Journey to Justice Exhibition at the International Slavery Museum

On the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum at the Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool is the International Slavery Museum. Opened in 2007, the museum aims to increase understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and its continuing impact, but also draws attention to contemporary slavery. From the 5th of October 2018 until the 7th of April 2019, the Museum is playing host to the travelling Journey to Justice exhibition, designed by an organisation of the same name that uses the arts and education about human rights movements to try and inspire people to take action for social justice.

The Journey to Justice exhibition focuses on some of the lesser-known stories of the American civil rights movement, highlighting what motivates people to get involved and stay active in social justice campaigns. Unlike a lot of museums, the temporary exhibition space at the International Slavery Museum is not clearly separated from the permanent exhibitions, so Journey to Justice almost merges with the museum’s section on the contemporary impacts of the transatlantic slave trade. This is quite effective, highlighting the links between the legacies of the slave trade and the civil rights movement.

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The Journey to Justice exhibition, which is currently at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The exhibition features a number of ‘bus stops,’ each one telling the story of an individual or small group of people who took a stand against injustice during the civil rights movement. It starts with a map, detailing the dates and locations of 21 important moments in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 60s. As a Geographer I may be biased, but I always find maps a really helpful way of contextualising examples and getting my head around the bigger picture.

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The ‘bus stop’ about Elmore and Peggy Nickleberry. Elmore was a sanitation worker in Memphis who took part in a strike of more than 1000 sanitation workers for better pay and conditions (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Each ‘bus stop’ features text, images, quotations, and recorded interviews or a poem written by local schoolchildren in response to the exhibition. The final example represents the Greensboro Sit-ins, when four black students sat at the lunch counter in an all-white restaurant and refused to leave. It also encourages visitors to interact with the exhibition, filling out labels about how they can take action for social justice. There is also a map of the UK labelled with important social justice campaigns which visitors are asked to contribute to. These interactive elements highlight the importance of properly maintaining exhibitions; the labels for people to write on had run out, which meant that no one else could contribute. It is a minor issue, but demonstrates that a museum’s work isn’t finished once the exhibition opens.

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The lunch counter section of the Journey to Justice exhibition encourages visitors to sit and reflect , and interact with the exhibition by writing down and displaying their responses (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There is also a section for radical zines, self-published magazines that are frequently produced by activists. The Represent! exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester (open until the 3rd of February 2019) also has a section for zines; perhaps this is an emerging trend amongst museums. It is also quite common now for exhibitions to feature sounds, speech, and/or music played out loud, so the visitor has no choice but to listen. The Journey to Justice Jukebox plays songs associated with the civil rights movement. I find speech played out loud in museums distracting, as I struggle to listen to one set of words and read another at the same time, but music I can deal with. In this case it adds an extra dimension to the exhibition, illustrating the relationship between the civil rights movement and popular culture, and highlighting the role music can play in motivating and inspiring activists.

Journey to Justice is a small exhibition with ambitious goals. It aims to use the history of the civil rights movements to encourage people to take their own stand for social justice. Whilst I am not convinced that a museum exhibition is an effective method of creating activists, I do think it is a thoughtful and interesting exhibition that is well worth a visit. The exhibition will continue to tour the country when it’s stint in Liverpool finishes, visiting London, Edinburgh, Leeds, and Leicester over the next few years, so don’t worry if Merseyside is a little too far for you to travel!

 

My Oscars Acceptance Speech: PhD Acknowledgements

Thesis acknowledgements are a chance to say thank you to everyone who has supported you through the long, arduous process of a PhD. I am under no illusions of how many people are actually going to read my thesis, however, and I wanted to make my appreciation a little more public. So I have reproduced my acknowledgements here. If my PhD was an Oscar, this is what I would say in my acceptance speech:


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Me with my supervisors, David Gilbert (left) and Innes Keighren (right) on my PhD graduation day (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

First of all, I would like to thank my supervisors, Professor David Gilbert and Dr. Innes Keighren. They agreed to supervise my PhD when my original supervisory team fell through during my Masters, and I will always appreciate that. Since then, they have guided me through the PhD process with skill and wisdom. They work well as a team; their expertise complements each other, and they always made an effort not to offer contradictory advice. I will always be grateful for their knowledge, feedback, and support. I would also like to express my appreciation to my advisor, Dr. Mike Dolton, who has always been ready to provide a second (or third, in this case!) opinion.

I owe an important debt to the Economic and Social Research Council, for funding my PhD, and for trusting me with the freedom to change the project as my research evolved. I am also grateful to the staff at the various archives I have consulted during my PhD; their knowledge and advice has been invaluable. I would also like to thank my examiners, Dr. Briony McDonagh and Professor David Green, whose feedback helped me to produce a better thesis.

