Historic England will contribute to the London PROCESSION to highlight the history of women’s rights witnessed and reflected in the city’s unique heritage. Together with London College of Fashion (LCF) and artist Lucy Orta, we are working with women at HMP Downview and LCF students in the collaborative production of banner artworks, which will connect participants with the legacy of the suffragettes and Holloway prison through craft and textile practice.
LCF’s Making For Change project, based at HMP Downview, aims to increase well-being and reduce reoffending rates amongst participants through fashion education. This programme was founded in Holloway, one of the most notorious sites associated with the suffrage movement in the capital. The banner will engage with Holloway’s incredible history by being made from the perspective of women linked with HMP Holloway, who are still denied the vote.
Holloway Prison’s Suffrage Story
Many suffragettes were imprisoned at Holloway throughout the campaign for the vote. A number of women protested through hunger strikes and were force-fed. This is a brief insight into their story:
June 1906 The first suffragette to be sent to Holloway Prison, Teresa Billington-Greig, was arrested in an affray and sentenced to a fine or two months internment. An anonymous reader of the Daily Mirror paid the fine, and Billington-Greig went on to form the Women’s Freedom League.
October 1906 English-Australian poet Dora Montefiore was arrested with others for demanding votes for women in the lobby of the House of Commons. She was sent to Holloway, and described her surroundings:
‘The cells had a cement floor, whitewashed walls and a window high up so that one could not see out of it. It was barred outside and the glass was corrugated so that one could not even get a glimpse of the sky; and the only sign of outside life was the occasional flicker of the shadow of a bird as it flew outside across the window. The furnishing of the cell consisted of a wooden plank bed stood up against the wall, a mattress rolled up in one corner, two or three tin vessels, a cloth for cleaning and polishing and some bath brick. On the shelf were a Bible, a wooden spoon, a salt cellar, and one other book whose name I forget, but I remember glancing into it and thinking it would appeal to the intelligence of a child of eight. There was also a stool without a back, and inside the mattress when unrolled for the night and placed on the wooden stretcher were two thin blankets, a pillow and some rather soiled-looking sheets. One tin utensil was for holding water, the second for sanitary purposes, and the third was a small tin mug for holding cocoa.’
1907 Activist, novelist, and founding member of the Women’s Freedom League, Charlotte Despard was arrested for taking part in a demonstration at the House of Commons. She was sentenced to three weeks at Holloway. Two streets in London are named after her.
1909 Writer, speaker and activist Lady Constance Lytton was imprisoned at Holloway twice during 1909 for demonstrating at the House of Commons. During her incarceration she attempted to carve ‘Votes for Women’ onto her skin, but only completed the ‘V’ for fear of blood poisoning. She later campaigned to improve the conditions of women in prison and wrote of her experiences in Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences, By Constance Lytton and Jane Warton (London: 1914).
1911 Emily Davison was arrested for arson on a post box outside Parliament. She was sentenced to six months at Holloway and took part in hunger strikes for which she was force fed. Following the force-feeding, Davison jumped from one of the interior balconies of the building in protest. She suffered serious injuries.
Davison died in 1913 after being hit by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby, becoming a martyr for the cause. It is not known if her death was accidental.
1912 Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement, was convicted for conspiracy to commit property damage and staged her first hunger strike to improve conditions for other suffragettes in nearby cells.
Words by Marina Nenadic, Historic England