The Women's Hall: Celebrating the East London Federation of the Suffragettes

The Women’s Hall project, developed in partnership with Tower Hamlets Local History Library and ArchivesFour Corners, and Women's History Month in east London, will explore some lesser-known suffrage stories from east London through two major exhibitions, a series of events, and a participatory photography project.

The East London Federation of the Suffragettes were a radical group who split from the WSPU in 1914 and fought for working women’s rights throughout the First World War. The Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road in Bow was their headquarters from 1914-1924, a women’s social centre, and the home of their leader, Sylvia Pankhurst. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

What's on

The Women’s Hall project activities will explore and celebrate the heritage of the East London suffragettes throughout 2018 through:

  • The Women’s Hall exhibition (Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 29 May-20 October 2018) which will evoke the interior of the original Women’s Hall. Visitors will be able to learn about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) and the First World War in the East End, view original materials, handle replicas, and attend events and workshops. A pop up community kitchen will serve hot meals for the public at set times throughout the exhibition’s run, and a crèche facility will be available one day per week.

  • East End Suffragettes: the photography of Norah Smyth (Four Corners Gallery, 26 October-26 January 2019), a unique exhibition of Norah Smyth’s photographs which provide an intimate documentation of the ELFS’ activities, accompanied by gallery talks and local history walks that explore Norah’s story and the work of the East End suffragettes in more depth.

  • The regular East London Federation of the Suffragettes stall at Roman Road Market will be recreated on Saturday 16 June 2018, sharing local suffragette stories with shoppers.

  • A new ‘Suffrage in the East End’ Education Pack will be created for all Tower Hamlets schools, and newly digitized archive materials will be made available to the public at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives.

  • A photography workshop for mothers will run at Four Corners in Summer 2018, leading to a final exhibition in autumn 2018.

Do you have an East End suffragette in your family?

We need YOU to help us to find out about, and gather pictures and other memorabilia about individual members or supporters of the East London Federation of Suffragettes during World War One for The Women's Hall exhibition at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, on display from May to October 2018.

Our brilliant volunteer researchers have come up with a list of names of people who were involved with the organisation between 1913-1918. We would love to see if their surviving relatives can provide us with any family photos or other personal archives which could be used in the upcoming exhibition.

If your ancestors lived in Bow, Poplar, West Ham or Stepney there is a chance they were involved. If you recognise any of the names on this list and can tell us more about their lives, or have any memorabilia relating to them which we could copy or borrow to feature in our exhibition, please get in touch below!   (The deadline for submissions to be emailed or brought in for scanning is Saturday 5 May.)

Some East London Federation of the Suffragettes members and supporters we'd love to know more about:

  • Miss Baldwin
  • Mrs Bellyss
  • Mrs Bertram
  • Miss Olive Beamish
  • Miss Billing
  • Mrs Bird
  • Mrs Eugenie Bouvier
  • Mrs Boyce
  • MrsBrewer
  • Miss Muriel A. Brice
  • Mrs Brimley
  • Florence Buchan
  • Miss Burgis
  • Mrs Carter
  • Mrs Casey
  • Rose and Nellie Cohen
  • Mrs Cole
  • Nurse Connolly
  • Miss E.N. Dalglish
  • Mrs Charlotte Drake
  • Mrs Dunkley
  • Mrs Edmunds
  • Nurse Evans
  • Mrs Evans Farrall
  • Miss Fischer
  • Mrs Fuller
  • Miss Florence Haig
  • Ms Hanfield
  • Mrs Hart
  • Nurse Maud Hebbes
  • Miss Amy Hicks
  • Nurse Hillier
  • Miss Inge
  • Mrs Ives
  • Miss Jenkins
  • Miss Elsie Lagsding
  • Mrs Minnie Lansbury
  • Mrs Jessie Lansbury
  • Miss Violet Lansbury
  • Mrs Lauritsen
  • Mrs Leigh
  • Mrs Rosaline McCheyne
  • Miss Jeannie Mackay
  • Mrs Mantle
  • Mrs Mears
  • Mrs Millo
  • Mrs Moor(e)
  • Miss D Morley
  • Miss O’Brien
  • May O’Callaghan
  • Mrs Page
  • Mrs Parker
  • Mrs Daisy Parsons
  • Mrs Pascoe
  • Miss Paterson
  • Miss Rose Pengelly
  • Miss Peterson
  • Mrs Pethwick
  • Miss Phillips
  • Miss Miriam Price
  • Miss Rutter
  • Mrs Julia Scurr
  • Mrs Schlette
  • Mrs Somerfield
  • Mrs Thring
  • Mrs Melvina Walker
  • Mrs Ward Brown
  • Mrs Watkins
  • Miss H Watts
  • Ms Young
  • Mr Redgrove
  • Mr Fuller
  • Mr Edgar Lansbury
  • Mr Willie Lansbury
  • Mr Hogben
  • Mr Moxon
  • Mr Edmunds

Tell us about your relative

Use this form to get in touch if you've found an East End suffragette in your family, or you know more about one of the people on the list. You can also call Tower Hamlets Archives on 020 7364 1290.

