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Showing posts from 2013

'We will have a fire': arson during eighteenth-century enclosures

Join our Winter Solstice Blog Hop! Thirty writers throw light on a dazzling range of topics . Follow the links at the end of this article to be enlightened and brightened by our blogs...  “Inclosure came and trampled on the grave Of labours rights and left the poor a slave And memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow Is both the shadow and the substance now.”    John Clare, The Mores     On 1 May 1794, the writer Hester (Thrale) Piozzi of Streatham Park recorded in her diary that the furze on the common had been set on fire in protest at the enclosure of land “which really & of just Right belonged to the poor of the Parish”. Yet even while she acknowledged that the protesters had justice on their side, she criticised them for not “going to Law like wise fellows” and concluded: “So senseless are Le Peuple , & so unfitted to be souverain”. The senseless poor of Streatham were not unique. During the eighteenth century, enclosure resisters throughout the

Anyone for Panko?

  This splendid playing card is one of a set for the game of Panko, or Votes for Women ,   “the Great Card Game – Suffragists v Anti Suffragists”.         The cards were designed by   Edward Tennyson Reed (1860–1933) , a cartoonist known for his sketches of politicians in the House of Commons. Reed worked for Punch magazine on their parliamentary pages between 1890 and 1912.           Panko was one of many items of merchandise sold by the militant Women’s Social and Political Union to raise funds for the cause. It was marketed as a gift with appeal for both supporters and antis. If you bought it for friends who were supporters it would please them, and if your friends were anti it would amuse them – and after the game you could convert them! Advertised in the WSPU magazine, Votes for Women , in December 1909, Panko would have made an ideal Christmas present. Alas, my set is incomplete – big hint in case Santa is thinking of bringing me something this ye

From Roman Fact to Roman Fiction

Yesterday, 19 October 2013, was the first of two free Meet the Historians events which have been organised for the Historical Novel Society to take place during the Bristol Literature Festival. From Roman Fact to Fiction was one of a number of events associated with the Bristol Museum’s Roman Empire: Power and People exhibition (on until 12 January 2014).    Gail Boyle is Senior Collections Officer (Archaeology) for Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives , and the curator of Roman Empire: Power and People . She gave a fascinating talk comparing and contrasting how authors of historical novels and experts in a museum context weave stories around objects.    Ben Kane is the author of rip-roaring action novels about Spartacus, Hannibal and first-century BC Rome. He told us about his recent walk along the length of Hadrian’s Wall, wearing full Roman military kit. This included hobnailed boots – which he brought with him! The walk raised almost £19,000 for charity.    Manda

That infernal brothel: the story of Bet Carter (c1770 - ?), a convict to New South Wales

At the end of April 1794 The Surprize convict ship set sail from Portsmouth bound for Botany Bay. Her master was Patrick Campbell and the first mate was Mr McPherson. On board were 23 soldiers of the New South Wales Corp, the regiment established in 1789 to serve in Australia. Six of the soldiers were deserters who had been taken from prison.    Amongst the 94 convicts were four men known as the Scottish Martyrs: radicals Thomas Muir, Thomas Palmer, William Skirving and Maurice Margarot, who had all been sentenced to transportation for campaigning for parliamentary reform. During the voyage the four men fell out and in an atmosphere of spying and treachery, Thomas Muir and William Skirving ended up on charges of plotting to incite a mutiny. Several people were drawn into this brutal affair, during which the suspects were confined without trial, witnesses were bullied, and accused soldiers flogged and kept chained to the poop in cramped positions and left exposed to the elements

Mrs Pankhurst and the Double Standard

When Mrs Pankhurst sought to justify WSPU militancy, she often did so by drawing attention to a double standard that accepted men’s militancy but criticised women’s. “The smashing of windows is a time-honoured method of showing displeasure in a political situation,” she said, adding, “When Englishmen do it, it is regarded as an honest expression of political opinion…when Englishwomen do it, it is treated as a crime.”    Mrs Pankhurst served a term in prison in 1908 for inciting disorder during a deputation to the House of Commons. After her release from Holloway, she insisted on the suffragettes’ right to be regarded as political prisoners , not common criminals, and directed WSPU members to refuse to co-operate with prison rules unless this was granted. It was this demand that led hundreds of women to adopt the hunger strike.    Yet the WSPU frequently argued that the Government was prepared to grant male activists political status and tolerate their violence and incitement of o