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The post-graduation group photo (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, has been an encouraging and supportive intellectual home for me over the last eight years, I am grateful to everyone there for contributing to such a nurturing environment. The Social, Cultural, and Historical Research Group has been particularly important to me during my postgraduate career. The Landscape Surgery seminar group has been a lifeline over the last four years, making me feel part of a community in what can be a lonely experience. I am also grateful to the organisers and attendees of the London Group of Historical Geographers seminar series. The meals afterwards in the Olivelli restaurant on Store Street were integral to the development of my networking skills—they helped me to feel like I belong in the world of academia. I would also like to thank my fellow PhD students, at Royal Holloway and elsewhere, with whom sharing experiences has given me strength.

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Celebrating my PhD graduation with my family and partner (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Lastly, I could not have got through this without the support of my friends and family. Rachel Taylor has shared my achievements and setbacks with equal enthusiasm, even from the other side of the world. Daniel Dougherty has always believed in me, even when I haven’t believed in myself. My cousin, Theo Hardcastle, has made my Wednesdays a joy and has been a wonderful distraction from all things PhD. My sister, Emily Awcock, is unfailingly positive, unless you try and make her go for a walk. My Mum, Tricia Awcock, from whom I could not ask for more. My Dad, Graeme Awcock, who showed me what an academic looks like. I am grateful to you all.

This thesis is dedicated to my Nan, Olive Awcock, who always supported me, even though she never understood why a nice girl like me would want to study protest.

Turbulent Londoners: Mary Augusta Ward, 1851-1920

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 on 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. To celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, all of the Turbulent Londoners featured in 2018 will have been involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage. For the last Turbulent Londoner in this Vote100 series, I am looking at one of the most prominent anti-suffrage campaigners, Mary Augusta Ward.


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Mary Augusta Ward in 1901. Photo by Crowdy and Loud (Source: National Portrait Gallery).

Not every woman in the early twentieth century wanted the right to vote. Some, including some very well-respected, intelligent, talented women, actively campaigned against giving women the right to vote. The most prominent of these women, now lost in obscurity because of her unpopular views, was Mary Augusta Ward, campaigner, novelist, and president of the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League.

Born on the the 11th of June in Hobart, Tasmania, Mary Arnold was part of a family that was highly influential on British intellectual life. Her family left Australia when she was 5, and Mary spent much of her childhood in boarding schools. She moved back in with her family in Oxford in 1867; her father was a lecturer there. During this period she starting conducting research and writing stories and novels. In July 1871 Mary met Humphry Ward, a fellow of Brasenose College. They were married on the 6th April 1872. The couple had three children: Dorothy in 1874, Arnold in 1876, and Janet in 1879. Female education was a cause close to Mary’s heart. She helped establish the Lectures for Women Committee, which then led to the foundation of Somerville College in 1879, one of the first colleges for women at Oxford University.

In 1881 Humphry became a writer for The Times and the family moved to London. Mary started to get her writing published. In 1888 she achieved widespread critical and commercial success with Robert Elsmere; she became the highest earning novelist in England. Mary was also very active with charitable works during this period; in 1897 she founded the Passmore Edwards Settlement in Tavistock Square near Euston Station. Settlement Houses were established all over London in the Victorian period to offer social services to the poor and campaign for social justice and equality. Mary wanted equal access to education, irrespective of background. For a small annual fee, members of the Passmore Edwards Settlement could take intellectual and practical classes, participate in social activities and participate in self-help groups.

At the Passmore Edwards Settlement, Mary pioneered the Play Centre movement in England, providing care for children after school and during the school holidays. This enabled working class mothers to work full time. The Settlement was also the location of the first school in England for disabled children, opening in 1899. After her death, the Settlement was renamed the Mary Ward Settlement, and it still exists. The Mary Ward Centre is an adult education college, whilst the Mary Ward Legal Centre offers free legal advice to Londoners. Mary wanted the Settlement to be “A place for ideals, a place for enthusiasm,” and that legacy continues today.

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Mary Augusta Ward poses for a photograph by Henry Walter Barnet (Source: National Portrait Gallery).

In 1908, Mary agreed to become President of the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League. She threw herself into the campaign with her usual dedication, writing articles, giving speeches, and founding and editing the Anti-Suffrage Review. By June 1910, 320,000 people had signed an anti-suffrage petition. The group has 15,000 members, and 110 branches. Having women like Mary in the anti-suffrage movement allowed the argument to be made that respectable, intelligent women did not want the vote.

