Discovering Brighton’s Suffragettes

Last Friday, I went on a walking tour in Brighton about the city’s suffragettes. Organised by Dr. Louise Fitzgerald of the University of Brighton, the tour was given by Karen Antoni, a historian and actress. I have written about protest in my home town before, but I still have a lot to learn, so I was keen to go along and find out more. The event was organised to coincide with the release of the film Suffragette (which I still haven’t seen- I want to see it with my Mum, who is hard of hearing, and subtitled film showings are in woefully short supply!) and The Time is Now Campaign, a series of events focused around film exploring the role women play in affecting change.

Historian and actress Karen Antoni led a wonderful walking tour about Brighton's suffragettes (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Historian and actress Karen Antoni led a wonderful walking tour about Brighton’s suffragettes (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

With Brighton’s reputation as a cosmpolitan and contentious city, it is no surprise that Brightonians were no strangers to the campaign for women’s suffrage. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) set up a local branch in 1907, and many of the organisation’s most well known members, such as Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, and Emily Wilding Davison, came to visit the city. The tour started in Pavilion Gardens, which is bordered by the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Dome, both of which were used for meetings which the WSPU hosted, and tried to disrupt. We learnt the lyrics to a popular suffragette song, which adapted the well-known Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory/The Battle Song of the Republic, and sung the song as we travelled around the city. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of singing an empowering song in the middle of the street with over 50 other people, even if we did get a few funny looks!

Glory glory hallelujah, glory glory hallelujah,

Glory, glory hallelujah,

And the cause goes marching on!

Rise up women for the fight is hard and long,

Rise in thousands singing loud a battle song,

Right is might and in its strength we shall be strong,

And the cause goes marching on!

Suffragette song, sung to the tune of Glory glory hallelujah. If the religious reference puts you off, you can always replace ‘hallelujah’ with ‘revolution’, although most of those campaigning for female suffrage would probably not have approved!

Karen Antoni outside the Brighton Dome. Two suffragettes, Eva Bourne and Mary Leigh, once tried to sneak into a meeting by hiding in the organ overnight. They were discovered because the organ was so dusty that it made them sneeze (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Karen Antoni outside the Brighton Dome. Two suffragettes, Eva Bourne and Mary Leigh, once tried to sneak into a meeting where Henry Asquith was speaking by hiding in the organ the night before. They were discovered because the organ was so dusty that it made them sneeze (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The next stop on the tour was the intersection of North Street and West Street/Queen’s Road (the Clock Tower). This is where the headquarters of the Brighton WSPU branch was located, above the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The building is still there, although the ground floor is taken up by more contemporary chain stores now. Just around the corner on Queen Square used to stand a church where a suffragette-themed wedding was held; the wedding vows were adapted accordingly (the wedding was still between a man and a woman, the suffragettes weren’t that radical!)

Selling copies of The Suffragette outside the WSPU Brighton headquarters (Photo: Getty Images).

Selling copies of The Suffragette outside the WSPU Brighton headquarters in 1914 (Photo: Getty Images).

The next stop was Victoria Road, a short walk from the town centre. Number 13/14 used to be a boarding house called Sea View, run by local suffragette Minnie Turner. By 1913 Minnie’s guest house had a reputation for hosting suffragettes, and in April her windows were stoned by disgruntled locals. Minnie was arrested 3 times for her suffragette activities, and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for 3 weeks in 1911 for breaking a window at the Home Office. In July 1912 Emily Wilding Davison stayed at Sea View whilst recovering from being on hunger strike in prison. The tour finished outside Churchill Square, the city’s main shopping centre, where we had one final sing song.

Minnie Turner's House in Victoria Road, Brighton. The current resident's are aware of the their home's proud past (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Minnie Turner’s House in Victoria Road, Brighton. The current residents are aware of the their home’s proud past (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have always thought that walking tours are a fantastic way of communicating and engaging with historical research, and this Brighton Suffragette walking tour is no exception. It is informed by 7 years of research- many hours spent trawling though local newspapers and the collections of the Brighton Museum. It is wonderful research, and it is so important that it is accessible to all, academic or otherwise. Walking tours are just one of the many ways to disseminate historical research, but they are a very good one.

