in a position to do so.’ (15)

She and eight other women pleaded guilty to committing wilful damage and were sentenced to 14 days in prison or £2 fine, like the others Eliza took the former course. One of her co-defendants, Margaret Fison, told the court ‘I want to say this: We were forced to make a protest. I want you to know that I am a law-abiding woman, but I have had to do this for political reasons. I am not in the habit of throwing stones through windows.’ (16)

 

Around Lewisham Town Centre there were also meetings in Limes Grove – one example of this is a meeting that Eugenia Bouvier spoke at in late May 1911 (17)

There were regular ‘at home’ meetings in a house in Avenue Road (around the main entrance to Lewisham Shopping Centre), one had to be broken up by police after it became disorderly with chants of ‘why did you burn the Pavillion down.’ It isn’t clear which pavilion they were referring to – the probable suffragette arson of the Northbrook cricket pavilion was 9 months later (18).

Earlier in the struggle there were meetings in many other locations in and around Lewisham Town Centre – Charlotte Despard and Christobel Pankhurst spoke in Ladywell – the latter was heckled. Also speaking was Edward Aveling, Sydenham resident and long term partner of Eleanor Marx, and, according to Rachel Holmes’ biography, her murderer (19)

Christobel Pankurst was due to speak at Ladywell Baths in late February 1910, with the Lewisham branch spending much of the early part of the year publicising and promoting the meeting – including a dozen meetings largely to promote it. Oddly, there wasn’t a report of it (20).

Ladywell also welcomed Millicent Garrett Fawcett – her non militant brand of suffrage was ‘heartily received’ as she pointed to the enfranchisement of women in Australia and New Zealand to a Parish Hall only two thirds full (21).

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 30 July 1908
  2. Votes for Women 21 October 1910
  3. Votes for Women 10 August 1910
  4. Votes for Women 4 November 1910
  5. Votes for Women 11 November 19105
  6. Votes for Women 26 November 1909
  7. Lewisham Borough News 3 January 1913
  8. Lewisham Borough News 7 February 1913
  9. Iris Dove (1988) Yours in the Cause, Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich p5
  10. Votes for Women 5 November 1908
  11. Votes for Women 15 October 1909
  12. Kentish Mail Greenwich and Deptford Observer 11 June 1909
  13. Votes for Women 15 October 1909
  14. Votes for Women 20 September 1912
  15. Vote for Women 25 November 1910
  16. Votes for Women 2 December 1910
  17. Votes for Women 26 May 1911
  18. Lewisham Borough News 18 April 1913
  19. Lewisham Borough News 31 May 1907
  20. Votes for Women 25 February 1910
  21. Lewisham Borough News 3 April 1914

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

Census and related data comes from Find My Past

Picture Credits

The photograph of Adelaide Knight et al is via the Museum of London website and reproduction is allowed for non-commercial research such as this

Eliza Simmons Black Friday ‘badge’ is via her grandson Nick Flint

Copies of postcards are via eBay at various stages over the last four years

The header drawing is via Spartacus Educational, although originally appear in Punch

 

Suffragette City – The Attacks on Lewisham’s Post Office

During recent months Running Past has celebrated the work of Lewisham’s suffragettes both individually – looking at May Billinghurst, Eugenia Bouvier, Caroline Townsend and Clara Lambert, and collectively in the first of a series of ‘Suffragette City’ posts in Lee and Hither Green, all being brought together on a Lewisham Suffragettes page

This post continues with this, looking at the repeated attacks on Lewisham Post Office, Sorting Office and neighbouring pillar boxes within Lewisham Town Centre by Lewisham’s militant suffragettes, presumably members of the Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The main Post Office, marked PO above, was in roughly the same location as its last independent location, in Lewisham High Street within the market.  The sorting office was more or less opposite behind 108 Lewisham High Street – this is now land covered by the Lewisham Shopping Centre and would have been close to the current location of the residual Post Office within W H Smiths.

Oddly, the suffragettes weren’t the first to attack Lewisham Post Office; as Running Past has already covered, Rolla Richards, a Deptford Anarchist with mental health issues had attacked it in 1896 along with several other local Post Offices.

Before looking at the attacks, it is worth looking, briefly, at the history of and reasons given for damage to and destruction of property by militant suffragettes. The WSPU had believed in Direct Action almost from its formation in 1903 – Emmeline Pankhurst had disrupted a Liberal meeting in 1904.  The move to greater militancy and targeted damage to property seems to have been born out of a frustration with lack of progress, not just since 1903, but for a generation before. Despite a majority of MPs elected in 1906 supporting women’s suffrage Asquith (Liberal Prime Minister and opponent of women’s suffrage) contrived to ensure that Bills were never enacted.  This came to a head between 1911 and 1913 with levels of militant activity increasing dramatically.  There were also serious concerns about the extent to which the initial form of protest, demonstrations, were being met with considerable brutality by the police – notably Black Friday and events the following week in late 1910.

