Suffragette Movement

From Historical Hastings

"In the mid-nineteenth century, Hastings was one of the only towns in Britain where women greatly outnumbered men...In this unusual environment, women were able to meet, talk and freely share new ideas...From her home in Pelham Crescent, Barbara Leigh Smith, later known as Madame Bodichon, regularly travelled to London in the 1850s to meet a suffragette group at Langham Place and wrote for the Hastings & St Leonards News under the pen name Esculapius..Leigh Smith wrote that a woman should “rejoice in one’s legs like a free-minded Albion’s daughter”. Every step she took with her wind-swept ankles was a radical act...she hung out in Hastings’ bohemian circle with re-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and campaigned for women’s right to education, and to control their own property and earnings.[1]."

1913 Riot

On Wednesday, the 14th of May 1913, there was to have been a procession of the movement in response to the 'Taxation without Representation' claims, starting from Mrs. Darent Harrison's house in Church Road. Prior to the start of the procession, a large crowd of opposers, both male and female, gathered and started to mock the Suffragettes, seizing banners from the assembled Suffragettes and taunting them. When the organiser, Mrs. Harrison appeared and gave directions to the leading coach-man shouts of 'To Hellingly' were heard. The procession left Church Road down to the seafront, along to the Memorial and back along the seafront accompanied by a band from Hailsham (this was originally incorrectly reported to have been from Hastings). At all points along the route, the procession was harangued by a crowd of opposers, them seizing flags and banners and tossing them asunder. The anti-suffragettes presence was felt to be particularly threatening along Robertson Street, where the band reportedly played 'Sussex by the Sea' in an attempt to calm things down. As the procession reached Norman Road - the venue of a planned sale - one of the carriages was overturned. The ladies and coachman escaped without injury, but as the ladies attempted to repel the crowd, the police urged them to desist from such actions[2].

A meeting was also planned to take place at the Royal Concert Hall. This meeting was cancelled by William Slade, the proprietor of the hall, for fear of a general disturbance. There was indeed a disturbance leading to a number of individuals appearing in court. The riot was variously called 'The Suffragette Riot' or the 'Anti-Suffragette Riot' depending on the perspective of the reporter. Complaints of 'manhandling' leading to hats being torn off and clothing ripped asunder were made to the magistrates. Mr. Slade wrote to the organiser of the meeting stating that due to the cancellation, there would be no charge for the usage of the venue, however he had incurred costs of 16s. for police to maintain order at the event and would like this to be re-imbursed. Mrs. Darent E. I. Harrison wrote back to Mr. Slade stating that she had no intention of paying this sum, issuing proceedings at the local magistrates to have the matter decided as well as providing an explanation to the cancellation of the meeting [3].


Women sue Hastings Corporation

At about 8pm on 20th May 1913, an NUWSS meeting at the suffrage club, 7 Havelock Road, was interrupted by a mob of angry 'roughs' who began yelling, threatening, and hurling missiles, including eggs, stones, and flour, at the building. The mob had actually gathered to attack a WSPU open-air gathering in nearby Wellington Square, but the police advised them to postpone it. The mob were all worked up for a fight and were looking for a suitable alternative target. After a while, the police came and told the women that it was safe to leave the club, although the mob was growing by the minute. As some left, they were attacked physically. About 300 men had by then assembled. Miss Marchant, a mistress at Silverhill Boys' School, was hit in the back and head, and her hat was ripped off, the pin tearing out her hair. More police were now present, trying to hold back the mob which had gathered by the archway at the station end of Havelock Road. The mob grew larger; some say there were as many as 3,000. There were skirmishes up and down the road as men attacked the escaping women, ripping their clothes and bruising them. Ladies leaving by motor car suffered smashed headlights and windows. One young woman, Miss Pelly, was almost dragged out of her car by the baying mob, but was saved by her mother and Miss Strickland. Three women took refuge in Green's Hotel, 1 Havelock Rd. The crowd followed and attacked the hotel, smashing its windows and glassware.

The landlord, Mr Wade, ordered the women to leave, fearing his hotel would be wrecked, but the women, frightened and under great pressure, promised to pay for any damage. Wade insisted on a written agreement, which was hastily drawn up. He later presented a bill for £12.5s 6d and was paid. Led by NUWSS Hastings Branch Secretary Miss A. Kate Rance of 17 East Ascent, the women sued the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Hastings, under the Riot Damage Act, for recovery of the money paid to Mr Wade.

It was suggested that the men were incensed by the recent Levetleigh incident, in which an empty mansion recently vacated by the local MP was burnt down, and suffragettes were suspected. If so, the mob was ignorant of the finer points of the suffrage movement: the women they attacked were the constitutional suffragists, totally opposed to violence.


SEQUEL TO ANTI-SUFFRAGE RIOT POLICE FORCE INADEQUATE At Hastings County Court on Tuesday, his Honour Judge Mackarness delivered judgement in the case arising out of Anti-Suffragists disturbances at Hastings on the 20th May.

