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.


barbara-bodichon-photo

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.

Laurence, Samuel, 1812-1884; Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

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

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.


jane-cobden

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.

NPG x131220; (Emma) Jane Catherine Cobden Unwin by Fradelle & Young

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.

jane-cobden-ripper-street

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

Turbulent Londoners: Minnie Baldock, c.1864-1954

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. My next Turbulent Londoner Minnie Baldock, an early member of the WSPU who helped establish the organisation in East London


minnie-baldock-1909

A postcard of Minnie Baldock, in about 1909 (Source: Museum of London).

Minnie Baldock was an early member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), who helped the organisation establish a presence in London, particularly amongst the working class women of the East End. Born in the East End in about 1864, she worked in a shirt factory as a young woman, and had two sons after her marriage to Harry Baldock.

Female suffrage was not the cause which brought out Minnie’s radicalism; she was a member of the Independent Labour Party, and in 1903 held a public meeting to complain about women’s low wages with her MP, Keir Hardie. As a member of the WSPU, however, Minnie flourished as an activist.

Minnie joined the WSPU early on, before it moved to London, and was soon involved in many of its activities in the capital. In December 1905 she was ejected from not one but two public meetings for heckling Herbert Asquith and Henry Campbell Bannerman, leader of the Liberal Party. In January 1906, Minnie established the first London branch of the WSPU in Canning Town, in an attempt to recruit working class women. Several other branches soon followed in the East End. Minnie was at the heart of networks of radical women in London; she helped Annie Kenney make connections when she first moved to London, she knew Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard, and was a mentor to Daisy Parsons.

Also in 1906, Minnie became a full-time organiser for the WSPU. For the next few years she toured the country, promoting the cause of female suffrage. In October that year she was arrested at the opening of Parliament. She was arrested again outside Parliament in February 1908, and this time spent a month in Holloway Prison. She was worried about leaving her two sons alone with her husband, which illustrates the tension many female activists feel between their activism and their caring responsibilities.

minnie-baldock-christabel-pankhurst-and-edith-new

Minnie Baldock with Christabel Pankhurst and Edith New in December 1906 (Source: Museum of London).

Minnie worked for the WSPU until 1911, when she became seriously ill with cancer. She did not return to the WSPU after she recovered, although she remained a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, which united all kinds of suffragists who were also religious. This suggests that she had become disillusioned by the WSPU’s methods rather than their main objective; they became increasingly violent, authoritarian, and dismissive of the concerns of working class women in the years before the First World War. Minnie moved to Southampton with her family in 1913, and was living in Poole when she died in 1954.

The WSPU was much more than the Pankhurst family; women like Minnie Baldock were essential to the successful running of the organisation. Minnie helped the WSPU establish a presence in London, and went on to campaign tirelessly for them around the country. Her name may not have survived the lottery of history, but the impact of her actions still resonates.

Sources and Further Reading

Brooker, Janice. “Suffragette.” Lost in London. Last modified 1st May 2007, accessed 11th October 2016. Available at http://www.brooker.talktalk.net/suffragette.htm

Simkin, John. “Minnie Baldock.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2015, accessed 12th October 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/WbaldockM.htm

Walker, John. “Forest Gate’s Proud Suffragette Legacy.”E7 Now and Then. Last modified 6th March 2015, accessed 14th October 2016. Available at http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2015/03/forest-gates-proud-suffragette-legacy.html

Book Review: ‘Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s History’

Rosenberg, David. Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History. London: Pluto Press, 2015

“Londoners today are not short of issues to protest about. And as we continue to march through the streets of our capital city, holding placards and banners, singing, blowing whistles, chanting slogans and voicing our demands, we are walking on well-trodden ground. But we are also elevated, as we stand on the shoulders of those rebels who came before us, who refused to accept the status quo, and who set out on paths of protest. This book honours and celebrates those rebels who dreamt of a better life and aims to ensure that their ideals continue to live in the hearts and minds of those who campaign for justice and equality in our metropolis today.”

Billy Bragg “Foreword,” p.6

 

The cover of 'Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London's Radical History.'

The cover of ‘Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History.’

Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History is a sort of hybrid history-guide book. It deals with the radical people and events of London between the 1830s and 1930s, but with a twist. Each chapter is accompanied by a do-it-yourself walking tour, complete with maps, which the reader can use to explore some of London’s most radical areas. Rosenberg points out that London’s physical environments are changing so quickly that the past could be easily forgotten. Radicals such as Charlotte Despard and William Cuffay are not the sort of people who get statues built in their honour, so we need to find others ways to remember them. And what better way than walking in their footsteps, following their footprints through the streets on which they fought for the causes they believed in?

I have always felt that the best way to get to know a city is to walk around it, and Rebel Footprints personifies that belief. The walking tours provide a fresh angle that makes the book stand out from the many, many others about London’s history, and as a geographer I find the way they engage with the spaces of the city especially gratifying. I do wonder how many readers will actually do the walking tours (I haven’t yet, although I am very keen to find the time), but then I also wonder how much that actually matters. Even if the book just makes people think about the spaces of London a bit differently then it has achieved something, and it is still an engaging and well-illustrated read. Rosenberg is actually a tour guide himself, he leads several wonderful tours around radical London, and this experience really shines through the pages, as well as the extensive research that was obviously necessary for the book. As an academic I find the lack of referencing frustrating (I would like to know where Rosenberg got some of his sources from!), but I acknowledge that the book isn’t aimed at an academic audience, so references are not expected.

