Skip to main content

Suffragettes and the Old Brown Dog

When Mrs Pankhurst spoke at a suffrage meeting in Battersea Town Hall with local suffragette Charlotte Despard, she was puzzled by hecklers' calls for “the old brown dog”. Who was the old brown dog, and what connection did it have with the campaign for female suffrage?

The old brown dog was the victim of vivisection at the hands of Professor William Bayliss (1860–1924) at University College London in 1903. Two female students witnessed  the procedure: Louise Lind-af-Hageby (1878–1963) and Liesa Schartau. Louise Lind-af-Hageby was born in Sweden but settled in England in 1902. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College before going on to study medicine with her friend Liesa Schartau. 

The women noticed that the dog had already been subjected to one procedure. The law at that time forbade the use of an animal for more than one experiment; it had to be destroyed. They reported the incident to Stephen Coleridge (1854–1936) of the Anti-vivisection Society, who publicly accused Professor Bayliss of breaking the law. Professor Bayliss sued Coleridge for libel, claiming that the dog had been under anaesthetic during the operation and when it was destroyed afterwards. The Professor won substantial damages. 

Anti-vivisectionists had lost the case but they were determined not to forget the old brown dog. In 1906 they erected a statue in Battersea in memory of “the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February, 1903…[and] 232 dogs Vivisected at the same place during the year 1902”. During what became known as the Brown Dog Riots of 1907, medical students from London’s University College and Middlesex Hospital attempted to destroy the statue on 20 November and again on 25 November. On 10 December the London students held a pro-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square where fights broke out between them and working men. They also interrupted anti-vivisection meetings: one hundred students broke furniture, fought and threw smoke bombs at one gathering in Acton on December 1907, and students rioted at another meeting in Battersea on 15 January 1908.  

But why attack suffrage meetings? The reason was that many people at the time saw suffragists and anti-vivisectionists as members of the same movement. Indeed, the connections were there for those who wished to make them. Charlotte Despard, who was present at the unveiling of the statue, was Honorary Secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The founder of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Frances Power Cobbe  (1822–1904), was also a campaigner for women’s rights. Batheaston WSPU supporter Mrs Blathwayt remarked in her diary that many suffragettes were vegetarian. Louise Lind-af-Hageby, who campaigned against vivi-section for the remainder of her life, herself linked the two causes as elements of a new humanitarianism which was opposed to cruelty and oppression.  

In fact, not all suffragists were anti-vivisectionists, but the belief that the two campaigns were connected was unshakeable. The students showed the same hostility to suffragettes as they did to anti-vivisectionists. In London they interrupted suffrage meetings with cries of “Down with the old dog”. Their antagonism to the cause of women's suffrage was followed by students elsewhere, including in Bristol where on 3 April 1908 Bristol medical students heckled Mrs Pankhurst at the Victoria Rooms. On 24 November 1909 students rushed the platform in Colston Hall where Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst were speaking. An attempt to wreck the Anti-Vivisection Shop in Queen’s Road was foiled, but in 1913 Bristol students were more successful when they launched a similar attack on the WSPU shop, also in Queen’s Road, looting and burning the premises.     

In 1910 the statue of the Old Brown Dog was removed and destroyed to prevent further student rioting. In December 1985 actress Geraldine James unveiled a new brown dog memorial in Battersea Park which had been commissioned by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) and the National Anti-vivisection Society. It is this statue (pictured above) you can see today. 

For the full story read Coral Lansbury’s fascinating book The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England (Winsconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985)

Read about the Old Brown Dog Statue at the Friends of Battersea Park website,
Find out more about the anti-visisection movement at the BUAV website -



Popular posts from this blog

The Bristol Boys: The Bare Knuckle Champions and The Hatchet Inn

The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street in Bristol is all that remains of a row of seventeenth-century timbered houses dating back to 1606 – making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. It was substantially altered in the 1960s, and these days it stands on a traffic island. But at one time it boasted extensive grounds – and amongst the facilities on offer was a bare-knuckle boxing ring. Plaque at The Hatchet Inn, Bristol The pub’s connection with Bristol’s boxing heroes is commemorated in a plaque illustrating five of Bristol’s champions – one of whom, Hen Pearce, features in Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery. Hen Pearce (Detail) Bristol born Hen Pearce, The Game Chicken (1777 – 1809), a former butcher’s boy, became champion of England in 1805. He was a hero inside and outside the ring. In 1807 he climbed onto the roof of a building in Thomas Street, Bristol to rescue a servant girl from a fire. Always a popular figure, this courageous act inspired many eulogies in pr

Spotlight On...Begbrook House, Frenchay, Bristol

On 11 November 1913, the head gardener at Begbrook House in Frenchay near Bristol discovered that the   building was on fire. The house stood in its own wooded grounds, and was said to have twenty rooms and a fine old staircase. Within a few hours the house was gutted. The fire caused £3,000 worth of damage. A copy of the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette , was left at the site with the message, “Birrell is coming. Rachel Pease is still being tortured”.  Begbrook House Picture: Frenchay Village Museum Augustine Birrell was the Liberal MP for Bristol North, and a cabinet minister. He was frequently targetted by militants in Bristol. Suffragettes interrupted his meetings and two women once accosted him at Temple Meads Railway Station with their demand for the vote.    Begbrook House belonged to Hugh Thomas Coles, a wealthy banker. Hugh Coles was the son of   William Gale Cole of Clifton, who was also a banker, and was born in Clifton in 1856. Lik

Dickens and Chickens

On 17 April 1860, in fields near Farnborough, Charles Dickens joined an audience amongst whom were the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, as well as a number of MPs and clergymen, to watch the American John Carmel Heenan and England’s Tom Sayers (the Brighton Titch) beat one another blind and bloody in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted nearly two and a half hours. The fight ended in a draw when Aldershot police stormed the ring, forcing the fighters and their illustrious spectators to flee the scene. It was the brutality of this match that signalled an end to the bare-knuckle era and prompted the development of the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules. Dickens’s interest in pugilism was of long standing. In 1848 Dombey and Son , which had been published in serial form over the preceding two years, came out in book form. One of many of his novels that draws on the world of the prize fighter, it introduces the unforgettable Mr Toots, a would-be man about town, an