A common side effect of academia can be moving around a lot. For the first 2 years of my PhD I lived in London, and I am now back in my home town of Brighton, but for a year in between that I lived in Haywards Heath, a semi-rural commuter town on the London-Brighton train line in Sussex. Like Egham in Surrey, it is not the sort of town where you would expect to find protest stickers. It is not the sort of place where you expect to find any alternative politics, to be honest. Nevertheless, I did find protest stickers, although not all of them promoted the left-wing, progressive politics that I normally expect to find.
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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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