Name *
Name
Phone
Phone

Volunteers needed to help bring suffragette stories to life
 

We're looking for local volunteers to get involved in the Women's Hall project in lots of different ways. Travel and lunch expenses will be paid, and you'll have the chance to gain some new skills, learn about the suffragettes, and have fun!  


HELP to build and install the exhibition

Handy with a hammer or a sewing machine? We are seeking people to help build the 'set' of the Women's Hall. It could include making curtains, making wallpaper, making furniture, or a spot of painting.

  • April-May, as needed
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Build' in the subject line

Join our events collective

We are gathering together a small group of volunteers who will meet regularly to curate a series of free public events to take place in the Women's Hall space. The aim is to platform activities which support the ELFS’ objectives and how they relate to contemporary London – feminism, equalities, anti-colonialism, and community activism, especially around housing or food poverty. 

  • March – September
  • Fortnightly planning meetings and some events on Thursday evenings and Saturdays
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Events' in the subject line

Help us run a pop-up community kitchen

We’re creating a pop-up community kitchen – from scratch – and serving food to people who need it, in the exhibition space! Can you help us make this ambitious vision a reality? At this early stage we are looking for pro bono catering support that could take any form. Could you donate leftover food or provisions? Do you own a cafe or a food kiosk and want to support the project? Maybe you’re a resourceful cook who can help us feed a large group of people, or you’re up for doing a kitchen takeover but can only commit to a week? Please get in touch! All ideas and offers of help welcome.

  • May-October
  • Weekday, evening, and Saturday shifts, or just as needed
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Kitchen' in the subject line

Welcome visitors to the Women's Hall

This role is based the exhibition hall, chatting to visitors about how it came about, what’s on, and answering any questions. You'll also help to serve food and drink at special events. A core part of the team, this is as hands-on as it gets! 

  • May-October
  • Weekdays (half day or day shifts),  Thursday evenings, or Saturdays
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Visitors' in the subject line

 


Crèche playworker

We're looking for experienced playworkers to help run a crèche (DBS check required, safeguarding training provided).

  • May-October
  • Half day per week
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Creche' in the subject line

Get the east London suffragettes online

Learn how to research and digitise archive materials and help make a new online resource.

  • June-October
  • 1 day or half day per week, based at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Digital' in the subject line

Help run a photography workshop for local mums and carers

Help the photography tutor set up workshop spaces, talk to participants, and take part in events. Analogue darkroom experience desirable. Volunteers will be able to use Four Corners’ darkroom facilities.

  • June - August
  • Email info@fourcornersfilm.co.uk with an expression of interest or to find out more

Photography and film

Would you like to help ensure the Women’s Hall’s legacy is preserved? We are looking for photographers and videographers to take footage of the exhibition and events, edit and put them online, and deposit them in the archives for permanent preservation.

  • March to December
  • As needed
  • If you're interested in this role please call 020 7364 1290 or email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk with 'Women's Hall Volunteer: Photography' in the subject line

About the Women's Hall

From 1914 to 1924 the Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road in Bow was the headquarters of the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) and the home of their leader Sylvia Pankhurst and her friend, fellow suffragette and amateur photographer Norah Smyth.

The Women’s Hall was a radical social centre run largely by and for local working class women, and when the First World War caused unemployment and rising food prices the Hall was at the heart of the community’s response, housing a ‘Cost Price Restaurant’ where people could get a hot meal at a very low price and free milk for their children.

Opening the Women's Hall

The Women's Hall was opened on 5 May 1914, which was Sylvia's 32nd birthday, and a celebration was held in her honour. The occasion was reported by an E. Haverfield in the ELFS weekly newspaper The Woman's Dreadnought, under the title 'Our House Warming'.

“A very pleasant evening was spent by members and friends of the ELFS on May 5th, to celebrate Miss Sylvia Pankhurst’s birthday by the opening of a large hall attached to her future residence. The pleasantest part of the whole affair to this writer was the love and esteem in which Sylvia is held by her friends in the East End, who presented her with a handsome fitted dress case, a beautiful hair brush made by Mrs Savoy, the member who gave it and innumerable others...