There has been much speculation about why Mary agreed to take such a prominent position in the anti-suffrage campaign. It cost her dearly; she alienated friends, family, and colleagues at the Settlement. The popularity of her writing was also affected. It did earn her political capital for the causes she was passionate about; the education of children and the working classes. Her anti-suffrage stance was also motivated by fear. Mary saw suffragettes as terrorists, and was also wary of the influence of lesbians in the pro-suffrage movement. Finally, Mary’s reasons for opposing women’s suffrage also related to the British Empire. Mary believed that only the special knowledge of men could solve the problems facing the empire. She also argued that the vote was a reward that men deserved because they risked their lives to protect the empire. Women did not take such risks, and therefore did not deserve the right to vote. This argument is flawed, as many of the working-class men who served in the British military did not have the right to vote until the 1918 Representation of the People Act, but it was Mary’s argument nonetheless.

During the First World War, Mary was the first female journalist to visit the Western Front. She wrote propaganda for American audiences, and is credited with helping persuade the USA to join the war. She was made a CBE in March 1919, and was invited to become Britain’s first female magistrate in February 1920. Her health was very poor by this point, however, and she died on the 24th of March.

Mary Augusta Ward fought hard for a position that we now find difficult to comprehend. If she hadn’t fought so hard for the anti-suffrage cause, she would probably be remembered as a talented novelist and dedicated philanthropist and campaigner. As it is, she is barely remembered at all.

Sources and Further Reading

Griffiths, Jack. “Anti-Suffrage: The British Women Who Didn’t Want the Vote.” History Answers. Last modified 22 October 2015, accessed 2 October 2018. Available at  https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/people-politics/the-gruesome-origin-of-sweet-fanny-adams/

Mary Ward Centre. “Settlement History.” No date, accessed 3 October 2018. Available at  http://www.marywardcentre.ac.uk/history/

Simkin, John. “Mary Humphry Ward.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified June 2017, accessed 2 October 2018. Available at https://spartacus-educational.com/Wward.htm

Sutherland, John. “The Suffragettes’ Unlikeliest Enemy.” The Guardian. Last modified 4 June 2013, accessed 2 October 2018. Available at  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/04/suffragettes-mary-ward

Sutherland, John. “Ward [nee Arnold], Mary Augusta [known as Mrs Humphry Ward].” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 10 January 2013, accessed 30 September 2018. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/36736 [this link requires a subscription to access].

Wikipedia. “Mary Augusta Ward.” Last modified 19 Septmber 2018, accessed 30 September 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Augusta_Ward

Protest Stickers: Liverpool

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The Beatles are Liverpool’s most famous export (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Since I have become an honourary Northerner, I have had the chance to explore some of the North’s cities. Liverpool is a great city, a fascinating mix of industrial decay, glossy redevelopment, and creativity. It has grown on me very quickly, not least because of all the stickers I have found there.

One thing that stands out about Liverpool’s stickers is the large number advertising various escort services– I have never seen so many in any other city I’ve been to! I wouldn’t like to suggest why that might be, but it’s certainly an interesting trend. Another reason Liverpool’s stickers stand out is that they made the national news recently when a feminist group called Liverpool ReSisters put anti-trans penis-shaped stickers (featured below) on Anthony Gormley’s sculptures on Crosby beach.

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96 Liverpool fans were killed during the Hillsborough Disaster on 15th April 1989. The Sun newspaper is still unpopular for the way it blamed the fans for what happened (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/09/18).

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Anti-fascist groups are some of the most common producers of protest stickers. This one is produced by the Merseyside Anti-fascist Network, and uses the animation style of the popular cartoon Rick and Morty (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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This sticker was also produced by the Merseyside Anti-fascist Network. The logo of two overlapping flags is a common anti-fascist symbol, but this group have given it a local spin by adding a Liver Bird, one of Liverpool’s most famous symbols (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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Anti-fascist groups don’t just put up stickers in their local areas, they also put them up when they travel. This sticker was made by the North London Anti-fascists (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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Antifaschistische Aktion is a German anti-fascist network, suggesting this sticker has come from even further afield (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/03/18).

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Migration is one of the most controversial topics in British politics at the moment. This sticker was produced by the International Workers of the World, an international union that has been around since 1905 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/09/18).