One of the first examples of a more direct approach was by a woman with a Greenwich link, Edith New, who smashed windows in Downing Street in 1908. This remained a rarity until 1911, but the following year 240 women were sent to prison for smashing windows, arson and pillar box ‘outrages.’

So why were the Post Office and pillar boxes targets? Presumably it was because they are obvious institutions of the state, resplendent with the mark of the monarch and would disproportionately impact on the wealthy, business and the Government. In practice, it was at least partially targeting those who were denying women the vote. One of the first recorded incidents was in 1911 when Emily Wilding Davison attacked three post boxes in late 1911 including one in Parliament Square. It started to be used on a larger, more coordinated scale in November 1912.

The post box at the main Lewisham Post Office (pictured above) was attacked on 17 December 1912, the same evening at several others in Lewisham, Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath – after the latter attack May Billinghurst and Grace Mitchell were arrested. A black, tar-like, substance was poured into the box, damaging letters (1).

There was to be another ‘pillar box outrage’ at the Lewisham Post Office on 3 May 1913 when a packet of partially burnt gunpowder was found, it had only ‘partially fired’ and around 30 letters were damaged (2).

In September 1913 there was a significant explosion and fire there, which ’caused some alarm.’ A loud bang was heard in the market and then (3)

a portion of the letter box fell into street and this was immediately followed by flames bursting from inside. The fire spread to other parts of the building which was quickly alight…..By the time the firemen arrived (from Lee Green and Ladywell) the flames had got a firm hold of a section of the premises and their efforts were directed at confining the fire to as limited an area as possible.

It took around 45 minutes to put the fire out although the local newspaper report suggested that there was relatively little damage to the building itself (4).

As the local press noted, by this stage it was obvious that the Post Office was ‘steadily becoming the objective of malicious suffragette activity in this neighbourhood.'(5). What was perhaps more surprising was that the attack in September 1913 was immediately after a public meeting in the market, which would probably have had a relatively high police presence and that no one seemed to have been watching what had become a clear target.

Less than a month later there was an almost repeat at around 7:00 pm on a Saturday evening in early October 1913 a loud explosion occurred at the Post Office and moments later flames were seen to be coming from the letter box. A large crowd gathered and while the flames were put out quickly hundreds of letters were damaged or destroyed (6).

Late in 1913 wax vesta matches and gunpowder were found in the post box at the Post Office, but they failed to explode.  The same evening there was also an attack on a pillar box in Lee High Road, that too failed to ignite as intended (7).

There was a further attack on Saturday April 18 1914 when phosphorous in an envelope and a cycle tyre containing a black liquid, wrapped in ‘The Suffragette’, was pushed through the letter box at Lewisham Post Office. The same evening an envelope containing sulphur was put in a post box at 160 Rushey Green (above). The damage on this occasion was quite limited.

As for the Lewisham Post Office while the attempts to destroy it, initially by Rolla Richards and then suffragettes, failed – it was very badly damaged in the V-1 attack on 28 July 1944 (it is on the right edge of the photograph above). It was initially rebuilt as a Post Office after the war although is now used for other retail purposes.

 

Notes & Credits

  1. The Suffragette 27 December 1912
  2. Lewisham Borough News 12 September 1913
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. The Suffragette 10 October 1913
  7. The Suffragette 4 January 1914
  8. The Suffragette 1 May 1914

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

Picture Credits

The picture of the Post Office is courtesy of Luke Anthony Briscoe on the excellent Catford and Lewisham Way Back When Facebook Group.

The picture on the pillar box in Catford is via Google Streetview.

The map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland

The photograph of the destruction of the town centre in 1944 is on a Creative Commons via the Lewisham War Memorials Wiki

Suffragette City – Hither Green & Lee

During 2018 Running Past has covered several of the leading suffragettes who lived in Lewisham with posts on Clara Lambert, Eugenia Bouvier and Caroline Townsend along with an update on the post on May Billinghurst. This post seeks to bring together some of the other suffragette and suffragist activity in Lee and Hither Green that hasn’t been covered so far, it will be followed by a similar one on Lewisham and possibly one for Blackheath too before the year is out.

