Turbulent Londoners: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, 1827-1891

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. 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. Today I’m looking at Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, a feminist and campaigner for women’s rights.


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Barbara Leigh Smith Bodicon (Source: University of North Carolina).

Barbara Leigh Smith was born on the 8th of April 1827, the oldest of 5 children. Her mother was Anne Longden, a milliner, and her father was Ben Leigh Smith, a radical Whig politician. Barbara’s parents never married, but lived openly together, so she must have been used to controversy from a young age. Ben Leigh Smith held radical political views, despite being a member of the landed gentry. He treated all five of his children the same; he gave each of them £300 a year when they turned 21. It was highly unusual to for women to be treated this way. Like Elisabeth Jesser Reid, Barbara’s wealth gave her independence, a rare condition for single women at the time.

Barbara used her wealth to start a progressive school in London, researching other schools in London when deciding how to set it up. Later in life she co-founded Girton College in Cambridge, the first residential college for women that offered education to degree level. She gave generously to the college, in terms of both time and money. Her primary concern, however, was women’s rights. She was a member of one of the first organised women’s movements, known as The Ladies of Langham Place. They were a group of women who met regularly during the 1850s at no. 19 Langham Place to discuss women’s rights. They campaigned on many issues, including the property rights of married women. Langham Place served as sort of gentlemen’s club for women; it had a reading room, coffee shop, and meeting room. In 1858 it also became the base of the English Women’s Journal. Barbara set up the monthly periodical  for the discussion of women’s employment and equality, such as expanding employment opportunities and legal rights.

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A portrait of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon by Samuel Laurence (Source: ArtUK).

As well as a campaigner and publisher, Barbara was also an author. In 1854 she published Brief Summary of the Laws of England Concerning Women, and in 1858 she wrote Women and Work, in which she argued that women’s dependence on their husbands was degrading. She practiced what she preached too; as a young woman she fell in love with John Chapman, the editor of the Westminster Review. She refused to marry Chapman because of her views on the legal position of married women. Barbara did marry eventually however, to French physician Dr. Eugene Bodichon in 1857. This is also the year that the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed. The Act protected the property rights of divorced women, and allowed divorce through the courts rather than by an act of Parliament, which was a slow and expensive process. Barbara had testified to a House of Commons committee looking into the legal position of married women, which led to the Act.

Married life did not mellow Barbara, however. Although she started spending the winter in Algiers, she continued to take an active role in women’s rights campaigns. In 1866 she founded the first ever group asking for women’s suffrage. The Women’s Suffrage Committee organised a petition, which was presented to the House of Commons by John Stuart Mill.

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon was a strong character, sympathetic to many causes. Her primary cause, however, was women’s rights, and she used the full range of skills and opportunities available to her to advance this cause. Her efforts had very real effects, particularly in relation to married women.

Sources and Further Reading

Girton College. “Girton’s Past.”No date, accessed 8 December 2016. Available at  https://www.girton.cam.ac.uk/girtons-past

Simkin, John. “Barbara Bodichon.” Spartacus Educational. No date, accessed 8 December 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbodichon.htm

Wikipedia, “Barbara Bodichon.” Last modified 1 December 2016, accessed 8 December 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Bodichon

Protest Stickers: Egham

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Founders building on the Royal Holloway, University of London campus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Generally, protest stickers tend to be found in large towns and cities rather than smaller towns and villages. There are some exceptions however, such as Egham, a small town in suburban Surrey. It is the location of Royal Holloway, the University of London college at which I have been studying for the last seven years. Students have historically been associated with radical politics, and student politics has experienced a resurgence since the campaign against the increase in English university tuition fees in 2010.

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In recent years, there has been a backlash against the commodification of university education. For some, the focus of contemporary university programmes is too much on developing productive employees rather than education for the sake of education. This sticker is a reflection of this opinion, alluding to the university as a factory, churning out workers to keep the economy going (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway campus, 26/11/15).

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The recent EU referendum permeated almost every aspect of British life. The position of students and academics from the EU, vital to the health of the British academic system, is uncertain in post-Brexit Britain. The National Union of Students (NUS) campaigned for a Remain vote (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 08/06/16).

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Most of the stickers I’ve come across in Egham are not directly related to student politics. This sticker is also advocating a Remain vote in the EU referendum, but it is a generic sticker that I have seen elsewhere, such as London and Brighton (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 08/06/16).

