International Women’s Week Special
March 2020 tour: Sunday 1 March 2020.
Meet: Emmeline Pankhurst Statue, St Peter’s Square, 11.30am.
Booking: Please press here to book with eventbrite.
• Christabel: suffragette icon, arrested at the Free Trade Hall, locked in Strangeways.
• Sylvia: suffragette icon, joshed with Lenin, befriended Haile Selassie. MI5 called her “the tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst”.
• Emmeline: suffragette icon, Independent Labour Party campaigner, Tory Party candidate (not at the same time).
Walk in the footsteps of the family who won women the vote.
Okay, let’s go into it in a little more detail…
In August 1819 at least a dozen people were killed demonstrating for the right to vote at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester.
Nearly a hundred years later, in 1903, the Pankhurst family, disgusted with the Independent Labour Party’s refusal to allow women to use the newly-opened Pankhurst Hall in north Manchester, founded the Women’s Social and Political Union to campaign for the right of women to have the vote in parliamentary elections.
What had been a sedate pressure group, willing to stay within the law to change the law, soon became hostile and aggressive. The suffragettes disrupted a rally staged by the opposition, the Liberal Party, at the Free Trade Hall in 1905 and two of their leaders – Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney – were jailed. Manchester had become Suffragette City, but it took a generation and many thousands of broken windows for women to secure the vote.
This walk by Ed Glinert is in memory of the Pankhursts – Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia – fierce campaigners, resolute radicals, recalling their city centre haunts and outlining their struggle.
Here are two excerpts from the walk:
(i) the story of the infamous October 1905 Free Trade Hall rally.
One of the key events in the early 20th century campaign to gain women the vote took place at the Free Trade Hall (now the Radisson Hotel) on 13 October 1905. By that time the newspapers had lost interest in the struggle for women’s rights. Few meetings were reported meetings and letters on the subject rarely published. But a general election was imminent. The country knew that Arthur Balfour’s Tory government was about to collapse. Balfour, who represented a Manchester seat (barely believable now) resigned as PM that December and even lost his seat at the General Election at the end of January 1906.
With the Liberals expected to win the election – they secured a landslide – the party held a rally at Manchester’s main hall that October day. The Women’s Social and Political Union, the WSPU, founded by the Pankhurst family two years earlier, wrote to the Liberal Sir Edward Grey, who was to become foreign secretary the following year, asking him to receive a deputation, but he did not reply.
So Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenny joined the audience at the Free Trade Hall, intending to heckle, and even to be arrested and imprisoned. But not Emmeline Pankhurst, who was worried her post as Registrar in Manchester might be affected, should be imprisoned. Christabel bade her mother farewell before the meeting with the words: “We shall sleep in prison tonight”.
After the speeches Annie Kenney stood up and asked Winston Churchill, prospective Liberal candidate for Manchester North-West: “If you are elected will you do your best to make women’s suffrage a Government measure?” There was no answer, so she asked again. Christabel Pankhurst stood up and waved her banner, repeating the question. This led to cries of “Be quiet”, “Let the lady speak”. A steward hauled her back and placed a hat over Annie Kenney’s face. She then stood on a chair to make her protest.
The Chief Constable of Manchester, William Peacock, told the women that if they would put the question in writing, he would take it himself to Edward Grey. But Grey fumbled and failed to answer the request, and when he rose to acknowledge a vote of thanks, Annie stood on a chair to ask again. Liberal Party stewards and policemen in plain clothes soon dragged them both from the hall.
Determined to be imprisoned, Christabel fought against ejection. When detectives thrust her into an ante-room she cried to her captors: “I shall assault you!” When they pinioned her: “I shall spit at you!” She tried to spit but didn’t succeed. She also tried to land a blow at the inspector as she and Annie Kenney were flung out of the building. Yet still she was not arrested. Outside in South Street they held an impromptu meeting as the crowds left the hall. They were arrested and frog-marched to the Town Hall. On the way to the Town Hall cell Annie Kenny said to Christabel Pankhurst: “Never mind. We have got what we wanted.” Pankhurst replied: “Yes, I wanted to assault a policeman.”
The next day they appeared in court. Christabel was fined half a guinea for assaulting a policeman and 5/- for obstruction, with the alternative of 7 days in prison. Annie was fined 5/- (or three days inside). Both women rejected all offers of help with the fines and went to the cells. Emmeline saw them leave for gaol and pleaded to her daughter: “You have done everything you could be expected to do in this matter. I think you should let me pay your fines and take you home.” Christabel responded: “Mother, if you pay my fine I will never go home.”
Annie Kenney later recalled: “I remember very little of my life in prison. Being my first visit to gaol, the newness of the life numbed me. I do remember the plank bed, the skilly, the prison clothes. I also remember going to church and sitting next to Christabel, who looked very coy and pretty in her prison cap. She took my hand tenderly and just held it, as though I were a lost child being guided home.”
Churchill thought the jailing would damage his chances of victory, so he went to Strangeways to pay the fines but the governor refused to accept his offer.
(ii) the Suffragettes attack on Manchester Art Gallery, 1913
On 3 April 1913 three suffragettes attacked a number of pictures at Manchester Art Gallery. The incident occurred at 9 o’clock in the evening when Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester cracked the glass of several paintings, including Lord Leighton’s 1887 work Last Watch of Hero (pictured) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Astarte Syriaca.
The dramatic incident came in response to the sentencing of three years penal servitude handed to the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst at the Old Bailey a few days previously. She had claimed responsibility for the fire-bombing of the unfinished, newly-built house of the home secretary David Lloyd George. At a meeting in Cardiff Mrs Pankhurst declared: “We have blown up the Chancellor of Exchequer’s house … and for all that has been done in the past I accept responsibility. I have advised, I have incited, I have conspired.”
Pankhurst stayed in jail only a few days and was then released on licence. Nevertheless there were a number of severe ripostes. At Manchester Art Gallery that April night the attendants found three women “making a rush around the room, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable paintings in the collection”, as the Manchester Guardian reported it.
The pictures targeted were those that the women deemed abhorrent to the suffragette cause. Astarte Syriaca was particularly despised for its espousal of Victorian femininity. The three women were tried on 22 April, charged with “unlawfully and maliciously damaging” thirteen pictures in the gallery. Annie Briggs announced: “I am not guilty of the charges brought against me. I gave my comrades my fullest support but in no way aided them. Our women take their course on their own deliberate responsibility. This is not a personal but a world question… Women have to protest against things which are intolerable to them.”
Lilian Forrester stated: “I do not stand here as a malicious person but as a patriot…a political offender…. I appeal to the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. We have already been punished by appearing before the courts three times and going through the present ordeal…. I have a degree in history and my knowledge of history has spurred me to this fight for women’s freedom.” Evelyn Manesta declared “I am a political offender.”
The jury acquitted Annie Briggs and convicted Lilian and Evelyn. Lilian Forrester was sentenced to three months imprisonment and Evelyn Manesta to one month. The judge, astonishingly, told the court: “If the law would allow I would send you round the world in a sailing ship as the best thing for you.”