I couldn't resist the opportunity to wear a suffragette sash (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wear a suffragette sash (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

A campaign is being started to try and get some blue plaques put up around Brighton honouring the city’s suffragettes. To join the campaign or find out more, check out the Facebook group here.

Sources and Further Reading

Dyhouse, Carol. “Minnie Turner’s “Suffragette Boarding House,”” Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance. Last updated ….accessed on 26/10/15. Available at http://www.cmpcaonline.org.uk/page_id__85_path__0p36p21p55p.aspx

Kisby, Anna. “Found! Suffragettes Hiding in the Brighton Dome.” Brighton Museums. Last updated 11th March 2011, accessed 26th October 2015. Available at http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2011/03/08/found-suffragettes-hiding-in-the-brighton-dome/

Simkin, John. “Minnie Turner.” Spartacus Educational. Last updated August 2014, accessed 26th October 2015. Available at: http://spartacus-educational.com/WturnerM.htm

Book Review: ‘London-A Short History’

London- A Short History Book CoverWilson, A.N. London: A Short History. London: Phoenix, 2005.

An architectural tour of London is… so much more than merely and aesthetic experience. It is a personal encounter with Londoners of the past. Every district of London…is haunted by memories. The past and the present are always blended here.
(Wilson, 2005; p.146)

When I saw London-A Short History on the shelf in the bookshop, I had to buy it. The book is slim, and smaller than A5, and I had to see how the entire 2,000+ year history of London could possibly fit within it. A.N. Wilson takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the metropolis’ past, with an emphasis on the city’s architecture. I personally find his disdain for modern London hard to forgive, but nonetheless Wilson does a satisfactory job of fitting London’s vast history into just 166 small pages.

Perhaps the book’s most distinguishing feature is its brevity. Wilson’s account necessarily sticks to the most significant events in London’s history, and to say he is brief is putting it mildly; he spends just five pages on Tudor and Stuart London, for example. A disproportionate amount of pages are devoted to the city’s recent past, the last 100 years takes up around half the book. Each chapter is structured in a similar way, with a description of social, cultural and economic factors before turning to the architecture of the relevant period. Wilson also focuses on the great men (and they are overwhelmingly male) that he feels shaped London and the way it is perceived; Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, John Nash and Winston Churchill amongst others.

Look down upon London, as we did at the beginning of this chapter, from Hampstead Heath and a great splurge of needlessly dreary buildings spreads itself at your feet: hospitals, schools, roads, blocks of flats everywhere from the Isle of Dogs to Chiswick, from Hampstead to Sydenham—badly executed, badly designed and ugly, ugly, ugly.
(Wilson, 2005; p.11)

Reading this book, I discovered that I see London in a similar way to a close relative; I’m allowed to complain about it, but nobody else is. As far as Wilson is concerned, London has been going downhill since the end of World War II, ruined by modernist architecture, international capitalism and tourism. Unfortunately this attitude quickly influenced my perceptions of this book and Wilson’s writing. He argues that “much of modern London looks hideous by day, especially by wet day” (Wilson, 2005; p. 138). I don’t pretend to know much about architecture and aesthetics, but I think that is unnecessarily harsh. London does have ugly parts, but what city doesn’t?

Not only does Wilson criticise the city’s looks, he also disdains its people, accusing them of “extraordinary idleness” (Wilson, 2005; p123). He argues Londoners spend their time shopping, eating out, and being entertained. The service industry is significant in London, but Wilson is completely ignoring the workers that staff these shops, restaurants, pubs, clubs, and theatres. Perhaps London isn’t full of stevedores and labourers any more, but the suggestion that Londoners don’t work hard is extremely misleading.

