Tag Archives: WSPU

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
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Clara Lambert – A Militant Catford Suffragette

Running Past has covered several of the leading members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Lewisham and Blackheath – May Billinghurst, Caroline Townsend, Eugenia Bouvier as well as the locally born Emily Wilding Davison.  Another of the prominent local militant suffragettes was Clara Lambert who lived at 174 Glenfarg Road on the Corbett Estate in Catford.  Clara went by a number of aliases too – Catherine Wilson and May Stewart.

Clara came from a very different background to many of the other active suffragettes – she was working class, having worked as a seamstress and in the family laundrette.  Many of the local ones such as Eugenia Bouvier and May Billinghurst, were from much wealthier backgrounds – reflecting Lewisham’s then position in the newly developing south London suburbia.

Clara joined the WSPU in 1903, around the time that it formed.  While her address in arrests is usually given in Catford, she was certainly involved with the setting up of the WSPU branch in Walthamstow in 1910. 

Clara was one of 300 suffragettes who met at Caxton Hall in November 1910 on what became known as ‘Black Friday’ and then marched to Parliament to attempt to lobby Asquith.  There was considerable brutality from the police and hostile bystanders, including sexual assaults.

It was noted in ‘The Vote’ that women were ‘thrown down, cuffed, pushed, gripped, pinched, battered, bruised, thrown back again and again by police and rowdies.’ ‘Arrest followed arrest’ with those arrested including Clara Lambert (1).

115 women, along with four men, were detained on Black Friday, but the following morning Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, dropped all charges on the grounds of public policy ‘on this occasion no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution.’

In March 1912 the WSPU started a programme of window smashing, described in one syndicated paper as an ‘exceptionally malignant attack…. (with) wild scenes in London.’ (2) The sheer scale of the attacks one weekend overwhelmed the police in central London; this related both to the numbers of angry shop and business owners all wanting to press charges as well as noisy suffragettes who kept up a barrage of chants of “Votes for Women”‘ which echoed around the police stations of the centre of the capital.  Clara along with many of the others had her bail surety given by Frederick Pethwick Lawrence.

The case was heard a few days later and Clara pleaded guilty (3)  to smashing the windows of 5, 6 and 9 The Strand (4), close to Charing Cross, with a hammer.  The businesses were Joshua Turner, a hat and cap make; Samuel Smith and Son, speed indicator makers and the London and South Western Railway booking office.  She refused to give an undertaking to be bound over to keep the peace, so was sentenced to 4 months in prison (5).

Her parting shot after being sentenced was that “I shall come out of Holloway more determined than ever.”  (6)

Clara actually ended up at Aylesbury Prison, along with several others sentenced at the same time.  She was released on 15 June and greeted at 10:26 arrival on that day at Marylebone Station by a crowd of suffragette well-wishers (7).

While the spell in Aylesbury Prison was the first for Clara, it wasn’t her last.  She was again arrested in late January 1913 after another bout of window smashing – on this occasion it was the windows of the Hamburg American Line in Cockspur Street off Trafalgar Square.  She was arrested with Olive Llewhellin who lived in Burnt Ash Hill in Lee – both were remanded in custody, although Olive Llewhellin was later discharged (8).  Clara is top left and Olive bottom right on the photograph below (see picture credits).

She was committed for trial for ‘wilful damage’ in mid-February 1913 (9) before being tried in front of an all-male jury – women were not allowed to serve on juries until 1919.

She expected little sympathy from the jury “I have not come to appeal to your intelligence because I have come to the conclusion that men do not have any.” Clara was sentenced to six months imprisonment which was described as being ‘vindictive’ in ‘The Suffragette’ (11).  On hearing the sentence she told the court (12):

I shall not accept imprisonment under any circumstances. I shall do the hunger strike, and if it means my life to save the lives of thousands of other women, it must be so.

She was probably released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ which came into force mid-way through her sentence.  There had been considerable public disquiet about hunger strikers being force-fed by the prison staff, the act allowed prisoners to be released on licence as soon as the hunger strike affected their health. Woman were allowed a predetermined period of time in which to recover after which they were rearrested and taken back to prison to serve out the rest of their sentence.

On 16 March 1914, she entered the House of Commons in male clothing with a male companion and made her way to the Central Lobby, presumably the security in the early 20th century was less tight than the airport style checks for current visitors.  It seems that the police based in Parliament had been warned by Special Branch ‘to be on the alert to detect a woman who dressed as a man.’  She was noticed by a Constable on entering the Commons and followed to the Central Lobby and when she sat down she was then arrested.  When searched she was found to have a riding whip hidden in her left overcoat sleeve.  She was charged under the Vagrancy Act with being a suspected person found in an enclosed area; she was said to have replied to the police when charged, “If I had carried out my purpose they would have had it hot.”  She was subsequently sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour.

The whip has used by several militant suffragettes – notably by Helen Ogston at the Royal Albert Hall when she attacked those attempting to remove her after a protest against Lloyd George there.