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Source eBay September 2016

Nancy LightmanThere were occasional public meetings at Lee Green, seemingly outside  including one addressed Nancy Lightman in July 1908 (1), Lightman (pictured – 2) was a teacher who regularly appeared on Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) platforms, particularly in the early days of the campaign – she spoke at a large suffragette demonstration held in Hyde Park on 21 June 1908.

A later one was addressed by a  Mrs Brailsford on 4 October 1910 who gave ‘a most interesting address’; her name appears a lot in reports of local activity so she was probably a member of the Lewisham WSPU branch (3).

One of the regular features of the WSPU campaign in Lee and Hither Green, and elsewhere, were attacks on pillar boxes.  They were targets because they were seen as an obvious institutions of the state, resplendent with the mark of the Monarch and would disproportionately impact on the wealthy, business and the Government who were denying women the vote.

May Billinghurst’s conviction for a ‘pillar box outrage’ in December 1912 has already been covered in Running Past; the same evening as she was arrested pillar boxes attacked in Beacon Road, Staplehurst Road (then probably on the corner of Leahurst, where the post office was then located and Northbrook Road – all between 6:30 and 7:30 pm – with tar being placed inside. While The Suffragette reported two arrests this was presumably May Billinghurst and Grace Michell – no one seems to have been charged for the Lee and Hither Green ones (4).

FFA6AFAA-39F0-4B3E-B92B-E20D7BF5476D

The original Victorian Beacon Road pillar box attacked is still there at the junction with Hither Green Lane (see above). I did suggest to Royal Mail, that it might be appropriate to paint it in suffragette colours of purple, green and white – sadly, their courteous response declined the request.

In early 1913 there were further reports of ‘pillar box outrages’ outside 124 Burnt Ash Road (almost opposite Upwood Road) which had a copy of ‘The Suffragette’ posted into it, along with another at the junction of Manor Park and Northbrook Road (5) – below.

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There were reports of further attacks on post boxes in unspecified locations in Lewisham and Hither Green later in the year on 26 October (6).  Late in 1913 wax vesta matches and gunpowder were found in the post box in an unspecified location in Lee High Road but they failed to explode (7).

In July 1913 there was a march from various locations within Kent which was converging on Blackheath that was organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies who supported a more gradualist and non-militant approach to attempting to get the vote for women. They were described in the local press as the ‘law abiding and constitutional groups in women’s movement.’  (8)

The marchers, who were described as ‘pilgrims’ gathered in Taunton Road to march to Whitefield’s Mount on Blackheath before heading towards New Cross, Deptford and eventually Hyde Park a couple of days later. They received some barracking but nothing of the level often received by the WSPU. Banners on show included – ‘Home makers demand the vote.’  (9)

At the other end of the spectrum of suffrage and suffragette activity was the likely burning down of a cricket pavilion in Lee.  Suffragettes had started attacking sports facilities in early 1913 after Asquith’s Government had rejected demands for Votes for Women; it marked an extension on the damage to property of the window smashing campaigns.   The pavilions, golf clubs and the like attacked tended to be those not allowing woman members and left unattended for long periods.

northbrookCricket

In January 1914 the Northbrook Cricket Club pavilion was burned down – it was somewhat ironically located just off Burnt Ash Road, next to the railway – its pavilion was mid-way along what is now Holme Lacey Road (10).

Press reports nationally in ‘The Times’ were circumspect about who or what was responsible, noting that ‘nothing was found to support the theory that suffragists were responsible’ (11).  Elsewhere though there were strong indications that it was the work of the WSPU; the Daily Herald merely reported the fire not mentioning any possible cause or culprit – however, they carefully juxtaposed the report with an advert for the paper’s ‘Suffrage Week’ which was to start a few days later (12).

While responsibility was not directly claimed for the blaze either locally or nationally, it was covered as part of a series of reports  in that week’s ‘The Suffragette’ (see bottom right hand corner below) headed ‘Fires and Bombs as Answer to Forcible Feeding’ – so the implication about the cause of the fire was pretty clear (13).

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While as noted above the arson attacks on pavilions tended to be on buildings left unattended for long periods, there may have been an added ‘incentive’ in this case – the club was named after previous Lords of the manor and major landowners – the Northbrooks, who were Liberals in the House of Lords, the then Baronet having been a Liberal MP before succeeding to the Earldom in 1904.  Oddly, it wasn’t the first time the pavilion had burned down – there had been a major fire there in the early 1890s (14).

No one was every arrested or charged with the fire.

In terms of the activists in Lee there were a three households that were really important in the struggle for votes in Lee – the Townsends who lived at 27 Murillo Road on what was then referred to as The Firs estate. One of the sisters, Caroline Townsend was covered in a post in early 2018.