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This sticker has a similar message, but was produced by a different group. Global Justice Now works to create a more equal world, launched in 1967 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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This sticker is part of a series where members of Marvel’s superhero team the Avengers confront prominent politicians. The stickers are quite old, going back to at least 2015, so some of the politicians they feature are in different positions now. George Osborne, for example, is no longer Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is the context in which this sticker was produced. The sticker is advertising Another Angry Voice, a political opinion blog. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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Feminist issues are a common topic of protest stickers. This sticker refers to the debate about whether women are ever even partially responsible when they are sexual assaulted, because of their clothes or behaviour.  This sticker was produced by Active Distribution, a radical publishing group that sells protest stickers, amongst many other things (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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This sticker relates to a controversial issue within modern feminism about whether or not transgender people should be able to self-identify as women. Some women view transgender women as just another example of sexist oppression. This is the sticker that made national news recently when it was put on the Anthony Gormley sculptures on Crosby beach (Photo: Hannah Awcock: 03/09/18).

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This sticker commemorates British people who have died fighting for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Syrian Civil War. The YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish left-wing Democratic Union Party. The Kurdish text translates as “Martyrs don’t die.” The sticker is obviously quite recent; Anna Campbell, the only woman on the sticker, was killed in Afrin in Northern Syria on 15th March 2018. It is an unusual sticker, I have never seen on related to this issue before (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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Animal rights, vegetarianism, and veganism is another common topic of protest stickers. It is not clear who produced this sticker, although the logo does (probably unintentionally) remind me of the X-factor. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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It is also not clear who produced this sticker. It is informing people of their rights if the police use Stop and Search powers–you have no legal obligation to provide your name or address. It is an interesting design, but I don’t no how effective it is as a protest sticker. It took me a few seconds to figure out that the main text reads “No Comment,” and I doubt most people would put as much effort into reading it as I did (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

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I saved this sticker for last because it is my favourite sticker for quite some time, I like the clever design. Stand Up to Racism is a campaign group formed in response to the increasing racism and xenophobic politics around the world (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 10/06/18).

 

Film Review: Peterloo

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The film poster for the 2018 film Peterloo, directed my Mike Leigh (Source: Thin Man Films).

2019 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, arguably one of the key turning points in the history of British radicalism. In anticipation of this anniversary, Peterloo, directed by Mike Leigh, was released on the 2nd November 2018. I recently went to see the film, and whilst I think it is a very well-made film that will make an excellent teaching resource, I don’t think it has much popular appeal, and I wonder what it is actually trying to achieve.

On the 16th of August 1819, between 60,000 and 80,000 protesters gathered in St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester to call for more men to be given the vote. The local magistrates panicked and ordered local soldiers and special constables to disperse the crowds. Mounted soldiers charged into the crowd with their sabres drawn. Unable to leave the area, hundreds of people received injuries from the sabres or were trampled by horses. It is estimated that 18 people died, although more may have died later from their injuries. The horrific events became known as the Peterloo Massacre, a play on the Battle of Waterloo, a triumphant victory for the British and Prussians over Napoleon’s French forces in 1815.

The massacre was an important moment in the history of British radicalism. It started a period of repression of dissent by the British government, but it also served to crystalise the goals and determination of radicals, leading to significant victories in the mid-nineteenth century. Much like the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018 (for more information, see the Vote100 page of this blog), the bicentennial of the Peterloo Massacre in 2019 looks set to be marked with a wide range of events, exhibitions, and cultural outputs. Peterloo is sure to be the first of many.

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The famous orator Henry Hunt (played by Rory Kinnear) greets the crowds in St. Peter’s Fields (Source: BFI).

It took me a while to work out what I actually think about Peterloo. It is undoubtedly a well-made film, with historically accurate costumes, sets, and dialogue. The representation of the massacre itself is wonderful; well, when I say wonderful I mean shocking and violent and awful, but that is because it was made so well. The acting is very good; Maxine Peake is wonderful as always, and Rory Kinnear does an excellent job of portraying the charismatic but pompous Henry Hunt. At 2 hours and 34 minutes it is a long film, but it doesn’t drag at any point. It also takes care to make sure that the viewer understands the context of Peterloo; the political and social conditions that allowed such an event to take place. For some, this may also be one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. It has a very ‘educational’ feel about it–I think it will make an excellent teaching resource, but how many people go to the cinema or choose something on Netflix because they want to learn something?

For me, this issue gets at the biggest problem with Peterloo; it isn’t clear who it is trying to appeal to. It is quite different from other recent films about historical British protest. Pride (2014) is a light-hearted comedy about overcoming difference to develop mutual respect and solidarity. It appeals to anyone who enjoys light-hearted comedies with a happy ending. Suffragette (2015) is a character driven story about Maud Watts, a fictional woman who grows as a person through her participation in the women’s suffrage movement. It appeals to anyone who likes character driven stories. I don’t really know what kind of film-goer Peterloo would appeal to, beyond people who like historical protest, which I am willing to admit is a relatively niche group.