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Some stickers become so weathered that it can be difficult to see their original message. It is possible to make out two clasped hands however, which a common visual symbol of solidarity. If I had to guess, I would say that the words read ‘Solidarity Forever’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham High Street, 24/02/16).

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ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) is a common way of expressing discontent with the police in Britain. This sticker demonstrates that the phrase is also recognised in other countries, in this case Germany. ‘Acht Cola Acht Bier’ (which means eight cokes and eight beers) is apparently a common method in Germany of disguising ACAB as a drinks order (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham High Street, 24/02/16).

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This sticker is also in German. The texts beneath the symbols of the five major world religions translates to ‘Do not be afraid of each other,’ an admirable sentiment (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 01/02/16).

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This sticker, which is located near the library on the Royal Holloway Campus, looks as if attempts have been made to deliberately scratch it off. It is difficult to judge the motivation of people who deface protest stickers; this could have been done by students on a cigarette break, or by someone who opposes the sticker’s message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 01/02/16).

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This sticker was produced by the 161 Crew, a Polish Anti-fascist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham Hill, 01/02/16).

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Anti-fascist groups are some of the most prolific stickerers I have ever come across. When localised groups travel, they often put stickers up in the place that they travel to. I assume that is what happened here (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Egham Hill, 01/02/16).

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There are over 100 student Amnesty International groups in the UK, so they are a familiar presence on many university campuses (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Holloway Campus, 14/01/16).

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M31 was an event that took place in 2012, so this sticker is at least 4 years old. Not many stickers achieve this kind of longevity (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/02/16).

Book Review: Attack on London- Disaster, Rebellion, Riot, Terror and War

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Attack on London by Jonathan Oates

Jonathan Oates. Attack on London: Disaster, Rebellion, Riot, Terror and War. Barnsley: Wharncliffe Local History, 2009. £19.99.

Out of all the high street chains of bookstores, I have a particular fondness for The Works. If you’ve never come across one before, it’s a sort of outlet store for books and stationary, and I can rarely resist having a browse when I walk past one. I have found numerous bargains in there over the years, including Attack on London by Jonathan Oates.

Dr. Jonathan Oates is the Ealing Borough Archivist and Local History Librarian, but he has also published numerous books on London’s history, particularly its more criminal elements. In Attack on London Oates, inspired by the 7/7 bombings, traces how Londoners have reacted to tragedy, shock, and trauma. Starting with the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, Oates documents some of the most severe hardships faced by London, including the Great Plague (1665-1666), the Gordon Riots (1780), the Clerkenwell Outrage (1867), Bloody Sunday (1887), aerial bombing during both World Wars, IRA bombings during the 1970s, and the 7/7 bombings in 2005. Oates concludes by arguing that such dramatic events bring out both the best and the worst of Londoners; there has been resilience, bravery, and unity, but also looting and xenophobia.

If you are familiar with London’s history, then there probably isn’t much in Attack on London that will be new to you, although I was surprised to learn about the extent of aerial bombing on the capital during the First World War. However, the way the which Londoners reacted to these well-known events is a new angle, which brings together disparate events such as riot, war, disease, and fire in an interesting way. Oates’ referencing style is not very detailed, so it is difficult to identify the exact sources of his work, but it seems to be a well-researched book.

There are some elements of Attack on London that feel a little ‘amateur’. For example, each chapter ends with a conclusion identified as such with a subheading. This feels a little out of place in a history book aimed at a popular audience. Also, one of the photos reproduced in the book, of a plaque commemorating the deaths of 77 people in an air raid bombing in Southwark in October 1940, is blurry. I know I’m being picky, but little things like these combine to give a general impression of not-quite-finishedness that could have been so easily avoided. In addition, the book commits one of my biggest personal faux pas; putting all of the images on a few glossy pages in the middle of the book, and not referring to them in the main text. I know that lots of books have their images arranged in such a way, I guess it is an effective or cost-efficient way of illustrating books. I can understand that, although I would prefer to have the images close to the relevant text. However, when the author does not refer to the images in the text, then they become almost pointless, as they do not serve to back up or illustrate a particular point. Attack on London is by no means the only book that does this, but it winds me up nonetheless.

Because I found Attack on London in a bargain bookshop, it cost me quite a bit less than the £19.99 recommended retail price, which is a bit steep, in my opinion, for what you get. Nevertheless, it is an easy-to-read, engaging reflection on the best and the worst facets of Londoners.

