It is 100 years since the partial granting of the vote to women, and Suffragette City is here to remind us what life was like for women in those days. The London Pavilion that serves as The Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) headquarters for this project is historically important as it was a meeting place for the suffragettes and was the scene of several of Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrests.
The Pavilion today is very low key, I checked my instructions several times to make sure that I had the right place. I had to knock to gain admittance and was then invited in to join the meeting. Those in attendance are informed that the WSPU is a militant organisation and to join them will mean taking part in acts of civil disobedience and may lead to us being arrested. We all signed up on the spot, with our real names and also an alias to use if we were detained by the police. I wonder if I was the only one feeling rather nervous as signed up, was I really going to be risking arrest today?
Our first mission was low key and went off without incident. We then returned to Headquarters and learnt move about the organisation and prepared rosettes and banners for use in demonstrations and painted stones to use in window smashing campaigns. We were now ready for our second mission and were given our instructions and filled our pockets with stones ready for action. This mission did not go well for our group; we were betrayed and taken to the local police station. Although I knew that this was just an historical experience event, I really felt some of the stress that the brave suffragette women must have felt. Should I give my real name? Should I admit what I was intending to do that day? Should I deny knowing the others in my group? How long was I going to be kept locked up?
Thankfully, I was only questioned and detained for a few minutes and I was soon skipping back to headquarters with a considerable sense of relief. Back at HQ I was congratulated for having been arrested and debriefed over a cup of tea. I must say I really needed that cup of tea! This was a great experience and I really admire the women who did this for real and won us the rights that we have today. Only 100 years ago, isn’t that amazing!
Review by Sally Knipe
Suffragette City, a partnership between the National Trust and The National Archives, re-creates the life of a suffragette activist in the years before the partial grant of the vote to women in 1918.
Inspired by records held by The National Archives, Suffragette City documents the life and arrest of Lillian Ball, a dressmaker and mother from Tooting, arrested for smashing a window in 1912.
As with many women of the era, Lillian confronted life-changing choices that led her to join the women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) causing her to be involved in militant action, leading to her arrest, interrogation and imprisonment. Suffragette City challenges audience members with many of the same decisions Lillian faced, bringing to life the true experiences of those fighting for suffrage.
Thursday 8th – Sunday 25th March 2018
Press view: Wednesday 28th February at 10am, 11am, 12pm and 1pm
WSPU Café, London Pavilion, Corner of Coventry Street and Great Windmill Street, London W1J 0DA