Both Pride and Suffragette have been criticised for leaving out individuals and groups in order to simplify the stories and politics (for example, see Diarmaid Kelliher’s post on this blog: Thoughts on Pride: What’s Left out and Why does it Matter?). This can be very frustrating for historians, but perhaps it is worth editing the story a bit in order to make it more approachable for the general public. A historically accurate film is all well and good, but is there any point being historically accurate if nobody watches it? Peterloo has what feels like hundreds of characters, many of whom we meet only briefly. In most films, all the characters have a purpose; they learn a lesson, develop as a person, or do something to drive the story along. Peterloo has multiple characters that seem to do nothing but make the film more difficult to follow. It lacks the neatness of fictional stories or those adapted to better suit the silver screen, like Pride and Suffragette.

Peterloo is not a bad film, but I’m just not sure what it’s trying to achieve. If Mike Leigh wanted to make an accurate portrayal of a significant event in British history, then I think he has done a good job. If he was trying to bring the story of the Peterloo Massacre to a new audience, then I’m not convinced the film will be effective.

On This Day: Black Friday, 18th November 1910

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A suffragette struggling with a police officer during Black Friday. Photo by Rachel Barratt (Source: Museum of London).

By 1910, the women’s suffrage campaign had been gathering steam for several years. Frustrated with the lack of progress, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) were becoming increasingly militant, and their relationship with the government was deteriorating. Violence was escalating on both sides; the force-feeding of hunger strikers began in October 1909, for example. On the 18th of November 1910, around 300 members of the WSPU were treated so poorly by the police and bystanders outside Parliament in Westminster that the day became known as Black Friday.

During the 1910 general election campaign, Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, promised a Conciliation Bill to allow some women the right to vote in national elections. The Liberal Party won the election, and a committee of MPs proposed legislation that would have given 1 million women the right to vote. For many suffrage campaigners, the proposals didn’t go far enough, but it was still a massive step forward, and most campaigners supported the Conciliation Bill. Many MPs also supported the Bill, and it passed it’s first and second readings in Parliament. Asquith refused to give the Bill more parliamentary time, however, and called another general election before it could become law, killing it.

The WSPU saw Asquith’s actions as a gross betrayal; they had suspended militant action on the 13th of January 1910 because of the promise Asquith made to give some women the vote, and now their hopes had been dashed. They organised a rally at Caxton Hall in Westminster, followed by a protest march to Parliament. The rally started at 12pm, after which WSPU organiser Flora ‘the General’ Drummond organised the women into groups to march to parliament and petition Asquith directly. The first group was led by Emmeline Pankhurst and included several prominent suffragettes including Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Dr. Louisa Anderson (sister and niece respectively of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Hertha Ayrton and Sophia Duleep-Singh. When this group arrived at parliament at about 1:20 pm, they were admitted, told that Asquith wouldn’t see them, and then shown out into Parliament Square where they were met with utter chaos.

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WSPU leaders at the meeting at Caxton Hall in Westminster on Black Friday (Source: Museum of London).

When the rest of the 300 marchers reached Parliament Square, they were met by aggressive police officers and male bystanders. The local A Division of the Metropolitan Police had plenty of experience policing suffragette protests, and knew how to handle them without resorting to excessive violence. Most of the policemen in Parliament Square on the 18th of November, however, were from Whitechapel and East London, and had less experience of policing WSPU protests. The women clashed with the police for 6 hours, during which time many of the women were sexually assaulted. Rosa May Billingshurst was a WSPU member who used a wheelchair. She was taken down a side street by policemen who stole the valves from her wheelchair so she couldn’t move, and abandoned her. Caxton Hall became a triage point, where injured protesters could retreat from the chaos. It appeared that the police deliberately tried to sexually humiliate the women to teach them a lesson rather than just arresting them. 4 men and 115 women were eventually arrested, although all of the charges were dropped by the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, the following day.

The committee which had proposed the Conciliation Bill were appalled by the accounts of violence, and decided to investigate. They interviewed 135 protesters, 29 of whom described examples of sexual assault. Media sympathy was largely with the police, although plenty of people did speak out against the treatment of the protesters. There were calls for an inquiry, but Winston Churchill refused. The protest led to a change of tactics on both sides. The WSPU increasingly turned to covert protest tactics, such as window breaking and stone throwing, which gave them a chance to escape before the police arrived. The Metropolitan Police were also more careful about how they policed protests and when they made arrests.

