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

The Women’s Hall project, developed in partnership by Tower Hamlets Local History Library and ArchivesFour Corners, Alternative Arts, the East End Women's Museum, and Numbi Arts explores 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 exhibition and events 

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 30 May - 20 October 2018

This free exhibition and accompanying events explore the ELFS campaign for the vote, their split from the WSPU and their wartime projects, which included a co-operative toy factory, a health clinic, and a nursery in a former pub. 

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Opening times:
Monday        9am - 5pm
Tuesday    10am - 5pm
Wednesday      9am - 5pm
Thursday    9am - 8pm
Friday    9am - 5pm
Saturday*    9am - 5pm
*First and Third Saturday of the month only

Thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition hall at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 277 Bancroft Road, London E1 4DQ will be transformed into a unique space evoking the headquarters of the ELFS, a former Baptist mission hall on Old Ford Road in Bow which the suffragettes named ‘The Women’s Hall’. The building no longer stands.


The exhibition includes a recreation of the ELFS Cost Price Restaurant, which will serve refreshments for visitors on a 'pay-what-you-can' basis using redistributed food from Fare Share. See below for opening times. There will also be a donation point for Bow Food Bank.

Exhibition content

Learn about little known local working class suffragettes like Melvina Walker and Daisy Parsons, and the venues in Bow and Poplar which were taken over by the ELFS for use in their projects.

Objects and archive materials on display include a rare ‘Ealontoys’ teddy bear made in the toy factory started by the ELFS just behind Roman Road; and the handwritten diary of suffragette Gertrude Setchfield which describes her trips to the East End in 1914 to attend ELFS rallies, on loan from the LSE Women’s Library. 

Our project volunteers have also produced a newspaper inspired by the ELFS own weekly newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnought, full of event listings, articles drawn from their research, plus extracts from the original Dreadnought and even the ELFS minute books. Pick up your free copy of The Women's Hall Dreadnought when you visit!


Events and workshops at The Women's Hall

Book Talk

October 11th, 4:30-6:00pm

Sally Nicholls spills the beans on her book: Things a Bright Girl Can Do:

Sign up:

Women United Against Racism

October 11th, 6:30pm-8:30pm

An evening with Julie Begum, who will be sharing her story of a coalition of women from diverse backgrounds who formed a group, Women Unite Against Racism, as part of the wider anti-racist and anti-fascist campaign that managed to get the BNP out of Tower Hamlets during the 90's.

Sign up:

Talk: Christine Burns on the historic struggle for transgender rights

October 18th, 6:15pm-7:15pm

At our penultimate event at the Women’s Hall, we are delighted to welcome Christine Burns MBE, who has campaigned for the civil rights of transgender people for a quarter of a century. Christine was a leading figure in the pioneering trans rights organisation Press for Change, working on new employment legislation and the Gender Recognition Act. She will be selling and signing copies of her new book Trans Britain after the talk.

Sign up:


Women’s Hall Grand Finale

October 20th, 12:00-5:00pm

The Women's Hall exhibition draws to an end at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives. Dina Begum will join the festivities, whose Brick Lane Cookbook celebrates the diverse cultures of our much loved Tower Hamlets.

To continue the suffragette legacy we a jam-packed day:


The final session of Cost Price Restaurant our suffragette inspired zero waste pay what you can cafe. Dina Begum shows us how to cook with what you have. Have a nibble and take home what you’ve made!


Speed Histories exploring through storytelling locally inspired suffrage history.


Suffragette Studio Photography at The Women's Hall, dress up as a suffragette and remember it forever!

Sign up:

East End Suffragettes: The Photographs of Norah Smyth.

2 November 2018 - 9 February 2019.

Tuesday-Saturday: 10.00-6.00.

Admission free

121 Roman Road, London E2 0QN Nearest tube: Bethnal Green, Central Line

A unique exhibition of photographs by suffragette Norah Smyth opens at Four Corners Gallery this autumn. These remarkable photographs, taken 100 years ago, will be shown for the first time in East London, just a stones-throw from where they were taken. They reveal the little-known story of the radical East London suffragettes.


Modern Suffragette

Interested in growing your own photography skills? Got small children?

Check out this FREE photography workshop for mums.

Running: November-December 2018, Thursday and Friday mornings.

Modern Suffragette offers free, half-day sessions for mothers and parents. Childcare costs will be provided.

No experience necessary and cameras provided!



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.

Guided tours of the exhibition
First Saturday of every month, 1:00 - 1:30pm. Tower Hamlets Archives are also offering booked tours for community groups. If you would like to book one, please email

Visit our Pay-What-You-Can Café @ The Women's Hall

One of the East London Federation of Suffragettes' most successful projects were their Cost-Price Restaurants, where local people could eat nutritious meals either for free or at very low cost throughout the First World War. We have recreated one today in their honour.

Please pay what you can in the donation box, and if that's nothing, that's ok - take what you need. Our Pay-What-You-Can Café will be serving hot and cold drinks, snacks, sandwiches and salads on: 

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  • Wednesday & Thursday lunch times 12:30 – 14:30

  • Thursday dinner time 17:30 – 19:00

  • First and third Saturdays of the month lunch times 12:30 – 14:30

You'll find the café inside The Women's Hall exhibition at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 277 Bancroft Road, London E1 4DQ. 

Menus will change each week as we receive food deliveries from Fare Share, a food redistribution project that donates surplus food to communities and stops good food from going to waste. We would like to thank Fare Share for their valuable involvement in this project.

Donations will go towards the continued running of the café, such as delivery van fees. 

Volunteers needed!

Volunteers needed to help prepare and serve light meals and snacks to visitors to our Pay-What-You-Can Cafe on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and certain Saturdays. Training provided and Food Hygiene Certificate available. Lots of fun and great catering work experience in a unique setting! Please contact Lauren Sweeney at or on 020 7364 1290 if you'd like to know more.

About the original 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.

As well as a house in which Sylvia, Norah Smyth, Jessie Payne and her husband Jim 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. The building no longer stands.

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 called the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) which focused on the rights of working women in east London. It was led by Sylvia Pankhurst, the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and sister of Christabel Pankhurst, leaders of the WSPU.

The ELFS marched through East London, held huge public meetings, opened their own women’s social centres like the Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road, organised benefit concerts and parties, and produced a weekly newspaper called The Woman’s Dreadnought. 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.

The organisation changed its name and focus over the years but didn’t close down until 1924.

About the project

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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.  

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.

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. 

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. Coordinated by Alternative Arts

Numbi Arts

Numbi Arts is a non-profit production org based in London that produces cross-art projects and works in partnership with artists, educators and peer organisations locally, nationally and internationally.  

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