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The second was 62 Manor Park – this was home to the Leighs – John, a Canadian, and Eda an American had 4 daughters and a son, the adult daughters in the 1911 census included Cornelia, 20, and Gladys, 18. One of these two, probably Cornelia, generally known as ‘Nellie’, organised the sale of ‘The Suffragette’ (15) and its earlier incarnation, ‘Votes for Women’ (16) in Lewisham for much of the time it was produced, it isn’t totally clear though as she was just referred to a ‘Miss Leigh’ – however, ‘Nellie’ appeared in a photograph of branch activists in 1913.   It was presumably Nellie who organised jumble sale collections too (17). Nellie was to live in Lewisham until her death in 1977, Gladys died in Sussex the year before. There was presumably at least tactic support for the cause of women’s suffrage from John and Eda, as the house was used for displaying the new Lewisham banner in July 1913 (18). Saturday rallies were held there too from the spring of 1913 (19).

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It is possible that Eda Leigh was a regular speaker in the early days of the campaign – a Mrs Leigh is frequently mentioned giving speeches in the area – including one in Catford in August 1910 (20).  However, the speaker is much more likely to be Mary Leigh.  A ‘Mrs Leigh’ was also involved in the day to day activity in the branch; she was more likely to have been Eda from Manor Park rather than Mary though.

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The other family was the Llewhellin’s of 114 Burnt Ash Hill, above,  a house probably built by John Pound. The parents were Arthur Jones Llewhellin, the mother was Sarah Jane (nee Thomas) – both were from Pembroke Dock in south west Wales, where they married in 1873. Arthur worked for the Inland Revenue and the family moved around a lot with children being born in Dublin, the Potteries, Malvern, Greenwich and Lewisham (Olive). In terms of the local WSPU branch both Sarah and more particularly Olive were active members. Sarah was widowed in 1906 and living on her own means in the 1911 census. Sarah was mentioned several time in ‘The Suffragette’ for donations, producing food for sale and catering, including for the Annual Branch meeting in 1912 (21).

Olive was one of many suffragettes who refused to register in the 1911 census. Olive’s activity was a mixture of militancy and organisation. She was arrested twice – the first time was with Clara Lambert in late January 1913 after smashing the windows of the Hamburg American Line in Cockspur Street off Trafalgar Square. While Olive was remanded in custody, unlike Clara, she was later discharged (22).

She was also arrested as part of protest by the Cymric Suffrage Union, which she was also a member of, due to her Welsh ancestry, when Lloyd George refused to see a deputation (23).

Lewisham Suffragette banner

Olive was the driving force behind the Lewisham WSPU banner, above, (24) – she had designed a well-received poster for the office window in 1912 (25). This seems to have led to her designing the banner (26) and being in charge of the fundraising for it (27).  She is pictured bottom right below, with Caroline Townsend to the left; above her to the left is Clara Lambert and a Miss Warwick to the right (28).

WSPU banner

Olive was Branch Treasurer from early 1913 (29) and briefly acted as Branch Secretary  in mid-1913 (30). She was an occasional speaker at public meetings held most Sunday evenings at 7:00 in Lewisham Market – such as on Sunday 21 September when she spoke with Eugenia Bouvier (31).

Olive became a teacher, registering in 1927, when she was living in Stockwell.  She was living in Poole in Dorset in 1939, she later returned to London –she died in Wandsworth in 1972.

 

Notes

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

Census and related data comes from Find My Past

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

Caroline Townsend – A Lewisham Suffragette Activist

During the centenary year of (some) women obtaining the vote, it is important to remember those who were active in the campaign for women’s suffrage in South East London.  Running Past has already covered the two of the more prominent women – May Billinghurst and Emily Wilding Davison who both had a national impact; however, it is important to celebrate the work and lives of some of the other women activists who were involved in the struggle locally.  A few weeks ago, the role of Eugenia Bouvier was covered, and now it is the turn to look contribution of Caroline Townsend.

Caroline was born in Cork in Ireland on 13 August 1870; she was the youngest of three sisters in a family that travelled a lot – her eldest sister, Annie, was born in Gibraltar in 1864; Hannah in 1868 in Woolwich.

Little is known of her upbringing, and she doesn’t obviously appear in any censuses until 1901 when the three sisters were living at 188 Malpass Road in Brockley, the two elder sisters who were both listed as teachers, Caroline listed as a ‘housekeeper’ in the census return.

Caroline was one of the joint secretaries of the Lewisham WSPU, which was set up in 1907 (1).