Clara was again released early under the Cat and Mouse Act.  Her next arrest seems to have been in early April 1914 for smashing a number of glass cases and a porcelain saucer in the Asiatic section at the British Museum with a butcher’s cleaver. Clara was thought to have smuggled in the cleaver under her skirt.

The case appears to have been heard under her alias, Mary Stewart (13), at Bow Street Magistrates Court, where she was described as being ‘in a very excited manner began to shout and declaim’ to the magistrate, refusing to recognise the authority of the court.  Her hearing was adjourned for a few hours but but when she returned she was ‘disorderly and continued speaking loudly’ while two officers held her firmly in the dock.

Presumably she was bailed and absconded because on 24 April 1914, Scotland Yard circulated a memorandum to all police stations in the country featuring a Special Branch surveillance photograph (below – see picture credits) her giving her details: she was five feet one inch tall, had a sallow complexion, brown hair and grey eyes – along with a surveillance photograph.   She wasn’t on the run long and was arrested and sentenced to six weeks hard labour.

There were a couple of other incidents which were noted in the records of her friend Violet Croxford – Clara apparently planned to attack the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, at Waterloo Station on his way to a wedding with a whip that she had concealed.  She missed him there, followed him to the wedding and took a taxi to the venue, but again missed him but set fire to a haystack instead.

She claimed responsibility for throwing an over-ripe tomato which hit Public Prosecutor, Mr Archibald Bodkin, during the trial at the Old Bailey for arson of fellow WPSU member, Rachel Peace in 1913 (14); she was arrested and held until court rose.

So who was Clara Lambert?  She had been born in or around West Ham in 1875; certainly that is where her birth seems to have been registered, although in censuses she was variously reported as being from Walthamstow, Hackney and London (Middlesex).  It was a family that had moved around a lot her parents (George and Elizabeth) were living in Bethnal Green in 1871 with 4 children.  The eldest of those seems to have died by 1881, but there were still 9 children (all of school age) of which Clara was the 5th oldest at the home in Hackney.  George was listed as a ‘Coffee Tavern Manager’ which seemed to be the only income coming into the home which was shared with another couple.

By 1891 the family had moved south of the river and were now in Plough Road, Rotherhithe – there had been another child in the intervening decade although the older of Clara’s twin sisters was no longer there.  George was now a ‘Book Keeper in the Iron Trade’ and the older children were all working – including Clara who at 16 was listed as a dressmaker and her two remaining older sisters who were both listed as laundresses.  By 1901 the involvement in the laundry trade seemed to have increased with George listed as a laundryman, Clara and her youngest sister, Edith, were collar dressers, presumably linked to the laundry trade, and the oldest sister at home, a shirt dresser.

Whether George’s involvement with the laundry is as worker, manager or owner isn’t clear.  However, by the 1906 Kelly’s Directory some, or all, of the family had moved to Glenfarg Road and Arthur Lambert, one of the son, was listed as a laundry proprietor – the location of the business was listed as Glenfarg Road although this seem unlikely in a small terraced house.  This was the just built suburbia of the Corbett Estate, and while not one of the biggest houses, was a step up from where the family had been living before, and suggested that the family laundry business was doing well.

The 1911 saw many suffragettes evading being returned in the census.  At Glenfarg Road only two of Clara’s brothers, Arthur and Frank, and a sister Jane were listed.  It is almost certain that Clara was living there – court reports from before and after list her in Catford.  It may be that here mother and other sisters were ‘evaders’ too.  The family seems to have moved on by the time the First World War finished as the business wasn’t listed in Glenfarg Road in the 1919 Kelly’s Directory.

During World War 1 Clara somewhat surprisingly joined the Women’s Police Service (WPS) where she seems done social work type activities in South Wales.  She continued to campaign for votes for women after the War – speaking at a “well attended meeting” in Lewisham Market in June 1918 (15).

She met Violet Croxford in the WPS and the pair of them continued with similar work in London’s West End with Dick Sheppard and later set up a women’s refuge in Kent.  In the 1939 Register, they were living in South Road, Hythe, and both listed as ‘Boarding House Proprietress.’  They retired and moved to Farncombe, Surrey in 1953, where Clara lived until her death in 1969; Violet lived until 1985.

Notes

  1. 26 November 1910 -The Vote
  2. 2 March 1912 – Shields Daily News
  3. 14 March 1912 – Shields Daily News
  4. 8 March 1912 – Votes for Women
  5. 14 March 1912 – Staffordshire Sentinel
  6. 14 March 1912 – London Daily News
  7. 14 June 1912 – Votes for Women
  8. 31 January 1913 The Suffragette
  9. 14 February 1913 The Suffragette
  10. 22 February 1913 – Leeds Mercury
  11. 28 February 1913 – The Suffragette
  12. Ibid
  13. 11 April 1914 – Manchester Evening News
  14. Monday, Nov 17, 1913 – The Times
  15. 28 June 1918 Britannia

Picture credits

Census & related information come via Find My Past