L.A.S. Suffragette Walk 30th Sept 2018

Dr David Hunt and Helen Howell addressing the group
On a chilly, windy and occasionally wet last day in September the Lancashire Archaeological Society were treated to an historical tour de force by Dr. David Hunt and Helen Howell.  We assembled in the covered area outside the Harris Museum and Library where the walk commenced.  We ascended the steps to get a wider view of this central area {the flag market} which has been a pivotal area throughout the history of Preston.
The talk and walk was based on the fight for women’s suffrage in the early part of the 19th Century.  However there is a much longer back story; in 1832 before the passing of the Great Reform Act, Henry Hunt presented a bill to allow women the vote but this did not pass. What is not widely known however is that women were allowed to vote in municipal elections so that the women’s suffrage movement was campaigning for women to be allowed a parliamentary vote. Of course at this time there was a property qualification which restricted the vote for men as well as for women.
From our vantage point we were shown where the town hall used to be on the site of the toll gate of 1280 which was the venue of a meeting in 1874 where a measure of women’s suffrage was proposed {if they had a property qualification} but this did not go anywhere.  We were also shown where Churchill addressed the people of Preston {he was apparently not opposed to women getting the parliamentary vote}.
We then descended the steps and walked through the Miller Arcade in which Edith Rigby had a jam business. This was seen as a health food. It seems that many of the suffragists and suffragettes had an interest in health foods which led many to embrace the spiritual ideas of Rudolf Steiner. This is perhaps a good point to explain the difference between suffragists and suffragettes. The former were often of a more conservative disposition wishing to work through only lawful means particularly working through voluntary work whereas the suffragettes whose organisation was the “Women’s Social and Political Union” were happy to use non-legal means and even in some cases to embrace terrorism which is where the suffragette movement led Edith Rigby. She is thought to be the woman who torched Lord Leverhulme’s home in Rivington and to have bombed the Deepdale football stadium [the bomb did not go off] and bombing Ewood Park [the home of Blackburn Rovers] which did go off and caused much damage.
We were then led down one of the old mediaeval weinds to the site of Woods’ tobacco works. Edith Rigby campaigned for better working conditions for the mainly female workers there. They worked in dusty, ill ventilated premises and Edith Rigby campaigned all her life for better workers conditions. This even went so far as to  pressure her friends to give their servants a better deal and even led her to insist her husband Dr. Charles Rigby and herself took part in domestic duties.  Edith Rigby was also very concerned about women’s education she believed this was the route to female empowerment.  We then visited Old Cock Yard where Dr. Hunt told us the story of Ann Baynard who died in 1693 whose dying words were “that all women could be educated.” She was a famous bibliophile.  Then it was on to Glover’s Court where the first meeting was held for Preston’s suffragettes.  We next visited the New Cock Yard which was the site of the last two known handloom weavers cottages which were unfortunately demolished after a fire.
 The walk then proceeded  to Cannon St, where the headquarters of the suffragettes were at one time.  Here was Miss Jackson’s tailoring shop where 40 suffragettes evaded the 1911 census which they refused to complete on the grounds they didn’t have the vote so were non persons.  At 35 Cannon St. was the health food shop of Eleanor Higginson who protested at Buckingham Palace and was afterwards imprisoned, went on hunger strike and was force fed. She died in 1969.
  We then went down to the Avenham area where at 29a Ribblesdale Place was the home of Beatrice Blackhurst, a leading suffragist and also learnt about Beatrice Todd who set up the Preston branch of Women’s suffrage. Beatrice Blackhurst was a member of the Conservative Christian Women’s Franchise Society. This organisation set up baby clinics which helped to bring down the very high infant mortality rate which was one of the highest in the country. They introduced a Preston Baby Week and they arranged a walk to London which elicited a promise of the suffrage for women until the 1st World War intervened.
  We then moved on to Winckley Square to the home of Edith Rigby and the scene of her escape from the law by bicycle, she was apparently the first woman to own a bicycle possibly in England. Edith had been making bombs upstairs, was a member of the Independent Labour Party but was expelled [in 1903 Edith Rigby set up a branch of the Woman’s Social and Political Union in Preston].
  The next location was the Methodist church where the Rigby’s were married. Many people in the labour movement came from a Methodist background.  From here we walked on to Fishergate where the post boxes had been filled with a tar mixture so that business letters would be destroyed and delayed thus hoping to persuade business men to support the suffragettes’ cause. It was then on to the Public Hall the site of a meeting by Churchill which was protested by and attacked by the suffragettes who had potato missiles wrapped in posters in their pockets.  The suffragettes themselves were then pelted by missiles, it was after this meeting in July 1909 that the first hunger strike and force feedings took place protesting the fact that suffragettes were treated as common criminals rather than political prisoners.
   This was the termination of our walk that was so ably led by David Hunt and Helen Howell which was packed with information on so many aspects of the history of Preston and the reverberations that were felt in the rest of the kingdom.
Words by Jeanette Dobson, photos by Bill Shannon, posted by Wendy Ferneyhough


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