Posts Tagged ‘Women’s suffrage’

A guest post by LH Member Anne Carwardine.

Source: Parliamentary Archives.

Source: Parliamentary Archives.

As a woman, if I had wanted to observe proceedings in Parliament two hundred years ago I would have had to crane my neck and peer down through a ventilation shaft. One hundred years ago I would have been in the Ladies Gallery, high above the Speaker’s Chair, with a heavy metal grille blocking much of my view and making it difficult to focus. (Campaigner Millicent Fawcett described this as like looking through a gigantic pair of spectacles which did not fit).

On a recent tour of Parliament, which focussed on connections with the Votes for Women campaign, the group I was in (mostly women) stood on the floor of the House of Commons looking up at the Ladies’ Gallery and wondering what it would have been like to be confined there.

In October 1908 Muriel Matters and Helen Fox of the Women’s Freedom League chained themselves to the grille, while Violet Tillard lowered a banner demanding that women be given the vote in the current session. The grille had to be removed temporarily in order to saw off the protestors’ chains; it would be another nine years before it was removed permanently and another ten before any women were able to vote.

The Ladies' Gallery (Source: parliament.co.uk)

The Ladies’ Gallery (Source: parliament.co.uk)

Beyond doorways to each side of the Commons we could glimpse the division lobbies, through which MPs pass when there is a vote. In November 1910 Emily Wilding Davison, one of the more militant protestors and most famous for her death at the Epsom Derby, threw a hammer through a window between the lobby and the main chamber.

We returned through the Central Lobby, where the original grille from the Ladies Gallery has been installed as a reminder of how things once were. Opposite it is a tall bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher (apparently she was disappointed that it was not made of iron). I had the impression that there were differing views in the group as to how much she did for women.

Next was St Stephen’s Hall, with statues of Walpole, Seldon, Somers and Falkland. In April 1909 four members of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) chained themselves to these statues to advertise a rally at the Albert Hall. You can still see where the spur of the Falkland one was broken off during this incident. No longer visible is the passage from the Bill of Rights which campaigner Marion Wallace-Dunlop (the first hunger striker) printed on the wall, having smuggled in a small printing press.

Falkland statue

The boot with broken spur on the Falkland statue in St Stephen’s Hall.

In one corner of St Stephen’s Hall is a more recent memorial to the suffrage campaigners – a tall stained glass window, designed by Shona McInnes, which was installed in 2002 and incorporates symbols, such as handcuffs, connected to the movement.

Suffrage window

Part of the stained glass window in St Stephen’s Hall

Disappointingly we did not have the opportunity to see the cupboard in the Chapel where Emily Wilding Davison hid in on census night, so that her address would be recorded as the Palace of Westminster, with a plaque that Tony Benn had installed to commemorate this protest.

The talks which followed the tour were mainly concerned with art in the Houses of Parliament. Unsurprisingly, given the male bias of most of the institution’s history, representations of men predominate. However, the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art has commissioned artist Mary Branson to create a piece to honour the women’s suffrage campaigners. Entitled ‘New Dawn’, it will consist of a sun made up of many glass circles, lightening and darkening in synchronicity with the Thames’ tides, and will be installed at the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall in 2016. Sunrise was an image used frequently by suffrage campaigners and so this seems an appropriate memorial to them.

The recent release of the film ‘Suffragette’ has drawn attention to the Votes for Women campaign, much of which was played out in London. I am currently working on a book about campaigners including Violet Tillard from my home town of Tunbridge Wells.


The Sufragette Season of tours at the Palace of Westminster runs until the end of October. You may get on if you’re quick. Look here.


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Edith Garrud

A Guest Post by LH Member Rob Smith.

Just off Islington’s Caledonian Road, in Thornhill Square you will find a green plaque commemorating Edith Garrud (1872 – 1971) – a woman known as the Jujitsu Suffragette. Edith and her husband were physical training instructors, a fairly unusual job for a woman in the 1890s. In 1899 they were introduced to Jujitsu by Edward Barton Wright, who had travelled extensively in Japan. Edith excelled at this and was appointed chief instructor at the Jujitsu school in the West End. In 1907 Pathe films were looking for new subjects for action for narrative films and a jujitsu action movie was perfect. Edith starred in “Jujitsu Brings Down the Footpads” which involved a purse thief being chased across various London locations, before Edith delivers her own brand of street justice!

When the suffragettes began their campaign of window breaking they started using the Jujitsu school as a place to rendezvous, with Edith offering an alibi, their hammers hidden away under exercise mats. Violence against suffragette rallies was becoming more common so Edith felt she could help by teaching them self defence. She trained an elite suffragette group called The Bodyguard in secret locations across London. When the police tried to arrest the Pankhursts, The Bodyguard were there. Edith was only 4 ft 11 but seen to have thrown a 13 stone policeman over her shoulder. A Punch cartoon showed a group of policemen cowering away from her.

Edith Garrud, Punch magazine

After the success of the votes for women campaign, Edith carried on as a martial arts instructor and lived in Thornhill Square Islington until she died aged 99. She remained defiant during the Blitz saying she wasn’t afraid of bombs and would just go about her business during air raids, waving her fist at Hitler’s planes.

When Islington Council decided to honour her with one of its green plaques, it was unveiled by Edith’s great granddaughter, who is a boxer. I think Edith would be pleased her fighting spirit continues.


Rob Smith is a guide with Footprints of London

His next walk is “Up and Down The City Road” on 27th June which talks about the hospitals, industry and entertainments that lined the City road during the 18th and 19th century. London Historians members can book at concession rate. Information and booking here.

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