Suffragettes in Bingley and at Shipley Glen and Woodhouse Moor, Leeds?
Whilst researching at Keighley Library recently our local historian Alan Cattell discovered a long forgotten call to the women of Bingley from an imprisoned Suffragette (who was a local organiser and resident in the town)
A number of events link Bingley and Shipley Glen and Woodhouse Moor, Leeds as regards Suffragette activity locally. In this article Alan explores these links and examines in chronological order some of the early Yorkshire connections with the Suffragette movement. His intention is to identify a few of the local people and events that played a part in eventually achieving Votes for Women.
The Suffragettes -Two Active Families
Whilst there were many key players within the Suffrage movement, for the purposes of this article, two families who made significant contributions nationally and influenced events locally, are identified.
In October 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel, Adela and Sylvia, invited a small group of working-class women, most of them wives of members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) to their home in Manchester. There they established the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a new form of suffrage group which would essentially change the nature of the movement and surprise the nation with its militant tactics.
The Pankhurst family lived in their Manchester home until 1906, when they moved the operation to London
In 1905 Annie Kenney and her sisters Jessie and Jenny, living in Oldham (and subsequently Springhead, Yorkshire) were invited to a meeting at Oldham Trades Council at which Christabel Pankhurst was one of the main speakers. As a result Annie became the first sister to become an active suffragette, eventually becoming a key organiser for the WSPU nationally. Jessie, Jenny and Nell Kenney would soon join their sister as activists.
Nell/Nellie (Sarah Ellen) Kenney was the third child and eldest sister of the family. Born in Lees near Oldham she began work as a half- timer in a cotton mill at age 10 but at age 24 left factory work due to ill health and found work in a shop (Votes for Women – June 18th 1908). She was so successful in her new job as a shop assistant that her employers put her in charge of two of their shops.
Nell Kenney -The Bingley Connection
Several reports point towards Nell Kenny then moving to and living and working in Bingley. Nell is identified by the Evening Post April 1907 as a shop assistant of Bingley. Crawford (1999) The Womens Suffrage Movement – A Reference Guide identifies that Miss Nellie Kenney of 14, Leonards Place, Bingley became the Bingley WSPU Organiser in 1906.
The Keighley Herald of 22nd February 1907 records that “Miss Nellie Kenney the Bingley lady who is at present serving fourteen days for her share in the disturbances outside the House of Commons has written to the women of Bingley calling attention to the treatment meted out to the Suffragettes.
Arrested at the House of Commons
The disturbances referred to were the WSPU march from what was nicknamed the first “Womens Parliament” at Caxton Hall to the Commons on 13 February 1907. In the north of England, WSPU organisers had recruited women willing to go to prison in the name of women’s suffrage. Nell Kenney and her sisters were amongst these.
There was a large turnout of women at Caxton Hall… amidst great excitement, a resolution condemning the omission of women’s suffrage from the King’s Speech was passed, as also was a motion that the resolution be taken to the Prime Minister. Then Emmeline Pankhurst’s cry `Rise up, women!’ was answered by shouts of `Now!’ and a procession of about 400 women was formed.
The police attempted to halt the march but the women were determined to make their point. What ensued was a long struggle between mounted police and the suffragettes which continued until late in the evening. By the time the melee ended at 10pm, fifty-one women including Nell Kenney had been arrested and imprisoned for fourteen days. Hence Nell’s call for support from the ladies of Bingley!
And then to the South of France!
Extremely resourceful and apparently undaunted by their arrest and imprisonment Nell along with Mary Gawthorpe, another Yorkshire activist, travelled to France to confront the then Prime- Minister only days after their release. Reporting from Paris the Evening Post of April said:
“Misses Nellie Kenney of Bingley and Mary Gawthorpe of Leeds,, two of the fifty-one women’s suffragists who were arrested and fined for participating in a disturbance at the House of Commons on 13th February 1907, interviewed Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman in the dining room of a Cannes train. The Prime Minister tried in vain to disuade the suffragists from making further demonstrations outside the House of Commons, and he refused to introduce a Bill to grant the franchise to women during the current session.”
Full- Time Organiser
In 1907 and recognising her contribution, the WPSU appointed Nell as a full-time organiser where she worked in Northern England, the Midlands and Plymouth, with occasional visits to Scotland to speak at rallies and “at home” talks
In 1908 Nell was to return to Yorkshire as one of the key speakers at a large rally at Shipley Glen.