The term Black Friday is now associated with over-the-top sales and rampant consumerism, but 100 years ago it had very different connotations. It was associated with the violent suppression of peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Sources and Further Reading

Hawksley, Lucinda. March, Women, March: Voices of the Women’s Movement from the First Feminist to the Suffragettes. London: Andre Deutsch, 2015.

Raw, Louise. “The Sexual Assaults Faced by the Suffragettes.” Politics.co.uk. Last modified 8 February 2018, accessed 23 October 2018. Available at  http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2018/02/08/the-sexual-assault-faced-by-the-suffragettes

Wikipedia, “Black Friday (1910).” Last modified 21 July 2018, accessed 18 October 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_(1910)

Book Review: The Road Not Taken- How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution, 1381-1926

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The Road Not Taken by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn. The Road Not Taken: How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution, 1381-1926. London: Vintage, 2013. RRP £12.99 paperback.

There are several books that document and discuss the history of protest in Britain. I have reviewed two of them–A Radical History of Britain (2010) by Edward Vallance and The English Rebel (2010) by David Horspool–on this blog. The Road Not Taken: How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution, 1381-1926, takes a very different approach to the previous two and, despite being quite difficult to read, manages to bring something new to the table.

The Road Not Taken is based on the premise that whilst Britain has never experienced a revolution, defined as an “overthrow of a regime and a drastic change of direction, politically, economically, socially,” it has come close at several points (McLynn, 2013; ix). McLynn analyses these moments in great detail, considering why they happened, what happened, and why they failed to achieve revolution. The revolutionary moments he considers are: the Peasant’s Revolt (1381), Jack Cade’s Rebellion (1450), the English Civil War (1642-51), the 1745 Jacobite Rising, Chartism (1837-48), and the General Strike (1926).

“why has there been no true revolution in British history? It goes without saying that Britain never approached anything like the socio-economic convulsions of the Russian, Chinese, or Cuban Revolutions. The nearest the nation came to something like the upheavals in the French and Mexican varieties was in the aftermath of the English Civil War, but Cromwell slammed the brakes on hard and turned abruptly right.”

(McLynn, 2013; p.479)

In the Conclusion, McLynn evaluates different explanations for why Britain has never experienced a revolution, including Britain’s island status isolating it from the worst impacts of land-based war, the monarchy, the British Empire, and Methodism. He gives each argument a fair hearing, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. My issue is that McLynn never comes to a conclusion. He has valid reasons for why every hypothesis is flawed, but he doesn’t explain what he thinks is the best explanation. McLynn does the same thing in the Appendix, where he evaluates the different theories and typologies of revolution more generally, but he doesn’t draw conclusions.

I also found McLynn’s writing style difficult to get along with. The text is dense, and includes unnecessarily complicated words like “fissiparious” (p127), “galimaufry” (p312), and “exiguous” (p430). All that such a writing style does is make a narrative or argument much harder to follow. Academics often write in this way, perhaps in an attempt to appear more impressive. All it does, however, is widen the gap between academics and the general population, particularly when it is used in a book aimed at a popular audience such as The Road not Taken. The history of protest is one of the thing I am most interested in, but even I struggled to stay engaged with the book at some points.

The Road Not Taken does manage to bring something new to the topic of Britain’s history of protest. It may well prove useful to me in my research someday, with its detailed and measured analysis. However, I would not recommend it as a ‘fun’ read, something to relax with curled up on the sofa or in the bath.

Turbulent Londoners: Jessie Kenney, 1887-1985

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. To celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, all of the Turbulent Londoners featured in 2018 will have been involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage. This post is about Jessie Kenney, younger sister of Annie Kenney, the best-known working class member of the Women’s Social and Political Union.


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Jessie Kenney (Source: Unbound).

Most people who are familiar with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) know about Annie Kenney, the charismatic working class organiser from Oldham in Greater Manchester. What fewer people know is that Annie’s sisters were also involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. Annie’s younger sister, Jessie, was also a full-time organiser for the WSPU, although she had a different skill set to Annie.

Jessie Kenney was born in Oldham in 1887, the ninth of 12 children. When she was 13, she left school to start working in a cotton mill, although she continued her education through evening classes. In 1905, she went with her sister Annie to the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club to listen to Teresa Billington-Grieg and Christabel Pankhurst speak about women’s suffrage. After that, both sisters joined the WSPU. Annie, eight years older than Jessie, was a charismatic and engaging speaker. Jessie’s skills were more organisational, and in 1906 she began working for the WSPU full time as Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence‘s secretary.

