The Suffragettes of St George's Hall
The Suffragettes of St George’s Hall
St George’s Hall has a long association with women’s rights activism, providing a platform for suffragette activity and protest.
In 1907, Emmeline Pankhurst was heckled when she spoke at St George's Hall in support of women’s right to vote. Then in 1910, two suffragettes hid under the stage for 24 hours in order to interrupt Prime Minster Asquith's speech with shouts of ‘Justice for women and freedom!’
The Suffragette Newspaper records other examples of suffragette activity in Bradford – fires in three warehouses causing £80,000 of damage and a large quantity of purple dye being thrown into Chellow Dean Reservoir.
Lilian Armitage 1884 -1981
Lilian Armitage was a Bradford suffragette who campaigned for women’s right to vote.
Lilian was part of the cohort who attempted to enter the House of Commons in 1907 and as a result was arrested. At her trial she was found guilty and ordered to serve fourteen days in prison. Her name is on the Role of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners.
At this time, Lilian was the Secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) a faction of the suffragette movement based in Bradford at 61 Manningham Lane.
The WSPU held several meetings at St George’s Hall.
In 2019 over a hundred years after some women gained the right to vote, a street in Manningham was named Lilian Armitage Close, to honour the service of this courageous, campaigning suffragette.
Julia Varley 1871 – 1952
Bradford born, Julia Varley OBE, was a pioneering trade unionist and suffragette.
Julia Varley was 12 years old when she began working as a sweeper in a mill. At the age of 15 Julia became branch secretary of the Bradford Weavers’ and Textile Workers’ Union.
Active in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a militant faction of the Suffrage Movement, Julia was involved in a raid on the floor of the House of Commons in February 1907 and was sentenced to fourteen days in Holloway prison.
Julia wrote to the Bradford press to state, ‘we have got the fire of the old chartists in our veins, and prison won’t put it out.’ She and other women released with her were honoured by the WSPU in the form of a public breakfast on 27 February 1907 and presented with the certificate shown here.
By the end of her life Julia had devoted more than 50 years to achieve a living wage and improve the working conditions for women in low-paid employment.
Satirical Postcards circa 1911
These postcards promote the votes for women cause and illustrate the creativity, artistry and humour suffragettes used in their campaign.
Herbert Asquith, caricatured here as King Canute trying to hold back the tide of women’s suffrage, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916. He had opposed votes for women as early as 1882, and he remained well known as an adversary throughout his time as Prime Minister.
Asquith was a target for militant suffragettes as they abandoned hope of achieving the vote through peaceful means. In 1910 whilst delivering a speech at St George’s Hall, Asquith was interrupted by the two suffragettes, Mrs Runciman and Miss Fitch, who had hidden under the platform for 24 hours.
They had entered the building despite all entrances being guarded, a police presence and wardens regularly searching the building in an effort to keep out any ‘female interrupters.’ A further precaution of employing only male managers at the meeting had been taken. When asked how they had gained entry to St George's Hall, Mrs Runciman and Miss Fitch explained that they had found a door open on Drake Street and simply walked inside.
Atrocities in an English Prison
Suffragettes involved in active protest encountered police brutality at public demonstrations and horrific treatment in prison.
At a suffragette meeting at St George’s Hall, in 1908, Adela Pankhurst argued against women in the movement being imprisoned. She proposed a resolution condemning the government in refusing votes for women and extended sympathy with the women in Holloway Prison.
This document details the shocking ways in which suffragettes were abused by the authorities:
‘Two English women, unconvicted prisoners on remand in an English prison have been assaulted, knocked down, gagged, fed by force, kept for consecutive nights in irons.’
Adela Pankhurst was Emmeline Pankhurst’s youngest daughter and a suffragette leader. As a teenager, she was sent by her mother to campaign for votes for women in the north.
Adela was active in Bradford and at St George's Hall.
A document outlining the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) demands is believed to have been written by Adela during her time in Bradford. The WSPU had offices based at the Strand in London and also at 61 Manningham Lane in Bradford. In this image of a group of suffragettes, Adela is on the far right. The least famous of the Pankhurst women, Adela grew from a shy, under confident teenager to a powerful speaker who could hold the attention of huge crowds with wit and good humour:
‘Once in Bradford, I had a particularly tiresome and narkish interjector who kept up a running fire of disparaging interjections; at last he said; ‘If you were my wife I’d give you a dose of poison’. ‘No need for that, my friend’ I replied cheerfully, ‘If I were your wife I’d take it’. The audience yelled with delight and my tormentor left the meeting early’ Adela Pankhurst
Theatre of War
In order to gain publicity and raise awareness, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) engaged in direct action. Their slogan was ‘Deeds not Words’. They also employed a theatrical approach to public events.
Great attention was paid to costume. Suffragettes wore white dresses with sashes made with the suffragette colours of purple for loyalty, white for purity, and green for hope. They sang suffragette songs and carried beautifully designed banners, flowers and flags.
In this image you can see a parade of suffragettes on horseback waiting to greet Emmeline Pankhurst on her release from Holloway Prison.
As a result of campaigns dating back to the mid-19th century, some women were granted the vote in 1918, when the Representation of the People Act became law.
However, many women, particularly working-class women, were still excluded. In 1928, finally, all women over the age of 21 gained the right to vote on the same terms as men.