Toffee Hammer Listings: officially recognised sites of protest and sabotage

By Historic England

In June 2018, Historic England upgraded and updated over 40 sites that witnessed acts of protest by the suffragettes. This exhibit of images from the Historic England Archive illustrates some of these public theatres of protest. 

Plaque to Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester (2018-04-10) by James O Davies, Historic EnglandHistoric England


The suffragettes were members of the radical Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), established by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. Fighting for women to have the right to vote, their motto was 'Deeds Not Words'.

In February 1912 Emmeline declared that 'the argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics'.

The suffragettes used toffee hammers to smash windows in prominent locations, making a political statement without endangering lives.

They also burned letter boxes, attacked paintings in art galleries and placed homemade bombs in empty buildings.

Many of these stories of protest are now officially recognised and included in entries in the National Heritage List for England.

Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester (2018-04-10) by James O Davies, Historic EnglandHistoric England

Free Trade Hall, Manchester

Manchester's Free Trade Hall is where the militant suffrage campaign began.

After two years of small meetings, tactics changed when two WSPU members, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, attended a Liberal Party meeting at the Free Trade Hall.

The pair hung a 'Votes for Women' banner over the balcony and demanded to know whether a Liberal government would give votes to women. A scuffle ensued and the women were ejected and arrested.

They refused to pay a fine and were imprisoned, starting nine years of militant direct action by women determined to get parliamentary votes.

See the list entry for the Free Trade Hall

St Stephen's Hall, Palace of Westminster (1870/1900) by York & SonHistoric England

St Stephen's Hall, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, Greater London

The Houses of Parliament was an important site of protest as it represented the system that suffragettes were fighting to access.

In November and December 1906 suffragettes entered the Hall and held impromptu meetings there, leading to several arrests.

The entrance to St Stepehen's Hall was the focus of militant protest during the 'Women's Parliaments' held by the WSPU from 1906 to 1911.

In April 1909 four women chained themselves to statues of Walpole, Lord Somers, Lord Selden and Lord Falkland. The spur of the statue of Lord Falkland was damaged when the women were removed.

In June the same year, Marion Wallace-Dunlop stencilled a passage from the Bill of Rights on the wall. She was imprisoned and became the first suffragette prisoner to go on hunger strike.

See the list entry for the Houses of Parliament

Brighton Dome, Church Street, Brighton, City of Brighton and Hove (1960/1969) by Eric de MaréHistoric England

Brighton Dome, Brighton

Suffragette leaders Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and Lady Emily Lutyens all spoke to large audiences at the Dome.

It was also a site of militant activity by suffragettes who interrupted several meetings by Liberal politicians.

In November 1907 around twenty suffragettes were violently ejected from a meeting by Reginald McKenna MP. In January 1910 two suffragettes hid in the Dome overnight but were discovered before the arrival of the Prime Minister.

See the list entry for Brighton Dome

Interior view of St George's Hall, St George's Place, Liverpool (1987-05-15) by Tony Perry, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of EnglandHistoric England

St George's Hall, Liverpool

In reaction to WSPU campaigning, political meetings by the Liberal party were tightly controlled.

In May 1909 Earl Crewe and Augustine Birrell MP were awarded honorary degrees by the University of Liverpool in a ceremony at St George's Hall.

Local WSPU organiser, Mary Phillips, entered the hall the night before the event and hid in the organ loft and under the stage. After twenty-four hours without sleep she interrupted Birrell's speech to protest against the imprisonment of local suffragette Patricia Woodlock.

Mary was eventually found and removed from the building.

See the list entry for St George's Hall

Former Central Post Office, St Nicholas' Street, Grainger Town, Newcastle Upon Tyne (2003-03-11) by Bob Skingle, English HeritageHistoric England

Former Post Office, St Nicholas' Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Post Offices were often targets for militant suffragettes.

In October 1909 the Chancellor, David Lloyd George, and Education Secretary, Walter Runciman, held a series of meetings in Newcastle.

