Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst with the spires of Westminster in the background

Emmeline Pankhurst statue at Westminster © Historic England Explore more photos
Emmeline Pankhurst statue at Westminster © Historic England Explore more photos

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.

London

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.

Head of a procession of women in Hyde Park June 1908
Women's Sunday procession in Hyde Park, 21 June 1908

Memorials

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.

Statue of Millicent Fawcett holding a banner that displays text:
"Courage calls to courage everywhere"
Statue of Millicent Fawcett, leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) established in 1897 © Public domain Garry Knight

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.

Old postcard showing image of Victoria Park
Victoria Park, London © Historic England

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.

Manchester

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. 

Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, Lancashire. General view of front elevation, view from north east.
Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester © Historic England DP220475

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.

Red brick prison buildings and central tower
HMP Manchester, formerly known as Strangeways Gaol, showing the extraction tower for the heating and ventilation system approximately 234 feet high © Historic England

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.

Bronze statue of Emmeline Pankhurst
Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst unveiled in Manchester on 14 December 2018 © Delusion23 from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Interior of a prison wing at Strangeways.
One of the six prison wings radiating from central concourse at HMP Manchester, formerly known as Strangeways Gaol © Historic England
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