Jessie used her organisational skills to great effect, arranging deputations to visit politicians and interrupt meetings. On the 23rd of February 1909 Jessie took advantage of a loophole that allowed ‘human letters’ to be sent through the Royal Mail to send Daisy Soloman and Elspeth McClellan to the Prime Minister from the Strand Post Office. In October 1910, she organised the WSPU’s campaign during the Walthamstow by-election. In 1912, she did the same in South Hackney.

Jessie did not just organise WSPU actions, she also took part in them. She was imprisoned for a month after being arrested at a protest in Parliament Square on the 30th of June 1908. On the 10th of December 1909 she disguised herself as a telegraph boy in order to try and access the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith at a public meeting in Manchester. On the 5th of September 1910, along with Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth, she accosted Asquith and Herbert Gladstone whilst they were play golf.

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Jessie Kenney’s office in the WSPU headquarters in Clement’s Inn, London. The picture was taken by an H. Seargeant in July 1911 (Source: Museum of London).

In 1913 Jessie was taken ill and sent to Switzerland to recover. She didn’t destroy her papers before she left, and evidence that the authorities found in her flat was used to convict the WSPU’s chemist, Edwy Clayton, to 21 months in prison for his role in the group’s arson campaign. In 1914, Jessie went to stay with Christabel Pankhurst, who was living in hiding in Paris. Between July and August, she travelled to Glasgow once a week to make sure the WSPU’s newspaper, The Suffragette, was published successfully.

When Britain joined the First World War in August 1914, Jessie threw herself into the war effort with the rest of the WSPU. In 1915, she travelled to America to organise the early stages of the Pankhurst’s Serbian Mission. The following year, she helped to organise the WSPU’s War Work Procession in London, encouraging women to join the war effort. In 1917, Jessie travelled to Russia with Emmeline Pankhurst to meet with the Provisional Government and try and persuade them to keep Russia in the war.

After the war, Jessie worked for the American Red Cross in Paris. She decided she wanted to be a Radio Officer on a ship, and trained at the North Wales Wireless College. She got a first class certificate in Radio Telegraphy, but was unable to get a job in such a male-dominated industry. Instead she worked as a steward on cruise liners before settling in Battersea and working as an administrative secretary in a school. She died 1985.

Jessie Kenney may not be as famous as her sister, but there is no doubt that she worked just as hard to win women the right to vote. Her skills kept her out of the spotlight, but she made an invaluable contribution to the WSPU and deserves just as much recognition as any other woman who campaigned for the right to vote.

References and Further Reading

ArchivesHub. “Papers of Jessie Kenney.” No date, accessed 14 October 2018. Available at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/046b1a57-c944-3de8-bc81-00176e398001

Simkin, John. “Jessie Kenney.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified February 2015, accessed 14 October 2018. Available at https://spartacus-educational.com/WkenneyJ.htm

Wikipedia, “Jessie Kenney.” Last modified 15 August 2018, accessed 9 October 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessie_Kenney

Mill Girls and Militants at Preston’s Flag Market and the Harris Museum

The centenary of some women being given the right to vote in the UK has inspired a huge variety of creative outputs, including books, exhibitions, and even a few of my own blog posts (see everything I’ve written about Vote 100 here). On 27th of October, I went to see a performance piece that creatively engaged with the suffrage centenary in an entirely different way. Mill Girls and Militants is inspired by Lancashire’s suffrage stories, and created by Ludus, a Lancaster-based dance development charity.

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Mill Girls and Militants on the Preston Flag Market on Saturday 27th October 2018 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The performance took place in Preston’s Harris Museum, and on the Flag Market outside. A combination of music and dance, the performance was the culmination of a summer of activities and research designed to connect women in Preston, Lancaster, and Burnley with local suffrage history. It was performed by the Ludus Youth Dance Company and local community groups, and was recorded with special Virtual Reality cameras, which means the performance will be available as a VR experience, increasing the number of people who can experience it and creating a teaching resource.

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A defiant group of suffragettes on the second floor of the Harris Museum (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The performance began on the Flag Market, with a wonderful rendition of ‘Nana was a Suffragette,’ a song written by Jules Gibb. Dancers then took on the role of the women of Lancashire, working their shift in the mill as word of a pro-suffrage meeting spreads. Beyond that, the ‘narrative’ became less easy to follow (for me, anyway!). The audience followed the women into the Harris Museum, where groups performed on three different floors. We were all then evicted from the museum, replicating women’s experiences of being banned from museums and art galleries after suffragettes damaged exhibits. One of the most famous examples is the slashing of The Rokeby Venus, a painting by Diego Delazquez, in the National Portrait Gallery by Mary Richardson in 1914. We were led back to the Flag Market, where the ‘protest’ continued. Each of the earlier sections had been performed by smaller groups, but this one involved the whole cast, communicating a real sense of collective power. The choir sung again, and the performance culminated with the whole cast flipping their aprons around the reveal the flags and colours of various pro-suffrage organisations.

