Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places - Protest, Progress & Power

Historic England

2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which gave the first British women the right to vote. This gallery of images from the Historic England Archive illustrates some of the places where the power of protest illuminated the cause for women's suffrage.

Deeds Not Words!

In 1897 seventeen regional societies campaigning for the vote for women were grouped under the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Led by Millicent Fawcett, the suffragists of the NUWSS campaigned and lobbied Members of Parliament in an attempt to fulfill their aims.

In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia set up the separate, more radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Its motto was 'deeds, not words', and its members undertook direct action like window-smashing and arson. Many were arrested, tried, imprisoned and tortured for their cause.

The Daily Mail newspaper dubbed members of the WSPU 'suffragettes'.

Pictured: a view of Deansgate, Manchester
The Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage was established in 1867. It had offices in commerical buildings in Deansgate, including at the Gothic-style corner building seen in this photograph.

Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester

On 14 April 1868 the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage held its first public meeting at the city's Free Trade Hall.

Thirty-seven years later the same venue witnessed the beginning of the militant campaign led by the Women's Social and Political Union.

In October 1905 Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a Liberal Party meeting at the Free Trade Hall and questioned whether the Liberals would enfranchise women. Their question was ignored and both women were removed before being arrested for obstruction and spitting at a policeman.

Strangeways Prison Manchester

Rather than pay a fine, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were imprisoned in Manchester's imposing Strangeways Prison.

It was at Strangeways that suffragette Emily Wilding Davison blockaded herself in her cell to avoid being forcibly fed. Her cell was flooded to force her out. Protests led to her receiving compensation.

10 Downing Street, Westminster, London

While 10 Downing Street has been associated with Prime Ministers since the 1730s, it was not until 1902 that the building became firmly established as the Prime Minister's traditional home.

On 19 January 1908, members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) chained themselves to the railings outside 10 Downing Street. Later that year, suffragettes Edith New and Mary Leigh threw stones and broke windows, resulting in two months imprisonment at Holloway.

On 1st March 1912, Emmeline Pankhurst, and three other WSPU members threw stones and broke four windows. Their arrest and conviction also resulted in a two month prison sentence.

HM Prison Holloway, Islington, London

The prison at Holloway became female-only in 1902. Over 1,000 suffragettes were imprisoned here for their criminal activities.

Suffragettes were treated as criminal prisoners rather than political prisoners. In protest, suffragette Marion Wallace-Dunlop began a hunger-strike in 1909, which was then taken up by the WSPU as policy. After ninety-one hours of fasting, Wallace-Dunlop was released from prison.

The prison authorities began force-feeding suffragettes on hunger-strike. Sylvia Pankhurst was forcibly fed at Holloway in 1913, a steel gag and rubber tube was used to administer milk, beaten eggs and vitamins into her stomach.

Church of St Stephen, Lympne, Kent

In 1909 the Home Office had concerns that Prime Minister Herbert Asquith might be targeted by suffragette assassins. Despite this, any consideration of personal protection remained minimal.

Asquith was attacked on a number of occasions in 1909. One incident occurred as he was leaving the Church of St Stephen on 5 September, when three WSPU members, Jessie Kenney, Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth accosted him and he was struck repeatedly.

Palace of Westminister, Parliament Square, London

As the home of Parliamentary democracy, the Palace of Westminster and Parliament Square were obvious places for suffragette demonstrations.

The attack on 10 Downing Street by Edith New and Mary Leigh in 1908 was a response to the way demonstrators had been treated in Parliament Square, and Mary Dunlop-Wallace was imprisoned for daubing slogans on the walls of Parliament.

In 1910 the Houses of Parliament were the backdrop to one of the most violent episodes in the struggle for women's suffrage. On 18 November, a deputation of three hundred women were assaulted by police. What became known as Black Friday sparked a campaign of destruction across the country that included window smashing and arson.

Roynton Cottage, Rivington, Lancashire

Roynton Cottage was one of the homes of the industrialist and philanthropist William Hesketh Lever. The original timber cottage was built in 1901 and was supposedly burned down in an arson attack by local WSPU activist Edith Rigby in 1913.

While at Liverpool Police Court facing charges relating to an explosion at Liverpool Cotton Exchange, Rigby admitted to causing the fire at Roynton. Despite this, she was neither charged nor convicted for the incident.

This photograph shows the building after it was reconstructed in stone. It was demolished in 1948.

Epsom Racecourse, Epsom Downs, Surrey

Emily Wilding Davison joined the WSPU in 1906 and gave up her teaching job in 1909 to commit herself full-time to the suffrage movement.

That year she was imprisoned in Manchester and sentenced to one month's hard labour for throwing rocks at the carriage of chancellor David Lloyd George.

On 4 June 1913 Davison famously left the enclosure at Epsom Racecourse and walked on to the track during the running of The Derby. She was knocked down by the king's horse and died of her injuries four days later.

The motive for her action remain unclear but at the time, the Daily Sketch newspaper declared her the 'First Martyr for Votes for Women.'

Church of Mary, Wargrave, Wokingham

Originally dating to the 13th century, the Church of St Mary at Wargrave was almost completely destroyed in an alleged suffragette arson attack in June 1914.

The local Reading Standard newspaper reported 'Discoveries at the church itself leave no shred of doubt that the fire was an act of incendiarism on the part of militant suffragists. There were three postcards charging the authorities with torturing women.'

The church was rebuilt two years later.

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London

Museums and art galleries were targets for militant suffragettes. Paintings at Manchester Art Gallery were attacked in April 1913 and in March 1914 Mary Richardson slashed a painting of Venus in the National Gallery in protest at the treatment of Emmeline Pankhurst. At her trial she declared that while she cared for art, she cared more for justice. In response, the gallery closed to the general public for two weeks.

In July 1914, suffragette Anne Hunt entered the National Portrait Gallery with a cleaver hidden on her person. In an apparent act of random vandalism, she slashed a portrait of philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle, painted by Sir John Everett Millais. A female student who was in the gallery copying portraits was one of the first to restrain Hunt.

Emmeline Pankhurst Statue, Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster, London

In February 1918 the Representation of the People Act became law. It enacted that women over the age of thirty, who met certain property qualifications, were granted the right to vote for the first time.

It would not be until 1928 that women were given the right to vote on the same terms as men.

Emmeline Pankhurst died on 14 June 1928 and was buried at Brompton Cemetery. To commemorate her achievements a bronze statue was unveiled in Victoria Tower Gardens, close to the Houses of Parliament, by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin on 6 March 1930.

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Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

From rebel barons at Runnymede to suffragettes at 10 Downing Street, from Chartists at Kennington Common to feminists at Greenham Common, England has witnessed the power of protest, progress and power.

Historic England's Irreplaceable campaign, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, aims to highlight the places that have changed England and the world.

Image: The Pankhurst Centre, Nelson Street, Manchester
The former home of Emmeline Pankhurst is now a museum, heritage centre and women's community centre.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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