Wilson does have hope for our city. He celebrates the diversity and vibrancy created by generations of immigration, and admires the architecture of the Jubilee Line underground stations. But it’s not enough to redeem him in my eyes. If you can’t face Peter Ackroyd’s epic 822-page London- A Biography, then London-A Short History will do the job. Otherwise, in the view of this London-loving incomer, probably don’t bother.

Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom

Me outside the Museum of London Docklands, contributing to the #museumselfie Twitter hashtag (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Me outside the Museum of London Docklands, contributing to the #museumselfie Twitter hashtag (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom is a temporary exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf, open until Sunday the 1st of November. I went along because not only did Christina Broom photograph the campaign for female suffrage in the early twentieth century, she was also an impressive woman in her own right, as the first female British press photographer. The exhibition is worth checking out if you are interested in photography or social history, as well as the two main topics; Brooms photography of the suffrage movement and the armed forces.

Christina Broom was a small woman, and it must have been difficult to carry her heavy camera and equipment around (Source: Museum of London).

Christina Broom was a small woman, and it must have been difficult to carry her heavy camera and equipment around (Source: Museum of London).

In 1903 at the age of 40, Christina Broom noticed the increasing popularity of postcards, and began photographing local views and events in order to produce her own. Her husband had never fully recovered from an injury acquired during a game of cricket, and she took up photography to provide for her family. For the next four decades Broom hauled her heavy camera and tripod back and forth across London documenting the city and its people. Soldiers and Suffragettes is the first exhibition devoted solely to Broom’s work, and aims to share her story so she can receive some of the appreciation she deserves.

Because of my own interests I was mostly drawn to Broom’s photos of the suffrage movement, but I also found her military photography engaging. Broom was trusted by the soldiers, and she photographed many before they left to take part in the First World War. The photos of soldiers with their families on the platforms at Waterloo Station are particularly moving. The knowledge that this might have been the last time the men ever saw their loved ones is haunting, and the fact that Broom was allowed to capture these significant moments is an indication of how good she was at her job.

Broom photographed soldiers saying goodbye to their friends and family before leaving for the First World War. The pictures are haunting (Source: Museum of London).

Broom photographed soldiers saying goodbye to their friends and family before leaving for the First World War. (Source: Museum of London).

Broom’s pictures of the suffrage campaign are wonderful. She photographed campaigners both famous (including the Pankhursts) and obscure, capturing the sheer number of people involved. It is easy to think that Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst won the vote for women single-handed, but this is far from the case. Broom’s photos depict many of the organisations involved in the campaign, including the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and the Women’s Freedom League, led by the incredible Charlotte Despard.

A photograph of Charlotte Despard taken by Christina Broom (Sources: National Portrait Gallery).

A photograph of Charlotte Despard taken by Christina Broom (Sources: National Portrait Gallery).

The exhibition also highlights the economics of the suffrage campaign. Although a supporter of female suffrage, Broom’s main reason for photographing the movement was financial. Supporters of female suffrage would collect memorabilia, the proceeds of which helped to fund campaigning. The WSPU had their own shops, in which they sold everything from postcards like the ones Broom produced to tea sets designed by Sylvia Pankhurst. The exhibition also includes photos of fairs held by various suffrage groups. One of the purposes of these fairs was to raise money. For example, at the Women’s Exhibition in Knightsbridge in 1909, a replica prison cell was constructed. Visitors were charged 6d to see inside and hear about what life was like for suffragettes in prison. The economics of social movements is something that I think gets frequently overlooked, so it was good to see it so prominent in Soldiers and Suffragettes.

Christina Broom's photograph of a suffragette dressed in a replica prison uniform at the Women's Exhibition in May 1909 (Source: Museum of London).

Christina Broom’s photograph of a suffragette dressed in a replica prison uniform at the Women’s Exhibition in May 1909 (Source: Museum of London).