 

Turbulent Londoners: Jane Cobden, 1851-1947

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. 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. My next Turbulent Londoner is Jane Cobden, one of the first women to be elected to the London County Council.


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A portrait of Jane Cobden by the artist Sidney Starr.

Fans of Victorian crime drama Ripper Street might recognise Jane Cobden from series 2 and 3. Played by Leanne Best, Cobden was a strong, opinionated London County Councillor, more than a match for love interest Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. But how does the character match up to the real Jane Cobden?

Born Emma Jane Catherine Cobden on the 28th of April 1851 in Westbourne Terrace, London, Jane was the fourth of sixth children of the well-known reformer and politician Richard Cobden. She devoted her life to campaigning for women’s rights and protecting and developing her father’s legacy- she was committed to the’Cobdenite’ issues of land reform, peace and social justice.

In 1869 Jane moved to South Kensington with her sisters Ellen, Anne and Kate, also dedicated activists. Jane was active on the radical wing of the Liberal Party, and became increasingly committed to the cause of women’s suffrage over the 1870s. In 1871, she attended the Women’s Suffrage Conference in London with her sister Anne. In about 1879 she joined the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, and by the following year she was the organisation’s Treasurer.

The National Society was cautious, avoiding close association with political parties and excluding married women from their demand for the vote. This was too conservative for some, and the Central National Society broke away in 1888. In 1889 this group split again, and the Women’s Franchise League (WFL) was formed, including Cobden and Emmeline Pankhurst. The WFL’s aims were more radical- they wanted votes for women on the same basis as men, and women to be eligible for all political offices. Jane was politically pragmatic as well as ambitious, however. She disagreed with the mainstream Liberal Party’s stance on many issues, but remained a member because she believed it was the best way to advance her causes.

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A photo of Jane Cobden taken in the 1890s, by Fradelle and Young (Photo: National Portrait Gallery).

In the late 1880s, no one was sure whether women could serve as councillors or not; the law was unclear. In November 1888, the Society for Promoting the Return of Women as County Councillors (SPRWCC) was set up to test the law. This catchily-named organisation set up a £400 election fund and choose two women to stand as Liberal candidates for the newly established London County Council. Jane stood in Bromley and Bow, and Margaret Sandhurst stood in Brixton. Jane campaigned on a variety of issues, including opposition the tax on coal, better housing for the poor, “fair” wages, and opposition to sweat shops. Both women won, but their positions were not secure; there were many who opposed their election and tried to overturn the results. Sandhurst’s election was challenged by the man she defeated, and her election was declared invalid. Jane was supported by her runner-up, who was also a member of the Liberal Party. However, a judge eventually ruled that Jane’s election was unlawful, and therefore so were her votes in the council. She quietly served the rest of her term, and did not stand for reelection. It wasn’t until the Qualification of Women Act in 1907 that women legally gained the right to sit on county councils; Cobden was truly a woman before her time.

In 1892, aged 41, Jane married Thomas Fisher Unwin, a publisher. Encouraged by him, Jane expanded her interests to include international peace and justice, and rights of aboriginal people around the world. The couple strongly opposed the Boer War. In 1893, Jane represented the WFL at the World Congress of Representative Women in Chicago.

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Jane Cobden as portrayed by Leanne Best in BBC/Amazon drama Ripper Street (Photo: BBC).

As the campaign for women’s suffrage gained pace after 1900, Jane chose not to participate in the illegal activities of the WSPU, but she fiercely defended her sister, Anne, when she was imprisoned for a month in October 1906. She organised the Indian women’s delegation in the Women’s Coronation Procession on the 17th of June 1911, a few days before the coronation of George V. Cobden never gave up on a political solution to women’s suffrage. The Conciliation Bills of 1910-12 would have given a small number of propertied women the vote. Cobden asked the Irish Parliamentary Party to support the doomed bills, because of the support that women had given to the Land League campaign in England. She also continued to campaign for other causes she cared about during this time, publishing two books on the subject of land reform: The Hungry Forties: Life Under the Bread Tax (1904) and The Land Hunger: Life Under Monopoly (1913).

Jane Cobden died on the 7th of July 1974, aged 96. The BBC’s synopsis of her character in Ripper Street describes her as “one of the giants on whose shoulders the Suffragette Movement was to stand,” and it doesn’t exaggerate. Cobden may be more well-known than other women’s rights pioneers because of her portrayal in Ripper Street, but I think her achievements still deserve more recognition.