Efforts to keep suffragettes out of the meetings led to protests on the streets. A series of violent actions occurred, including a woman cutting through barricades with a hatchet and stones thrown through the windows of the Post Office.

Twelve suffragettes were arrested and imprisoned.

See the list entry for the Former Post Office

Walton Gaol, Hornby Road, Liverpool (1949-05-29) by Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Walton Gaol, Liverpool

Walton Gaol, now HMP Liverpool, was the site of one of the most important suffragette prison protests.

In 1910 Lady Constance Lytton sought to highlight the unfair treatment of working class suffragettes compared to those of a higher social class.

Lady Constance, who had a heart condition, was arrested in Newcastle in October 1909. She was released after starting a hunger strike - Lytton believed this was because of her aristocratic status.

In January 1910 she disguised herself as a working-class suffragette, threw stones at the windows of the governor's house and was arrested. She was forcibly fed but was released when her true identity was revealed.

See the list entry for the Gatehouse at Walton Gaol

Interior view of a wing at HMYOI Aylesbury, Bierton Road, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (1995-09-26) by James O Davies, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of EnglandHistoric England

Aylesbury Gaol, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Aylesbury Gaol was the starting point for the largest mass hunger strike by suffragettes.

A number of suffragettes arrested following a window-smashing raid in London in March 1912 were housed at Aylesbury as Holloway Prison, the usual suffragette prison, was full.

On 5 April, the prisoners began a secret hunger strike that went undetected for several days.

When the authorities found out, the hunger strikers were force-fed, although four were released on health grounds.

See the list entry for Aylesbury Gaol

Cutlers' Hall, Church Street, Sheffield (2004-07-31) by Keith Buck, English HeritageHistoric England

Cutlers' Hall, Sheffield

Cutlers' Hall in Sheffield was a venue for suffragette meetings and a site of protest.

In October 1912 First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, attended the Annual Cutlers' Feast. He was smuggled from the railway station in a luggage lift and driven to the Hall where he was harangued by protesters.

A large police presence kept suffragettes at bay but protesters managed to disrupt the event by sending Churchill several telegrams during the dinner.

See the list entry for Cutlers' Hall

The Refreshment Pavilion, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond Upon Thames, Greater London (1900/1904) by Wyndham SeriesHistoric England

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond Upon Thames, Greater London

The Royal Botanic Gardens, or Kew Gardens, was the site of militant protests by the WSPU.

On 10 February 1913, three Orchard Houses at Kew were attacked overnight - windows were smashed and flowers scattered. An envelope reading 'votes for women' was left at the scene.

Two weeks later a fire was started at the Tea Pavilion in the early hours of the morning. Two women, Olive Wharry and Lillian Lenton were seen running from the scene carrying bags containing paraffin, a hammer and a saw. Both women were convicted and imprisoned.

See the list entry for Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Crown Jewels on display in the Wakefield Tower, Tower of London, Tower Hill, Tower Hamlets, Greater London (1870/1900) by York & SonHistoric England

The Crown Jewels, Tower of London, Tower Hamlets, Greater London

In February 1913 Leonora Cohen from Leeds, made an attack on the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.

She managed to enter the Jewel Room with an iron bar hidden in her coat. Before she was arrested, Leonora managed to smash the case containing the coronation regalia.

She conducted her own defence during her trial at the London Sessions and produced a witness who stated that the damage she had caused amounted to less than five pounds.

This figure was lower than the seven pounds worth of damage she was charged with. The trial jury was unable to agree the exact amount and Leonora was acquitted.

See the list entry for the Tower of London

Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester (2018-04-10) by James O Davies, Historic EnglandHistoric England

Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester

Manchester Art Gallery was the site of the first attack on artworks by suffragettes.

On 3 April 1913, Lillian Forrester, Annie Briggs and Evelyn Manesta were discovered smashing the glass of paintings in protest at the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Thirteen works of art were damaged, included pieces by Millais, Burne-Jones and Rossetti.

