Heritage trail of Leeds City Centre, showcasing significant sites of meaning for the history of the Suffragette movement in Leeds. This tour was devised by Klara Mills, formerly of the Local and Family History department, in collaboration with Nicola Pullen of Abbey House Museum.
The site of the largest Suffragette rally in the north of England. Adela Pankhurst spoke for 90-minutes and Leeds Lass Mary Gawthorpe was also a speaker with a banner proclaiming
If you believe in justice join the women’s procession
The rally took place on June 1908. There was another large WSPU rally on the 4th May 1913 as part of May Day Labour demonstration during which Leonora Cohen told the crowd
The time has gone by for constitutional work. We women are outside the constitution. We are outlaws.
All Saints Church, Blackman Lane
The site is in one of the poorer districts of Leeds. It was the place of Emily Ford’s baptism and holds eight folding painted panels depicting religious subjects painted by Emily Ford herself. Emily and Isabella Ford founded the Leeds Suffragette Society in 1890.
Mary Gawthorpe Blue Plaque
Mary Eleanor Gawthorpe was born at 5 Melville Street in Woodhouse. However when she eventually received a blue Plaque in June 2013 this street was no longer there so the plaque was placed at 9 Warrels Mount in Bramley. This is the home she rented with her Mother during the time she joined Leeds Arts Club. Mary developed a skill at public speaking through her involvement with a trade union and contact with the early socialist movement in the city. After being inspired by Christabel Pankhurst, Mary joined the campaign for women’s suffrage and was quickly appointed as national organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Microfilmed copies of her personal documents and mementos can be viewed at the Leeds Central Library Family History Dept.
Leonora Cohen Blue Plaque
Leonora Cohen’s Blue Plaque is placed at 2 Claremont Villas on Claredon Road Woodhouse. Leonora Cohen is probably most famous for smashing a show case in the Jewel House at the Tower of London with an iron bar. A piece of paper was wrapped around the bar stating “This is my protest against the Government’s treachery to the working women of Great Britain.” In later life Leonora became the first woman president of the Yorkshire Federation of Trades Councils and the following year was appointed a magistrate, one of the first women appointed to the bench. She was a JP for 25-years and by the mid-1920s had been awarded an OBE for services to public life.
Leeds Arts Club
The Leeds Arts Club was set up by A.R. Orage and journalist Holbrook Johnson in October 1903 in a building next to Leeds Town Hall. It shared the building with a printer called Marx! The Leeds Arts Club was instrumental in introducing a lot of the Leeds suffragettes to Socialism and politics. Mary Gawthorpe, Isabella, Bessie and Emily Ford were all members and heard lectures and debates given by A.R. Orage and George Bernard Shaw. In 1905 Isabella Ford gave a talk at the Arts Club called “Women and the State,” urging women to reassert their public rights. Frank Rutter was also a prevalent member of the club, which remained actively sympathetic to the Suffragettes.
Leeds Art Gallery
Frank Rutter became the Curator and then Director of the Art Gallery in 1912. He was a member of Leeds Arts Club and the secretary of the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement. When Lilian Lenton was granted a short release from jail in June 1913 following her hunger strike at Armley Jail she was taken to Frank Rutters house West Field Chapel in Chapel Allerton. Here a daring escape plan was put into action to whisk Lilian out of Leeds so she could not be re- arrested. She escaped from under the police who were watching the house by dressing as an errand boy and leaving in a Grocers Van. The Rutters claimed to have been away that day and did not get back until the evening when Lilian had gone. It was then rumoured in the press that Lilian had then caught a taxi to Harrogate then on to Scarborough. However this has never been proved and the Leeds Mercury implied on June 4th that it was all another part of the rouse to “throw the police off the scent”.
Leeds City Museum
The Leeds City Museum has the main archive collection relating to Leonora Cohen, including the ‘Blue Dress’ she wore to the Leeds Arts Society Ball with the Suffragette colours and icons embroidered on to it. They also have the hand written tag that was attached to the iron bar she used at the Tower of London among a range of other interesting artefacts.
Leeds Coliseum stood where the O2 Academy is now on Cookridge Street. The Coliseum was the site of at least two disturbances both related to the visits of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. The first disturbance took place in October 1908. Asquith was in Leeds to address a meeting at the Coliseum on Saturday October 10. A large crowd of Suffragettes had gathered in Vernon Street. They were joined by the Unemployed Leader Alfred Kitson and a crowd of men marching for the “right to work”. They all joined together and marched to the Coliseum in an attempt to try to speak to Herbert Asquith and present a petition. It ended with Mrs Jennie Baines (Suffragette) and Alfred Kitson being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly. Kitson was also charged with assaulting a Policeman.