Soldiers and Suffragettes is an exhibition that appeals on a whole range of levels. I even enjoyed the section about the technology of developing and printing the images- the backlit negatives of Broom’s photos were beautiful, making the Suffragettes look like vibrant ghosts. I would definitely recommend checking it out over the new few weeks before it closes.

Not only was Christina Broom a pioneer, leading the way for other female professional photographers, she was also very talented. Her images are moving and personal, as well as a fantastic record of a dynamic period in London’s history.

Turbulent Londoners: Mary Astell, 1666-1731

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Mary Astell, a philosopher and writer who is considered by many to be England’s first feminist.


The title page of Astell's first publication.

The title page of Astell’s first publication.

Mary Astell was a philosopher and writer from Newcastle whose ability to reason and argue made her a formidable force in intellectual circles in London in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Her advocacy of women’s education and her opinions on marriage has led her to be seen by many as England’s first feminist.

Mary was born in Newcastle on the 12th of November 1666 to an upper middle class family; her father managed a local coal company. Mary’s father died when she was 12, leaving her family with very little income. She received some education from her uncle, who was affiliated with a group of radical philosophers in Cambridge, but she also taught herself by reading widely. After her mother died in 1684, Mary moved to Chelsea in London, where she became acquainted with an influential and wealthy circle of women who helped her to develop and publish her work.

Between 1694 and 1709, Mary published a number of texts on a range of subjects, but she is best known for her arguments relating to women. She used her extensive understanding of philosophical ideas to argue that women were just as rational as men, and therefore just as deserving of education. After withdrawing from public life in 1709, Mary set up a charity school for girls in Chelsea. She devised the curriculum, putting her ideas into practice. Mary Astell died of cancer on the 11th of May 1731, leaving behind a lasting legacy.

The title page of the third edition of Astell's 'Reflections Upon Marriage.'

The title page of the third edition of Astell’s ‘Reflections Upon Marriage.’

Mary’s first publication came out in 1694 and was entitled Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest. In it, she proposes a female-only college, where women learn through reading and discussion, rather than a formal, hierarchical program of study. In Some Reflections Upon Marriage (1700), Mary continues advocating for women. She argues that an education would enable women to make better matrimonial choices, and be better prepared for married life. She warns women against making hasty choices when it came to marriage, and believed marriage should be based on friendship rather than necessity or fleeting attraction.

Mary’s ideas were groundbreaking for more than just their content. The way that she used philosophical ideas to support her arguments was unique, and she addressed women directly in her writing- talking to them, not about them. Her arguments disputed the Protestant belief, dominant at the time, that reason and emotion should be separate; for Mary, knowledge was intimately connected to happiness. Linked to this, one of the most frequent criticisms levelled against Mary’s ideas was that they were ‘too Catholic’; her plan for an all-female college sounded too much like a nunnery to be accepted by mainstream society. Mary’s ideas about women’s education caused substantial debate, and she was widely respected for her ability to debate freely and confidently with both men and women, but she did not receive widespread support.

“If all Men are born free, how is it that all Women are born slaves?”

Astell, Some Reflections Upon Marriage

The above quote is probably Mary Astell’s most famous, and it is easy to see why. This was a truly radical sentiment in the early eighteenth century. Not only did she express these radical ideas, Mary could support them with reasoned, rational, philosophical arguments. And she did all this at a time when there were few historical campaigners for women’s rights from which she could take inspiration and hope. As one of England’s first feminists she deserves to be remembered and celebrated, but she can also be for contemporary campaigners something she herself didn’t have- a role model.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. ‘Astell, Mary.’ Encyclopaedia.com. Last modified 2005, accessed 28th July 2015.  http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Mary_Astell.aspx

Anon. ‘Mary Astell.’ Wikipedia. Last modified 19th May 2015, accessed 28th July 2015.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Astell

Manzanedo, Julia Cabaleiro. ‘The Love of Knowledge: Mary Astell.’ Women’s Research Centre, University of Barcelona. Last modified 2004, accessed 28th July 2015.  http://www.ub.edu/duoda/diferencia/html/en/secundario2.html

