Suffragette bombings

City of London Corporation

Discover the stories behind two suffragette bombs, from the collection of the City of London Police Museum.

Suffragette militancy
The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was the militant branch of the suffrage campaign. Known as the suffragettes, WSPU campaigners are known for their iconic green, white and violet (GWV: give women votes) colour scheme, and their 'Deeds Not Words' slogan. After decades of peaceful campaigning for the vote, they pioneered a more militant approach. Their militant acts, including window smashing and chaining themselves to railings, landed many suffragettes in prison.

Frustrated by the lack of action from government, the suffragettes escalated their militancy, becoming increasingly extreme and violent.

In 1913 Christabel Pankhurst, co-founder and organising secretary of the WSPU, wrote: ‘If men use explosives and bombs for their own purpose they call it war, and the throwing of a bomb that destroys other people is then described as a glorious and heroic deed.

'Why should a woman not make use of the same weapons as men?
It is not only war we have declared. We are fighting for a revolution!

The suffragettes targeted property and infrastructure, not civilians – setting fire to postboxes, breaking telegraph cables, smashing shop windows, attacking artworks and exhibits in museums and galleries, and carrying out arson and bomb attacks on buildings of public significance.

According to former suffragette Mary Leigh, WSPU leader Emmeline Pankhurst (the mother of Christabel): "gave us strict orders… there was not a cat or a canary to be killed: no life."

Despite this, the suffragettes' actions were and are considered by many to have been acts of terrorism.

According to the Suffragette newspaper, more than 300 incidents of arson and bombing were carried out between 1913 and 1914.

Two homemade bombs from the City of London Police Museum are believed to have been amongst several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used by the suffragettes during their campaign of violence and extremism.

The bomb pictured, as well as a second device now in the Police Museum collection, failed to detonate. They survive today as a striking example of the lengths to which suffragettes were prepared to go for their right to vote.

Suffragette targets for arson and bombings included the Theatre Royal, Kew Gardens teahouse, Holloway Prison, the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, and the home of Lady White.

Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison - who was later trampled and killed by the King's horse - bombed the home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George. The building was unoccupied at the time.

Emmeline Pankhurst was imprisoned for three years for complicity in the explosion at Lloyd George's house. The day after her imprisonment, this homemade bomb - made from a milk tin - was found outside the Bank of England. Police diffused the bomb before it went off.

This bomb, made from a mustard tin, was left under the Bishop's Chair in St Paul’s Cathedral, in May 1913, but failed to detonate.

The following year, in June 1914, Westminster Abbey was bombed.

Other churches attacked included Trafalgar Square's St Martin-in-the-Fields, and Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, however, caused the suffragettes to abruptly abandon their militant campaign and channel their energies into supporting the war effort.

According to LSE Women's Library: 'The increasing focus of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Pankhursts on supporting the War effort... led to the creation of The Women's Party. The political party still engaged with arguments for women's suffrage but was more concerned with patriotic support for the War.'

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