Sources and Further Reading

Baldwin, Anne. “Women’s History Month: Persistence Pays Off, as Women are Finally Elected to the London County Council.” Women’s History Network. Last updated 5 March 2010, accessed 31 October 2016. Available at http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/?tag=jane-cobden

Hurley, Ann. “Emma Jane Catherine Cobden-Unwin 1851-1947.” Hurley and Skidmore Family History. No date, accessed 31 October 2016. Available at http://www.hurleyskidmorehistory.com.au/emma-jane-catherine-cobden-.html

Richardson, Sarah. “What Next, and Next? The Cobden Movement: Fleeting or Fundamental?” Liberty Fund. Last updated 8 January 2015, accessed 31 October 2016. Available at http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/lm-cobden

Wikipedia. “Jane Cobden.” Last updated 4 September 2016, Accessed 31 October 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Cobden

London’s Protest Stickers: Animal Welfare

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You find stickers of all kinds all over London, sometimes even in posh places, like these outside the National History Museum in South Kensington (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Exhibition Road, 30/08/16).

As regular readers of my blog will know, you can find all kinds of different issues represented on the protest stickers that plaster London’s streets. Over the last year and a half, I have written about protest stickers relating to immigration and race, housing, and the EU referendum, amongst others (see the Turbulent London Map for locations of all the stickers I’ve featured). But all of my topics so far have been rather human-centric, and many activists concern themselves with the non-human. The way that humans treat animals has been a topic of fierce debate for decades. It’s a complex issue, which can escalate rapidly into a philosophical debate about whether or not animals are entitled to certain rights in a similar way to humans. The debate also manifests itself in practical ways however, such as opposition to experiments being carried out on animals, and concern for the treatment of farm animals bred for human consumption. In recent years, ethical consumerism has reduced the amount of product testing carried out on animals, and vegetarianism and veganism has increased (the number of vegans in Britain has gone up 360% in the last 10 years (Source: The Telegraph, 2016). This has not been enough to satisfy everyone, however, and animal welfare continues to be a topic of protest stickers.

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This sticker equates animal with human liberation, mirroring the symbolic raised, clenched fist with a raised paw (Photo: Hannah Awcock, New Cross Road, 23/08/16).

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The British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) use of animal experimentation is a common topic of protest stickers in London. The British Heartless Foundation is an organisation that aims to promote the fact that the BHF fund experiments on animals- they argue that less people would donate money to the BHF if they knew that was the case (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 11/03/15).

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The British Heartless Foundation produce a variety of different stickers. This one features rats (Photo: Hannah Awcock, East Street, Southwark, 04/06/15).

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According to the British Heartless Foundation, BHF also fund experiments on pigs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 19/05/15).

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This sticker references recent culls of badgers in an attempt to prevent the spread of bovine TB. The effectiveness of the policy has been questioned by campaigners, who argue that the policy is cruel and unnecessary (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Southbank, 12/09/15).

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A lot of protest stickers promote vegetarianism and veganism. This sticker equates killing animals for food with murdering a human (Photo: Hannah Awcock, New Cross Road, 20/03/16).

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The Friendly Activist is a vegan who campaigns for animal rights and the environment, amongst other things. He seems to have gone quiet recently though (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 26/06/15).

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Animal Aid campaigns against all forms of cruelty against animals and promotes what they call ‘cruelty-free living’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Russell Square, 15/04/15).

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This sticker is relatively low-tech; it is not very waterproof, so is likely to deteriorate quickly. Veganstickers.co.uk sells vegan protest stickers, and Earthlings is a documentary  about animal cruelty (Photo: Malet Street, 08/03/16).

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This sticker is a similar style and quality. It is advertising vegankit.com, a website that provides advice, information, and links to vegans and people who are considering veganism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 08/03/16).

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This sticker is the same as the last, although its condition suggests it has been out on the street for longer. The photo was taken two months after the previous one and close by, so they could have been put up at the same time. Someone has crossed out the YouTube videos and web address, perhaps because they disagree with the sticker’s message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/05/16, Gower Street).

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This sticker was also located in the same vicinity as the previous two; they may have been put up by the same person (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 08/03/16).

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Location can be very important for protest stickers. I found this sticker outside a McDonalds in Islington (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Upper Street, Islington, 01/12/15).

If you want to see where all these stickers were located, take a look at the Turbulent London Map.