Annie was acquitted but Lillian and Evelyn were convicted and imprisoned. Their photographs were circulated to art galleries around the country to deter future attacks.

However, other women followed their example and suffragette attacks at art galleries and museums occurred the following year.

See the list entry for Manchester Art Gallery

Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester (2018-04-10) by James O Davies, Historic EnglandHistoric England

Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester

The damaged caused to thirteen works of art by Lillian Forrester, Annie Briggs and Evelyn Manesta was estimated at over £100.

Spinners' Hall, St George's Road, Bolton (2018-04-10) by James O Davies, Historic EnglandHistoric England

Spinners' Hall, Bolton

The incident at Spinners' Hall was typical of a suffragette bomb attack.

On 5 July 1913 a package containing gun powder was put through the letterbox but landed on a tiled floor where the fuse went out.

A report of the incident was reprinted in the WSPU's newspaper The Suffragette, suggesting that Union was responsible for the bomb.

See the list entry for Spinners' Hall

Smeaton's Tower, The Promenade, The Hoe, Plymouth (2008) by Peter Williams, English HeritageHistoric England

Smeaton's Tower, Plymouth

Plymouth may have been a suffragette target as Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested there on her return from a speaking tour of the USA.

On 19 April 1913 a homemade bomb was found at the entrance to Smeaton's Tower. Painted on the outside were the slogans 'votes for women' and 'death in ten minutes'.

The attack failed as the lit wick blew out before the bomb could ignite.

See the list entry for Smeaton's Tower

Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom Downs, Epsom, Surrey (1922-05) by Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom, Surrey

One of the best known WSPU protests occurred at Epsom Downs Racecourse.

On 4 June 1913, veteran WSPU member, Emily Wilding Davison, ran across the track during the Derby and was struck by the king's horse, Anmer. It is thought she was trying to fix a scarf to the horse's bridle.

Davison died four days later and received spectacular funerals in London and Morpeth, organised by the WSPU.

The scarf, striped in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green, is now in the Parliamentary archives.

See the list entry for the Prince's Stand at Epsom Race Course

The Grand Hotel, Colmore Row, Birmingham (2018-03-21) by James O Davies, Historic EnglandHistoric England

The Grand Hotel, Birmingham

Several political meetings held at The Grand Hotel were disrupted by suffragettes.

In July 1913 the visit of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith sparked a week of militant protests. Pillar boxes were damaged and an empty house was destroyed by fire.

On 21 July suffragettes gathered outside The Grand Hotel where Asquith was speaking at a formal dinner. Windows were smashed at the hotel and in nearby streets, resulting in several arrests.

See the list entry for The Grand Hotel

The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, Westminster, Greater London (1870/1900) by York & SonHistoric England

Westminster Abbey, Greater London

Westminster Abbey was the scene of a number of WSPU protests.

Services were disrupted several times in 1913 and 1914. During one protest, a woman chained herself to her chair when the Archbishop of Canterbury was preaching. Both she and the chair were carried out of the building by vergers.

In June 1914 the 13th century Coronation Chair was damaged by a bomb.

See the list entry for Westminster Abbey

Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, Westminster, Greater London (2001-11-23) by Derek Kendall, English HeritageHistoric England

Duke of York's Theatre, Westminster, Greater London

Theatres and restaurants were sites for protest by the WSPU as they provided a ready audience for the suffragette message.

Theatre protests became popular after 1913 when the owners of many public halls were refusing to hire them out for suffragette meetings.

The Duke of York's witnessed a number of protests in 1913 and 1914. Women took seats in the gallery and stood to give speeches during performances, and handbills were thrown down into the stalls.

The final protest at the Duke of York's on 27 July 1914 was one of the last militant protests before the WSPU suspended campaigning at the outbreak of the First World War.

See the list entry for the Duke of York's Theatre

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