Friday, May 02, 2008

Suffragists and Post Boxes

Between 1912 and 1914 campaigners for votes for women sabotaged post boxes in Deptford, Greenwich, Brockley and elsewhere, as well as starting fires at Dulwich College and, in January 1914, at a cricket pavilion in Burnt Ash Road. They were also suspected of starting a fire at St Catherine's Church in Pepys Road - although this was never proved.

In January 1913, a 24 year-old Suffragist was jailed for 8 months at the Old Bailey for damaging a post box in Tanners Hill, Deptford. Louisa Gay, a teacher from Broadway, South Croydon, was said to have posted a white package of a 'deleterious fluid [black dye], and thereby injuring the said letter-box and its contents'.

May Billinghurst, aged 30, of 7 Oakcroft Road, Blackheath and Grace Mitchell of St Stephens Road, Lewisham were charged with a similar offence in Aberdeen Terrace, Blackheath, as part of the campaign for votes for women. Lewisham-born Billinghurst (1875- 1953) was disabled, but being in a wheelchair did not stop her campaigning. In 1910 she founded the Greenwich branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Jailed for 8 months for damaging post boxes she went on hunger strike and was force-fed - being released two weeks later on grounds of ill-health.

The Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union was very active in this area. In the space of a couple of weeks in May 1908 they ‘spoke to a crowd of 4,000 – 5,000 working men and women in Deptford Broadway’, held a similar size meeting on Blackheath, and had a meeting on ‘the Enfranchisement of Women’ in the New Cross Hall on Lewisham High Road. The latter, held on May 6th was advertised as chaired by ‘Mrs Bouvier, speakers, Miss Christabel Pankhurst, Mrs Baldock, Miss Naylor. All the above have undergone imprisonment for the cause’ (South London Observer, 2 May 1908).

Sources: Proceedings of the Old Bailey; Times 27 December 1913, Irs Dove, Yours in the cause: suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich (London: Lewisham & Greenwich Libraries, 1988)

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