She was arrested as part of a deputation to see Herbert Asquith, the then Prime Minister, on February 24 1909.  The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had attempted to set up a meeting with Asquith – Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence informed him on February 23 1909 that a delegation would be visiting him at the House of Commons the following evening to ask for votes for women to be included in the legislative programme for that session.  A terse reply noted that Asquith had nothing to add to previous statements and that, in any case, he would not be at The Commons that evening (2).

There was a large meeting at Caxton Hall in Westminster on February 24 addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst to protest against the Liberal Government’s failure to include women’s suffrage in the King’s Speech.  A resolution was passed calling for votes for women on the same basis as men. It was agreed to send a deputation, led by Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence to convey the resolution to Asquith. The 40 women in the deputation seem to have included Caroline Townsend (3).

The police would allow anything resembling a march so the women walked in pairs to Parliament.  The women walked to the ‘strangers’ entrance to the House of Commons.  They were followed by a fairly hostile crowd, their way was barred by around 40 police – the women went through the ‘futile formality’ (4) of asking to see their MPs before attempting to break through the police lines ‘threw themselves at solid lines of constables which not thrice the number of fighting men could have hoped to dislodge from their vantage point.’  (5)

Pethwick Lawrence and ‘the leaders’ were arrested, a total of 27 women and one man, and charged with obstruction.  This included Caroline Townsend whose address was reported as 188 Malpass Road. All were bailed upon a surety from the wealthy Pethwick Lawrence (6)

The following day all 28 appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court, in front of the same magistrate that had heard cases involving Eugenia Bouvier, Sir Albert de Rutzen.  Pethwick Lawrence addressed the magistrate at length, but there was little sympathy from him ‘it is regretted that educated ladies should disgrace themselves in this way by contravening law and order.’ (7)

All of the defendants refused to be bound over and most were required to find sureties of £10 or a month in prison.  All the women were sent to Holloway Prison (8).

Caroline received frequent mentions in ‘Suffragette’ newspaper in 1910s, mainly in role as secretary but there were mentions of speeches too (9). It was noted in an interview with her in a ‘Suffrage Annual’ that she “particularly enjoyed ‘out-door work’ – speaking, paper selling, poster parading.”  (10) Whilst these may not be the most glamourous roles they are the things that all political groups need at the local level – making the cause visible and raising its profile with local people.

The photo of the banner shows Caroline on the front row Olive Llewhellin, who lived at 114 Burnt Ash Hill, behind her is Clara Lambert (who briefly lived in Glenfarg Road in Catford) – Running Past will no doubt cover both of these women over the next few months.  The fourth woman in the photograph which is part of the collection of the Museum of London (on a creative commons) is a Miss Warwick.

By the time that the 1911 census enumerators called the sisters were living at 27 Murillo Road in Lee.  The house had been built in the last few years of the 19th century after the demolition of a large house, The Firs, in 1893 following the death of its last owner John Wingfield Larking.  Many suffragettes used the census to protest against the lack of women’s suffrage; this included Caroline and her sister, Hannah, who was also an active suffragette – only Annie was listed in the census at 27 in 1911.

Hannah was a teacher and a founder and member of the Women Teachers Franchise Union (11) who campaigned for equal pay as well as suffrage. Both sisters were members of the Women’s Suffrage Club which was based at 1 Lewis Grove in Lewisham and served as the headquarters for the local WSPU branch (12)

The Pankhursts set up the Women’s Party in October 1917 and Caroline Townsend  became the ‘Election Organiser’ in Lewisham (13). The party advocated numerous policies that promoted equality for women including equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights and raising the age of consent. The Party also campaigned for maternity and infant care, which would be subsidised by parents according to their income, beyond this their views were relatively conservative – pro Empire, pro-Union and anti-Bolshevik.

They held regular public meetings in the market – with Caroline speaking at several (14). There was no active input into the December 1918 election though as effectively there wasn’t a contest in either of the Lewisham constituencies, with both seats seeing Conservative & Unionist candidates elected unopposed with ‘Coalition Coupons’.

It seems that the sisters moved to Surrey Hannah and Caroline were living at  Gravel Pits Farm, in Gomshall, near Guildford by the time the 1939 Register was compiled.  Caroline died in the same district two years later.

Notes

  1. Elizabeth Crawford (1998) The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 p689
  2. The Times, Wednesday February 24 1909
  3. The Times, Thursday February 25, 1909
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. The Times, Friday February 26, 1909
  8. ibid
  9. The Suffragette (London) 21 November 1913
  10. Crawford, op cit p 689
  11. ibid
  12. ibid
  13. Britannia (Official Organ of the Women’s Party) 18 October 1918
  14. ibid

Census & related information come via Find My Past

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