The hall had been painted by men supporters [and Norah!] who had given up the previous Saturday afternoon to the work. The forms had been stained by the members of the Federation. Excellent refreshments, all made by members, were served. There was much merry conversation, and informally at a late hour this pleasant evening drew to a close.”
— The Woman's Dreadnought, May 1914

As well as a house in which Sylvia, Norah Smyth, Jessie Payne and her husband were to live, the premises contained a large hall, holding about 350 people and a smaller hall which could hold about 50 or 60 people. Willie and Edgar Lansbury supplied the wood to make tables and benches from the nearby Lansbury timber yard.

Why was the Women's Hall important?

The symbolic importance of a permanent 'home' for the East London Federation of Suffragettes was matched by its practical importance for their operations and in particular for getting the word out about their campaigns. With a large hall of their own, the suffragettes were able to hold public meetings without fear of interference from the council or the police.

Other sympathetic groups could hold their meetings there too, bringing in a new audience for the Federation's messages and building solidarity with other campaigns in the East End at the time. Without having to pay hire fees, the Federation could run a much wider range of activities, including lessons and workshops, fundraising concerts, lending libraries, affordable canteens and nurseries.

It also meant that everyone in the community knew where to go to find Sylvia, and to ask for help from the suffragettes. The Dreadnought and Sylvia's memoirs record countless cases who arrived, desperate, at the door of 400 Old Ford Road. Whether in need of information, representation, employment, medical help or simply a way to feed their children, many hundreds of people turned to the suffragettes, knowing that they would find assistance without the stigma of charity.

In the years following 1914 several other women's centres were established, one in a former pub on the corner of Old Ford Road and St Stephen's Road in Bow, which was known as the Mother's Arms, another at 20 Railway Street in Poplar and another at 53 St Leonard's Street in Bromley.

The East London Federation of the Suffragettes

In January 1914 the East End branches of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) broke away and formed an independent, democratic organisation focused on the rights of working women, the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS).

Led by Sylvia Pankhurst and based in Bow but with branches all over the East End, the ELFS grounded their campaign in the everyday reality of working women’s lives.

They argued that if women had the vote the whole community would have greater leverage in the struggle to improve pay and working conditions, secure decent housing, and protect children’s health. They saw the vote as just one aspect of the struggle for equality and adopted a broad campaigning programme.

The East London Federation of the Suffragettes fought for a living wage, decent housing, equal pay, food price controls, adequate pensions for the elderly and for the widows of servicemen, among numerous other causes. They marched through East London, held huge public meetings, opened their own social centres, organised benefit concerts and parties. They even recruited a small ‘People’s Army’ of supporters to defend them from police brutality.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, factories across East London closed and food prices spiralled. The suffragettes led community action to support those most affected by the sudden wave of unemployment, organising the distribution of milk for starving infants and opening a volunteer-run children’s health clinic, a nursery school and a series of canteens serving nutritious food at “cost price”. They even opened their own cooperative toy factory, which paid a living wage and included a crèche.  

In their campaigns and in their war relief work the East London suffragettes continually connected individual hardship to the bigger picture of structural inequality. Their remarkable organisation existed for 10 years, from 1914 to 1924, and in that time it was entirely transformed.

About the project

HLF logo

100 years after some UK women first won the right to vote, our exciting, Heritage Lottery funded joint project in Tower Hamlets will celebrate the little-known history of the radical East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS).

Developed by Four Corners, Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, East End Women’s Museum and Women’s History Month in East London, The Women’s Hall project will run from March to December 2018 and include two major exhibitions, a volunteering programme and public programme of talks, events and workshops.

About the project partners

Four Corners

Four Corners is a creative centre for film and photography, committed to promoting community-wide participation for over 40 years. Its programme seeks to support projects that engage with social and cultural themes, and open up perspectives for audiences, particularly in East London. http://www.fourcornersfilm.co.uk/

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives covers the area of the present-day London borough of Tower Hamlets - the original East End of London which, until 1965, comprised of the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney. http://www.ideastore.co.uk/local-history

East End Women’s Museum

The East End Women’s Museum is a public history project aiming to record, share, and celebrate women’s stories and voices from east London’s history. The project was established in 2015 in response to the 'Jack the Ripper Museum', as a positive, sustainable protest. Find out more at www.eastendwomensmuseum.org

Women’s History Month in East London

Running 1 – 31 March, Women’s History Month 2018 will celebrate women artists, activists, writers and performers, the Suffragette movement and winning the right to vote for some women in 1918 and all women over 21 in 1928 with exhibitions and events across East London. info@alternativearts.co.uk www.alternativearts.co.uk

FC logo
Alternative Arts
Tower Hamlets
Idea Store
EEWM