A Place in History: Cities at the Centre of the Struggle for Suffrage
The campaign for women’s suffrage is part of the fabric of cities that were at the centre of the struggle.
As the epicentre of the suffragettes’ campaign, many landmarks, including Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, were meeting places for rallies. Central London is also the location of numerous sites of sabotage and memorials.
A plaque marks the building at 4 Clement’s Inn, where the Women’s and Social Political Union (WSPU) moved its offices in 1906 to be nearer to Westminster. In 1912, the organisation based itself at another central location, Lincoln’s Inn on Kingsway.
Memorials include a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament, and a memorial in Christchurch Gardens, near Caxton Hall, where the WSPU held its annual women’s parliament. A statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett by artist Gillian Wearing was erected in Parliament Square in 2018 - the first statue of a woman and by a woman on Parliament Square.
Meetings, rallies and offices
In the East End, Bow was the heartland of the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) with headquarters at 198 Bow Road, now a block of flats. A plaque commemorates MP George Lansbury, a lifelong supporter of women’s rights, at his former home at 39 Bow Road. Activities also centred on the now-closed WF Arber & Co, a printing works at 459 Roman Road where handbills were produced. Also on Roman Road were the former Bow Baths where Sylvia Pankhurst organised supporters. Victoria Park was the site of many rallies and Bromley Public Hall, still standing, the venue for meetings. Bow police station was where women were taken before being transferred to Holloway.
In north London, the now derelict site of Holloway has been a focal point for women’s rights campaigners and the nearby library on Camden Road has been renamed the Cat and Mouse Library. Edith Garrud, the martial arts expert who led “The Bodyguard” is remembered with a People’s Plaque at 60 Thornhill Square in Islington.
The birthplace of the Pankhursts and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the city has a number of important suffrage landmarks. These include the Free Trade Hall (now the Radisson Blue Edwardian Hotel) where on 13 October 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney went to a Liberal Party election meeting and hung a banner reading ‘Votes for Women’ over the balcony, demanding to know whether a Liberal government would give votes to women. After a scuffle they were ejected from the hall then arrested.
They refused to pay a fine, so went to prison, starting nine years of militant direct action by women determined to get parliamentary votes.
Many militant suffragettes were incarcerated and endured forcible feeding at Strangeways prison, including Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenney and Emily Davison.
Emmeline Pankhurst's home and statue
Emmeline Pankhurst’s former home at 63 Nelson Street, Chorlton on Medlock, is now the Pankhurst Centre and has a recreation of the family’s parlour as well as a community centre offering workshops and services for women.
A statue of Emmeline was unveiled in 2018 in St Peter’s Square following a campaign by the WoManchester Statue Project. It was designed by sculptor Hazel Reeves and is symbolically oriented towards the former Free Trade Hall.
Targets for attack
Paintings at Manchester Art Gallery were the target of an attack by the suffragettes on 4 April 1913. Alexandra Park’s cactus house was destroyed by a pipe bomb in 1913.