Sowaal, Alice. ‘Mary Astell.’ Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Last modified 12th August 2008, accessed 28th July 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/astell/

Following the Chartists around London

Last Monday, I took part in an event organised by Dr. Katrina Navickas of the University of Hertfordshire and British Library Labs called Following the Chartists around London. Dr. Navickas won a competition run by the Labs to develop a project that makes use of the British Library’s digital resources. As a result she is currently working on the Political Meetings Mapper, a project mapping all of the Chartist meetings listed in the Northern Star, one of the most popular Chartist newspapers. The Following the Chartists event was part of this project.

Katrina Navickas, in full Chartist costume, introduces her Political Meetings Mapper project.

Dr. Katrina Navickas, in full Chartist costume, introduces her Political Meetings Mapper project.

The afternoon began with lunch and a series of talks. Mahendra Mahey, manager of the British Library Labs project, introduced the British Library Labs and their work. Dr. Navickas explained the Political Meetings Mapper and gave a brief history of the Chartists. Dr. Matthew Sangster (Birmingham University) talked about his website romanticlondon.org, which uses contemporary maps and representations to explore romantic-era London. Finally, Professor Ian Haywood (Roehampton University) discussed the visual representations of ‘monster’ meetings- large, outdoor political meetings. The Chartists used this tactic frequently. We then embarked on a rather damp walking tour of Bloomsbury and Soho, visiting the sites of Chartist meeting places. In some cases, the pubs are still there, in others they have become stationary shops, or the building sadly no longer exists. The tour ended at the Red Lion in Kingly Street in Soho, which hosted meetings of both the Chartists and the London Corresponding Society.

Following the Chartists around London walking tour route (Source: Katrina Navickas).

Following the Chartists around London walking tour route (Source: Katrina Navickas).

We weren't about to let a little bit of rain stop us!

We weren’t about to let a little bit of rain stop us!

At the Red Lion we re-enacted a Chartist meeting that took place in December 1838. This is where I came in; I played the roles of a female Chartist of St. Pancras/ Mr. Cardo, who proposed the following resolution:

This is the most important crisis that has existed for the working classes. At the present moment we possess a power most mighty in its operation, one that is to be viewed by us with the highest feelings of delight and by our enemies with dread and alarm (Cheers.) … the Radicals are determined to be staunch to a man, and the people united will carry the day.

RESOLUTION: That this meeting considers a perfect union among all the Radicals absolutely necessary for the accomplishment of Universal Suffrage.

A recent Chartist conference in Edinburgh had proved devisive, and there was a sense that all the various groups and factions needed to get back on the same track, quickly. Only with a united front could universal (male) suffrage be won. Mr. Cardo’s motion was passed unanimously by our meeting.

Me, Samantha Walkden and Alexandrina Buchanan, some of the volunteer Chartists.

Me, Samantha Walkden and Alexandrina Buchanan, some of the volunteer Chartists.

The whole afternoon was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed wearing a bonnet and apron, even if we did get some funny looks as we wandered around London. The talks highlighted the potential of digital research methods in relation to archives. Around 2% of the British Library’s collections have been digitised, which may not sound like a lot, but considering the Library holds well over 150 million items, it is a huge amount. Dr. Navickas has used computer programmes to transcribe newspaper articles, date meetings, and create maps that begin to interpret the data. The transcription software still needs a human to check its results, and all of this could have been done by hand, but it would have taken an awful lot longer. When it is finished, I think the Political Meetings Mapper will be a valuable tool for academics, students, and the simply curious; a resource which others can use to develop our understanding of the Chartist movement.The walking tour and re-enactment demonstrated how the Political Meetings Mapper could be used.

The British Library Labs project is doing valuable work raising awareness and promoting engagement with the Library’s digital collections. I learnt a lot about the possibilities of digital research methods, and would love to try and work it into my own work somehow!

If you want to do the walking tour yourself, see Dr. Navickas’ guide here.