The map of the Bermondsey walking tour from 'Rebel Footprints' (p. 250).

The map of the Bermondsey walking tour from ‘Rebel Footprints’ (p. 250).

Due to the nature of walking tours, each chapter has a local focus, concentrating on a specific neighbourhood or locale. I think this a really nice approach. If the reader is at all familiar with London then it is likely they will know some of the areas personally, and feel a connection. I have lived in Southwark for almost 2 years now; the University of London has buildings in Bloomsbury, so I spend quite a bit of time there; and before she moved to Crawley after the Second World War my Nan lived in Canning Town- the house where she used to live is still there. So I feel a particular affinity to the chapters focusing on these areas, a sort of pride that the parts of London I am connected to have such a radical history.

Rebel Footprints has special significance in post-General Election 2015. Many people feel a sense of dread at the thought of another five years under a Conservative Government, I am certainly one of them. In some ways the book is depressing, as it shows us all the progress that has been lost since 1940. But in other ways, I found reading Rebel Footprints in the aftermath of the 7th of May quite comforting. The activists, campaigners and radical politicians detailed in the book come from a whole range of backgrounds, and show that anyone can fight for something they feel strongly about. And it is actually possible to win some struggles, as unlikely as that might seem at the moment.

David Rosenberg has written a wonderful book, which greatly benefits from his passion and expertise. I attended a launch event for Rebel Footprints at the Bishopsgate Institute, where Rosenberg said he wanted to write a “history from below,” a book about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” I think he has done this, and I think he has done it very well.  

Turbulent Londoners: Lord George Gordon, 1751-1793

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s radical and 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. First up is Lord George Gordon, a charismatic individual who played a big role in the Gordon Riots. 


Lord George Gordon had a severe, puritanical apprearance (Source: Wikipedia, n.d.).

Lord George Gordon had a severe, puritanical apprearance (Source: Wikipedia, n.d.).

Lord George Gordon was an eccentric, irresponsible, but charismatic aristocrat who probably would have faded into obscurity if it wasn’t for the Gordon Riots, to which he gave his name. The Riots, which took place in June 1870, were a week-long series of anti-Catholic disturbances which have been called “the most serious disturbances ever seen in London.” (German and Rees, 2012; 87). Sparked by Parliament’s refusal to consider a petition to repeal the 1778 Catholic Relief Act, the riots took on a distinct anti-establishment flavour in their later days, which terrified those in authority.

Although charged with high treason after the riots, it seems that George Gordon did not intend to spark such dramatic events, which involved the largest number of people killed or executed in an episode of civil disorder either before or since (Archer, 2000). Becoming an MP with a reputation for rambling, boring speeches in 1774, Gordon was elected president of the London Protestant Association in November 1779. The Association was an organisation with the goal of repealing the Catholic Relief Act, which had relaxed some of the restrictions on Catholics in Britain.

Gordon and the Protestant Association organised a petition containing up to 100,000 signatures demanding the act be repealed. Against the advice of the rest of the Association’s leadership, Gordon called for a rally on the 2nd of June, followed by a march to Parliament where he would present the petition. An estimated 60,000 people attended, an unprecedented amount for a political meeting at this time (Bloom, 2010). The same evening that the petition was presented, two Catholic chapels were burnt down by an anti-Catholic ‘mob’. Over the following nights, the houses of many wealthy Catholics were destroyed, as well as the Langdale distillery and most of the capital’s prisons, including the infamous Newgate. Calm was not restored until the 10th of June, a week later.

A contemporary image of the destruction of Newgate, published in 1781 (Source: Guildhall Library, 941 JAC, The Gordon Riots- A Collection of Contemporary Documents Compiled by Judith Kazantis; Photo: author’s own).

A contemporary image of the destruction of Newgate, published in 1781 (Source: Guildhall Library, 941 JAC, The Gordon Riots- A Collection of Contemporary Documents Compiled by Judith Kazantis; Photo: author’s own).

At first suspected of deliberately engineering the riots, Gordon’s failed attempts to calm the situation proved he had no control over the rioters. He was acquitted of high treason, but continued to loudly voice his controversial and provocative opinions. He converted to Judaism in 1787, and was eventually imprisoned for libel following publications criticising transportation to Botany Bay as a method of punishment, and insulting Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. He died of gaol fever in Newgate on the 1st of November 1793.

Lord George Gordon was admired by some, and considered insane by others. Whilst he was progressive in some of his views, for example his strong opposition to the death penalty, his hatred of Catholics complicates an interpretation of him as a radical reformer. However he is viewed, Gordon was a fascinating individual, who contributed to the history of disturbance in the capital, making London that bit more turbulent.

Sources

Archer J (2000) Social Unrest and Popular Protest in England 1780-1840, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bloom C (2010) Violent London- 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

German L and Rees J (2012) A People’s History of London, London: Verso.

Haydon C (2004) ‘Gordon, Lord George (1751-1793)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxfordddnb.com/view/article/11040 (Accessed on 15.04.13).

Haywood I and Seed J (ed.) (2012) The Gordon Riots- Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late-Eighteenth Century Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.