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Sites of Suffragette Protest and Sabotage Officially Recognised in Nation’s Heritage List

  • 41 places across England that were at the centre of suffragette action, from mass meetings and smashed windows to prison hunger strikes and post box fires, are officially recognised today
  • Emmeline Pankhurst’s tomb in Brompton Cemetery, designed by female sculptor Julian Phelps Allan, is upgraded to Grade II* listed
  • Well-known places have their hidden histories revealed and preserved in the record of England’s historic environment, as part of HerStories project celebrating suffrage centenary
  • Sites include Westminster Abbey where ‘prayers for prisoners’ were used to disrupt services, the Bristol hall where suffragettes hired professional boxers to stop medical students from interrupting Mrs Pankhurst’s speeches, the hall in Sheffield where Churchill was interrupted repeatedly during dinner by suffragette telegrams, and the Birmingham school that charmed two suffragettes into leaving a note on the blackboard saying they couldn’t bear to set it on fire

Christabel Pankhurst leans out of a window flying a flag in 1909.
Christabel Pankhurst leans out of a window flying a flag in 1909.

The grave of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragettes, has been upgraded to II* today (8 June) by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England. 41 other places across the country, which witnessed acts of protest by the suffragettes, have also been relisted.

These places are already listed buildings but until now there has been no record of their suffragette history on the National Heritage List for England.

100 years on from the first women in the country being granted the right to vote, women’s history is still under-represented in national records. Through its HerStories project, Historic England has been working with researchers from the University of Lincoln to address this imbalance and officially recognise suffragette stories that are told in bricks and mortar on The List.

Old Grammar School, Saint Nicolas' Place, Kings Norton, Birmingham. In April 1913 two windows were forced open at the Old Grammar School in Kings Norton but no fire was set. A message on the blackboard read ‘Two Suffragists have entered here, but charmed with this old-world room, have refrained from their design of destruction.’
Old Grammar School, Saint Nicolas' Place, Kings Norton, Birmingham. In April 1913 two windows were forced open at the Old Grammar School in Kings Norton but no fire was set. A message on the blackboard read ‘Two Suffragists have entered here, but charmed with this old-world room, have refrained from their design of destruction.’ © Historic England DP220499

Suffragette sabotage

The suffragettes were predominantly members of the radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), set up by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. They followed a different course of action to the suffragists, led by Millicent Fawcett, who lobbied MPs peacefully for women’s right to the vote.

The suffragettes’ motto was “deeds not words” and to fight for the vote they waged campaigns of sabotage and destruction on public property across the country.

In February 1912 Emmeline Pankhurst declared that “the argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics”. The suffragettes used toffee hammers to smash windows in prominent locations, making a political statement without endangering lives. They also burned post boxes, attacked paintings in galleries and placed homemade bombs in empty buildings in a co-ordinated attack on the public realm.

Celia Richardson, Director of Communications at Historic England, said: “The history of suffrage can be traced through the fabric of our city streets and buildings, and even though there are few tangible markers left 41 of the listed buildings and places the suffragettes used as their public theatre of protest have had their official records updated, ensuring the part they played in the struggle for suffrage is fully recognised.”

 

Helen Pankhurst said: “On the centenary of 1918 it is wonderful to see Historic England playing a part in helping to preserve 41 sites of suffragette protest by identifying and sometimes upgrading their listing as part of their HerStories project. The whole initiative is wonderful and I’m personally delighted that the tomb of my great grandmother, Emmeline Pankhurst in Brompton Cemetery is included in this project. Hopefully Historic England’s initiative will help ensure the grave site is given the care and attention it deserves.”

Emmeline Pankhurst’s tomb upgraded

Emmeline Pankhurst was born and raised in Manchester but died aged 69 in a Wimpole Street nursing home in London, on 14 June 1928. She was buried at Brompton Cemetery in London and her tomb, designed by the emerging female sculptor Julian Phelps Allan, has been newly upgraded to Grade II* listed to reflect Pankhurst’s pivotal role in the suffragette movement but also to recognise the monument’s elegance and sculptural beauty.

Before becoming an artist Julian Phelps Allan served in the army in both world wars, leaving with the rank of colonel. She was born Eva Dorothy Allan but dropped this name for the more androgynous Julian around 1929, probably to be taken more seriously as a sculptor, but others have suggested it was a way to declare her lesbian identity.

History of suffrage added to 41 listed building records

Among the 41 places relisted today for the events they witnessed in the suffragettes’ campaign for the vote are Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, where the militant suffrage campaign began and Epsom racecourse, where the renowned suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was trampled by the King’s horse when she ran across the racecourse during the Derby.

Also officially recognised on The List are the sites of more unusual suffragette protests, from the school in Birmingham which so charmed a pair of suffragettes they left a note on a blackboard saying they couldn’t bear to set it on fire, to St George’s Hall in Liverpool where a suffragette hid in an organ loft for 24 hours so she could noisily disturb a speech by a local MP the next day.

Each site has an important story to tell in the fight for women’s rights:

North West

Free Trade Hall, Manchester
Manchester Art Gallery
St George's Hall, Liverpool
Sefton Park Palm House, Liverpool
Walton Prison (now known as HMP Liverpool), Liverpool
Wellington Column, Liverpool
The Church of St Anne, Aigburth Road, Liverpool
Spinners' Hall, Bolton

West Midlands

Grand Hotel, Birmingham
Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Old Grammar School, Kings Norton, Birmingham

North East

Former Post Office, St Nicholas Street, Newcastle upon Tyne

Yorkshire

55 Cookridge Street (now O2 Academy), Leeds
Cutlers' Hall, Sheffield

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London. The theatre was host to the first suffragette-themed play, ‘Votes for Women!’, which opened on 9 April 1907, and was attended by the Pankhursts. Inspired by the emerging militant campaign for women’s suffrage by the WSPU, the playwright, Elizabeth Robins, became devoted to the cause while researching the play. She gave a quarter of her royalties to the two main suffrage groups, though was not herself militant. The leading actor, Edith Wynne-Matthison, likewise came to support the campaign, and went on with Robins to found the Actresses' Franchise League in 1908.
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London. The theatre was host to the first suffragette-themed play, ‘Votes for Women!’, which opened on 9 April 1907, and was attended by the Pankhursts. Inspired by the emerging militant campaign for women’s suffrage by the WSPU, the playwright, Elizabeth Robins, became devoted to the cause while researching the play. She gave a quarter of her royalties to the two main suffrage groups, though was not herself militant. The leading actor, Edith Wynne-Matthison, likewise came to support the campaign, and went on with Robins to found the Actresses' Franchise League in 1908. © Historic England
Sefton Park, Liverpool, Merseyside. Sefton Park was subject to an attack by militant suffragettes in November 1913. The attack was one of a number of attempts to cause criminal damage in public parks nationally. A park keeper discovered a home-made bomb in the porch of the palm house; its fuses had been lit but had blown out in the wind.
Sefton Park, Liverpool, Merseyside. Sefton Park was subject to an attack by militant suffragettes in November 1913. The attack was one of a number of attempts to cause criminal damage in public parks nationally. A park keeper discovered a home-made bomb in the porch of the palm house; its fuses had been lit but had blown out in the wind. © Historic England DP030947
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