Shipley Glen Rally
Local and national newspaper reports of the time identify that either 40k, 50k, 60k, 70k or 100,000 people attended a mass rally at Shipley Glen in May 1908. These reports also state that trains and trams to the Glen were stretched to full capacity.
Attention is also given to the fact that gangs of “noisy youths” tried to disrupt speeches given by Suffragette leaders by singing comic songs, shouting, playing tin whistles, ringing bells or releasing sulpharated hydrogen (stink bombs). Accounts suggest that Adela Pankhurst and Mary Gawthorpe “had the worst time of it”. Miss Pankhurst was assailed with eggs and peas but she and Miss Gawthorpe “went on to the end, defying their interrupters”.
Accounts by the Pankhursts
Writing in Votes for Women in June 1908 Adela Pankhurst who was by then the main organiser in Yorkshire stated:
“The Shipley Glen demonstration took place on Sunday. It was a great triumph for our cause, some 100,000 people gathered round our six platforms. The platforms were arranged as follows:
- Mrs E Pankhurst; Miss Hartland in Chair
- Miss N. Kenney; Mrs Batchelor in Chair
- Miss Mary Gawthorpe; Miss Foster in Chair
- Miss Lamb; Miss Newton in Chair
- Mrs Baines; Miss Hartop in Chair
- Miss A Pankhurst; Miss Massey in Chair”
What is clear is that the Suffragette press chose the upper figure of 100,000 attendees figure to stress the success of the rally.
Follow-up article by Emmeline Pankhurst
In Votes for Women, August 27th 1908) Emmeline Pankhurst gave a more detailed account of the Shipley Glen meeting under the heading of The Great Votes for Women Demonstration in Shipley Glen, Bradford. In it she highlights the support received from the people of Bradford, including the City Council.
“For weeks past all Bradford has been talking about the Yorkshire Suffrage Sunday held in Shipley Glen on May 31st. The Tramway Committee made special preparations to convey the extra passengers expected, and for some days official notices appeared in all cars announcing the demonstration. The meeting was advertised to begin at 3.30pm, but before noon heavily laden cars began to leave the city, and an unending stream of people on foot wended their way to the picturesque glen, the property of the people of Bradford, about three miles away from the city itself.
When the speakers arrived on the ground, the six platforms were surrounded by dense crowds numbering at least 100,000 people. Never in the history of the glen have so many human beings been gathered together. In the local Liberal Press there had appeared paragraphs suggesting that attempts would be made to disturb the meetings and this suggestion was taken up by small gangs of noisy youths armed with bells and tin trumpets etc.
Nevertheless, the vast audience of orderly and attentive persons prevented any effective disturbance, and at 5 o clock a resolution calling upon the Government to enfranchise the women of this country this session was carried with practical unanimity.
When the meeting closed the people would not go away and begged us to hold another meeting in the evening. The Prime Minister expects us to show a popular demand for votes for women. We offer to him the demand of the people of Bradford, which has already spoken officially through its City Council when it adopted some months ago, a resolution similar to the one carried at the great open-air meeting on the Suffrage Sunday of Yorkshire.”
The Woodhouse Moor Rally, Leeds
The Pankhurst and Kenney families and Mary Gawthorpe were again in action at another rally attended by a reported 100,000 people at Woodhouse Moor, Leeds on 26th July 1908. This was particularly poignant for Mary Gawthorpe who had grown up in the area as a child. The photograph (below) from the Leeds Mercury depicts a scene from the rally.
Having been involved in some of the early activity of the Suffragette movement, Nell Kenney married a young journalist who she had met at an open-air Suffragette rally in the Midlands in 1908. She and her new husband emigrated to Canada in 1909. Her husband became involved in pioneering work for the employment and training of the disabled.
Mary Gawthorpe continued to be heavily involved in the WSPU until 1911, when she retired due to ill-health.
In 1916 she emigrated to New York where she remained active in the American Suffrage movement and in Trade Union activity.
Women and The Vote
Eventually women in the UK were given the vote in 1918 through The Representation of the People Act, if they were over 30 and satisfied certain property qualifications. In 1928 suffrage was extended to all women over the age of 21 as a result of The Equal Franchise Act which became law on 2nd July 1928. Emmeline Pankhurst never witnessed this because she died aged 70 in a nursing home on 14th June 1928.
Alan CattellAcknowledgements to: Bradford Libraries, and the Leeds Mercury The right of Alan Cattell to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by an electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. It has not been possible to trace all the original photographers but acknowledgement has been made where known. If any copyright has been infringed it was done unintentionally and sincere apologies are offered. If advised future prints can be amended.