The Prime Minister visited Leeds and the Coliseum again on November 27 1913. Four arrests were made including three suffragettes: one of those was Leonora Cohen. Thousands of Suffragettes gathered in Victoria Square before continuing their demonstration along Great George Street and up to the Coliseum. As they passed the Labour exchange offices at the corner of Great George Street and Portland Crescent the demonstrators through large stones shattering the fifteen feet windows. The Mercury describes the atmosphere as “Electric”. Leonora Cohen was arrested for the smashing of the Window, Jessie Hunter for assaulting the police and two others for disturbance.
Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society, 9 Park Lane (now part of the Headrow)
No. 9 Park Lane, Leeds, was the office of the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society in 1913. Initially established in 1871 as the Leeds Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, the society was re-founded in 1889 as the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society. They joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1898. Isabella and Bessie Ford helped to form the society in 1890 and Bessie was also the Treasurer.
Women’s Social and Political Union headquarters, Grand Assembly Rooms, Briggate
The WSPU was founded on 10th October 1903 at Emmeline Pankhurst’s house in Manchester. At that time there were only six members, including Emmeline and her daughters Adela and Christabel. They adopted the slogan ‘Deeds not Words’. The Leeds branch of the WSPU was based at the Grand Assembly Rooms on Briggate. They clung to their liberal beliefs and produced a leaflet giving “Eight reasons why women want the vote”.
Also known as Armley Gaol, this was the incarceration place for most Yorkshire Suffragettes. Lilian Lenton and Leonora Cohen were both locked up in Armley Jail and both promptly went on hunger strike. Armley authorities asked if they should take finger prints of ‘May Dennis’ (Lilian Lenton) before her release under the “Cat and Mouse Act”; the answer came back ‘Yes’. It is also suspected that the covert photograph of Lilian Lenton was taken in Armley Jail. The Prison Commission stipulated that “Photographs should be taken in every case. However they cannot be taken by force but instructs the officer who takes the photograph to take a photograph without the knowledge of the prisoner”. Leonora Cohen and four other Suffragettes not only refused food but also drink! The jail was also a popular place for Suffragette rallys and protests.
Sites of importance outside the city centre
The battle for Women’s Suffrage was prominent in the South of Leeds. The Suffragettes including Mary Gawthorpe are described in Leeds Mercury as being out “in the rain in South Leeds with their Piano Organ and tambourines” in an effort to raise money for their cause during “self-denial week” . A favourite song among the crowds watching and donating was ‘Put me among the girls’. Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech at Penny Hill in Hunslet in February 1908. The By-Election in South Leeds proved a focal point for the Suffragettes protest. A rally which culminated in a torchlight procession lead by a band ended at Hunslet Moor. Speakers again included Emmeline Pankhurst who this time was joined by her daughter Adela and Jennie Baines. In her biography Mrs Pankhurst describes how “The throngs of Mill women kept up the chorus in broad Yorkshire: “Shall us win? Shall us have the vote? We shall!”
Adel Grange was the home of the Ford sisters. The Fords were very liberal and were active in the Anti-Slavery and Trade Union movements, before joining the Suffragette movement. Christabel Pankhurst was invited to stay there by Isabella Ford in 1906 when she visited Leeds to speak on Suffrage. Fund-raising events took place here for various causes including the Leeds Arts Fund, Women’s education and the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society, which was founded by the Ford Sisters. It is now a Nursing Home.
Two Suffragettes were arrested for attempted arson at Headingley Stadium in November 1913 during the week of Asquith’s visit. The ‘Headingley Two’, a dark-haired woman of about twenty-five, and her accomplish – a “girlish figure in green cap and sports jacket” – appeared in court. Evidence used against them included postcards stating ‘NO VOTE, NO SPORT, NO PEACE- FIRE, DESTRUCTION, DEVASTATION’ and one addressed to Asquith himself: ‘We are burning for “Votes for Women”’. The two ladies also made complaints against several Armley Jail warders for using violence to obtain finger prints. This information is taken from the Leonora Cohen press-cuttings book, held at Abbey House Museum.
For more on the Suffragettes in Leeds, see our range of other articles on the Secret Library Leeds…