The plaintiffs were Miss A. K. Rance, Madame Oosterveen, and Miss [sic] Homer-Pryce who were represented at the hearing by Mr. F. W. Morgan, solicitor, Hastings. The defendants were the Mayor and Corporation of Hastings. They were represented at the hearing by Mr. C.F Baker, barrister. instructed by Mr. Percy Idle (Assistant Town Clerk of Hastings).

Councillors H. N. Collins, T. Reed, and W. Felton-Smith were present in Court as were also many Suffragist ladies, including Miss Rance, Mrs. F. Strickland, Mrs. F. C. Tibbs, and Mrs. Bowerman Chibnall.

His Honour said, that that was an action brought against the Mayor and Corporation of Hastings by the ladies who were members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies founded over 40 years ago by John Stuart Mill, Charles Kingsley. and Mrs. Henry Fawcett.

The sum in dispute £12. 5s is small, but THE PRINCIPAL AT STAKE was important. The ladies claimed to recover under the Riot (Damages) Act, 1888, money paid ito the landlord of Green's Hotel, Havelock-road, Hastings, in which they were compelled to take refuge from a mob on the night of the 20th of May. The mob attacked the hotel and broke the windows in the desire to get at the plaintiffs. The landlord was not prepared to offer them protection unless they signed an agreement. That agreement they signed, and now they claimed to recover the money from the Corporation. For the defence it was alleged that there was no 'riot' within the meaning of the Act; and, secondly, there was no consideration for the payment to the landlord, inasmuch as "there was a duty cast on him by common law to afford accommodation to those who were willing to pay for it. He (the Judge) thought that that last-defence was founded on a misrepresentation of the duty of a landlord; he was bound to afford food and lodging unless there were reasonable grounds for refusal. If there were elements of danger a landlord was legally justified in demanding a pecuniary guarantee against the loss which the reception of the travellers might bring upon him. His Honour then passed to the more substantial defence. The Act provided that where a house, shop or building had been injured or destroyed by any persons riotously and tumultuously assembled 'such compensation as hereinafter mentioned should be paid out of the Police Rate' to any person sustaining loss.

A house called Levetleigh had been burnt down and, rightly or wrongly, this was attributed to the women called Militant Suffragettes. On the evening of the 20th May the Militants had arranged to hold a meeting in Wellington-square which, on the advice of the Police, they decided to postpone. He had no doubt that a disturbance was deliberately arranged to break up the meeting. Not far from the square was Havelock-road, in which was situated the Club to which the plaintiffs belonged: a club dissociating itself ostentatiously from the Militant Suffragists. The meeting at the Club was addressed by Mrs Strickland a member of the [Corporation] Education Committee. The subject was 'But westward look! The land is bright.' That was, hardly, he should think, a provocative subject, nor did it seem to suggest what to many people seemed dangerous, the desirability of allowing women citizens a voice in passing the laws they were obliged to obey.

Notwithstanding, in view of the expected disturbance in Wellington-Square, Mrs. Strickland mentioned it to the Police. A constable went to the club. Mrs Strickland's arrangements were, he regretted, not adequate. It was known to the police that there was a deep feeling throughout the borough. They were warned by messages and anonymous letters that people were coming from all parts; the watchword of the crowd was "Remember Levetleigh". He had no doubt that the plaintiffs suffered loss by a riotous and tumultuous mob within the meaning of the Act and were entitled to recover compensation. He gave judgement for plaintiffs with costs on the higher scale on the ground that the matter was one of public interest and of importance to persons concerned for or against the enfranchisement of women citizens.

Ladies in Court cheered and there were cries of "Votes for Women." The Judge retained his impassive demeanour, and tiny demonstration was suppressed by cries of "Silence." Mr. Percy Idle asked for leave to appeal. This was granted. [4]

Mrs Homer Pryce was already in delicate health, and she died eight weeks after the court case. An announcement in the local paper suggested that the stress of the riot had contributed to her decline.

Activism within Churches

On the 8th of February 1914, the normal service at St Mary Magdalen Church was interrupted by a suffragette protest, this church having not complied with a request sent to several churches in the borough to pray for guidance in the womans movement. A number of other churches reportedly had complied, among them being St Mary in the Castle Church, Emmanuel Church, St Pauls Church and Fairlight Church.[5]

Office Location

The movement was known to have an office at 47 London Road as evidenced by letters penned by E. I. Harrison (Mrs Darent) of the Hastings & St Leonards Woman's Suffrage Propaganda League.

References & Notes

  1. Unofficial Britain Hastings - the birthplace of womens' suffrage
  2. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 17 May 1913 Pg. 0004
  3. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 24 May 1913 Pg. 0004
  4. Hastings & St Leonards Pictorial Advertiser 20 November 1913 Via Helena Wojtczak
  5. Hastings & St Leonards Observer 14 February 1914 pg. 8