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The flags of different suffrage organisations were revealed as part of the performance’s finale (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t often ‘get’ modern dance performances, I struggle to connect with the story they are telling, or the emotion they are trying to convey. And I will admit that there were parts of Mill Girls and Militants that I didn’t understand. However, I enjoyed the performance, which was definitely the most creative way that I have seen the suffrage centenary engaged with over the last 12 months, and I can see its potential for engaging the general public. Lots of people who were in town for other reasons stopped to see what was going on, and who knows, perhaps a few of them went home and did a bit of research on Edith Rigby or Selina Cooper, or any of Lancashire’s suffrage campaigners. I also liked the way that Mill Girls and Militants used the space of Preston’s city centre; the Flag Market is a large open space which has probably witnesses hundreds of protests over the years, and the more enclosed spaces of the Harris Museum created a completely different atmosphere.

Thanks to the VR experience that is being produced of the performance, Mill Girls and Militants is not yet over. It will be interesting to see how this next stage of the project develops, and whether it is as effective in virtual reality as it was in real life.

London’s Protest Stickers: Immigration and Race 2

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Immigration and racism have been a key issue for activists in London in recent years (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/10/16, Whitechapel High Street).

In recent years, events such as the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and Brexit have made immigration and race particularly contentious issues in Britain. As I have discussed before, London is no stranger to immigration; the city would be a very different place without it. Unfortunately, it is also no stranger to xenophobia, racism, and anti-migrant sentiments, as some of the stickers below demonstrate. However, there are groups, social movements, and activists who are willing to defend the rights of migrants and ethnic minorities in Britain, as most of the stickers below will show.

To see where the protest stickers in this post were located, check out the Turbulent London Map.

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Most protest stickers represent left-wing points of view, but there are some that promote particularly nasty politics. These next few stickers are all of this type. When I went back the next day, this one had been removed, suggesting that I’m not the only one that found it unpleasant (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 02/06/16, Euston Road).

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The text of this sticker has been obscured by water damage, but the first half says “When Tibet is full of Chinese it’s genocide.” I’m not sure what the second half says, but it implies that there is a similar situation in North America and Europe, but it’s called diversity (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 02/06/16, Euston Road).

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I suspect that the last three stickers were all made by the same people/person, given they have the same message, similar design, and were all located in close proximity (Photo: 03/06/15, Great Portland Street).

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This sticker was made by an anti-fascist group, and the slogan is quite common amongst anti-fascist stickers, although the image varies (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/10/16, Cable Street).

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United Glasgow FC is a football team that aims to make the sport accessible and bring communities together to all by keeping costs down and combating discrimination. At some point one of them, or their supporters, came to London and put up a sticker (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/10/16, Cable Street).

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This sticker has a very simple design, but I think it’s effective. It also doesn’t provide any clues as to who produced it, suggesting that the message was more important to whoever produced it than promoting a particular group or campaign (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 23/03/17, Charing Cross Road).

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Stand Up to Racism is a fairly self-explanatory organisation. This sticker is promoting their national day of action in 2017. They also organise national conferences, and smaller protests and campaigns on specific issues. Recently, they have been campaigning against the popular neo-fascist leader, Tommy Robinson, and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, which they accuse of being racist (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 20/03/16, New Cross Road).

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This sticker on Euston Road is another example of a simple, effective message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 23/03/17, Euston Road).

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This slogan has become a common refrain amongst those campaigning against the handling of the European migrant crisis. If there were no borders, then there would be no illegal immigrants, and there would be no need for fences to keep them out (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/10/16, Whitechapel High Street).

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The UK Border Agency has come under fire in recent years for the immigration raids it conducts across London. A movement has grown up that seeks to counter the raids in a variety of ways, including publicising the movements  of the UKBA on social media, so it is harder for them to make surprise raids (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/10/16, St. George’s Gardens).

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Sisters Uncut is an organisation that campaigns against cuts to services related to domestic violence (see London’s Protest Stickers: Gender). Here, they are expressing solidarity for another vulnerable group. Migrant women are also particularly susceptible to domestic violence (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/10/17, Regent’s Canal).