Liverpool sites of suffragette protest recognised in national heritage list

Five sites in Liverpool are to be officially recognised today as places which witnessed acts of suffragette protest.

Locations include St George’s Hall where a local suffragette hid in an organ loft to disturb an MP’s speech and Sefton Park Palm House which activists tried to bomb.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of Historic England, has relisted 41 locations across England which until now had no record of their suffragette history on the National Heritage List for England.

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.

The five Liverpool sites relisted are:

St George’s Hall

St George’s Hall was the scene of a protest by the local branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

In May 1909 Earl Crewe and Augustine Birrell MP were awarded honorary degrees by the University of Liverpool in a ceremony at the hall.

Mary Phillips, the local WSPU organiser, managed to get into the hall the night before and hid in the organ loft and under the stage.

After 24 hours without sleep she interrupted Birrell’s speech to protest against the imprisonment of local suffragette Patricia Woodlock. It was several minutes before she was found and removed from the hall.

Sefton Park Palm House

The famous palm house 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 homemade bomb in the porch of the palm house; its fuses had been lit but had blown out in the wind.

In keeping with the WSPU policy, the perpetrator was not formally identified, although it is likely to have been carried out by Kitty Marion, a self-confessed suffragette arsonist and bomber who had suffragette friends in Liverpool.

Walton Prison (now known as HMP Liverpool)

From July 1909, following the example of Marion Wallace Dunlop, suffragette prisoners began to go on hunger strike.

Dunlop’s swift release had encouraged other suffragette prisoners to follow suit. In response, in September 1909 Government and Prison authorities began to feed suffragette hunger strikers by force, rather than release them.

This was a controversial practice. A full medical examination was required before forcible feeding could take place, but suffragettes complained that this was not always done.

In January 1910 she disguised herself as Jane Warton, a working class suffragette, and took part in a protest outside Walton Gaol where two suffragettes were being held.

She threw stones at the windows of the governor’s house and was arrested. Her medical examination as ‘Jane’ was cursory and did not pick up on her heart condition so she was forcibly fed.

Wellington’s Column

Wellington’s Column was the regular site for outdoor meetings by the Liverpool branch of the WSPU. The Union followed the Independent Labour Party tradition of outdoor propagandising and used recognisable venues in crowded thoroughfares to try to get its message across.

Wellington’s Column was used from 1907 up to 1914 when the WSPU’s campaign was suspended on the outbreak of the First World War.

Church of St Anne, Aigburth Road

In December 1913 suffragettes from the WSPU targeted the Church of St Anne as part of their militant campaign of direct action against property.

The attack on St Anne’s was typical of the activities of WSPU arsonists, carried out secretly overnight while the building was empty to be sure of damage only to property, not people.

The pulpit and choir stalls were destroyed, and the new organ seriously damaged. Insurance and donations covered a renovation scheme the following year.

About Author: Lawrence Saunders

Lawrence is a journalist at Your Move. He can be contacted via email at lawrence@movepublishing.co.uk or by phone on 0151 709 3871.