Dreadnought Days

I’ve had an exciting few Dreadnought days, with a walk, a play, a panel and my own suffrage pilgrimage to Aldeburgh in Suffolk... In a series of events around the region, the Dreadnought South West project commemorates the 1913 Suffrage Pilgrimage organised by the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Women’s franchise campaigners from all over the country walked to London along six main routes, including one through the south west starting at Land’s End. The Pilgrimage began on 18 June 1913 and ended with a rally in Hyde Park on 26 July, where Mrs Millicent Garrett Fawcett, president of the NUWSS, addressed the crowd.    I was thrilled to be involved in some of the Dreadnought events here in Bristol.        Suffragette Walk   On 7 July ten of us braved the heat to walk around Clifton looking at sites connected with the militant suffrage campaign in Bristol. In 1907 leading suffragette Annie Kenney came to the city to launch a local branch of th

Were the suffragettes insane?

On 16 March 1912 a leader in The Times explained suffragette militancy by attributing it to women’s “Insurgent Hysteria”. The article suggested that “in a large number of cases, even though in the strict sense insanity is not present, there is a tendency to some form of hysteria or morbid moods akin thereto”. Women’s mental weakness was inherent in their physiology: their “senseless outrages against property” could best by understood by physicians. Amongst the correspondence the leader inspired, one doctor, in a letter headed “What Every Doctor Knows”, agreed that physicians did indeed understand the type of woman referred to. He explained that “when she has reached a certain age, we know that there is no help in us”. To prevent the development of such characters, he added, “the lunacy laws will require revision.”      Medical scientist Sir Almroth Wright produced a whole book – The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage – exploring the theme, characterising the suffragettes

'The Suffragettes were in the organ'

I’ve been so busy preparing The Bristol Suffragettes for publication (expected in May) that I haven’t had a chance to write a blog for ages. With publication date drawing near, though, I’ve been thinking about dates quite a bit, and in particular how hard they, and other details, are to pin down. Surprisingly, that’s true even for recent and well-recorded events such as the suffrage campaign. You’d think that with newspapers, books, recordings and films available for us to consult, not to mention diaries and autobiographies, it would be comparatively easy to sort out the facts.   Well, it isn’t!    Take the case of the suffragettes who hid overnight in the organ in the Colston Hall, Bristol in 1909 to interrupt local MP Augustine Birrell’s speech the next day. According to A Nest of Suffragettes in Somerset by B M Willmott Dobbie (1979), the suffragettes were Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth and the event took place on 2 May. Dobbie includes a rousing description of the event tak

Profiled on Literature Works!

I am pleased to be one of the first south west UK writers featured on Literature Works's lovely new website Literature Works is a literature development charity for South West England which offers support to writers and readers in the region. The new website features writers' profiles, resources for readers, and an events calendar.

The Stepmother, Githa Sowerby, Orange Tree

I went to see Githa Sowerby’s 1924 play, The Stepmother , at The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond on 16 February 2013. Before this production the play had never been performed in public (there was a private performance in 1924). In fact Sowerby, the author of a critically acclaimed play about a bullying industrialist, Rutherford & Son (1912), had been largely forgotten. Over the years there have been rumblings of a revival of interest in Githa Sowerby (1876 – 1970). In 1980 the Theatre Upstairs put on an abridged version of Rutherford & Son . The Times Literary Supplement in 1994 talked of the “uncovered greatness of Githa Sowerby” in a review of a production of the play at the Cottesloe Theatre. Then she sank back into obscurity until 2009 with the publication of a biography by Pat Riley ( Looking for Githa ); the unveiling of a plaque at her Gateshead home; a revival of Rutherford & Son by Northern Stage; and other events in Tyneside to commemorate the Gateshead-born