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Suffragette tactics on trial in Southport

Posted Monday 8 January 11.00 am

Several news stories this mornings set me thinking about how slow the world has been and continues to be in according all women proper respect and rights. The 'Start the week' programme on Radio 4 discussed the distinction between 'Suffragists' and 'Suffragettes', woefully,  a new concept to me.

The question 'How did this manifest itself here in and around Formby?' quickly led me to this article. It's the account of a trial held in Southport, which also involves a resident of Formby. I hope you find it interesting and relevant today.


Court room

A Court Room Scene: Not Southport
The Southport Police Court, yesterday, was crowded to its uttermost extent, interest centring in charges against three of the ladies who were the occasion of a disturbance at Mr Winston Churchill's meeting in the Empire on Saturday afternoon.

Their names were: Winsome Etherley. London; Helen Tolson, Manchester; and Dora Marsden, local organising secretary for the Women's Social and Political Union, and the charge against them was that of disturbing the peace.

Joseph Barker, engineer, Formby, said he was one of the stewards at the meeting in the Empire on Saturday afternoon. Soon after Mr Churchill had commenced his address a witness heard a lady shouting through one of the ventilating windows in the roof. He went outside, climbed a ladder on to the roof, and, seeing a broken window, broke it further so that he could get inside just between the slates and the stucco ceiling of the building. He climbed up a distance of about ten feet, and found the defendants at one of the ventilating windows shouting down into the meeting. He asked them to come down, and Miss Marsden said,

"Not before Mr Churchill has answered my question."

He told them to come down quietly, but as they refused to do so, he got hold of Miss Marsden, and found her tied by one arm by means of a cord to framework. He got them out with great difficulty, as they tried to scratch, bite, and kick, and they were then taken in hand by other stewards, and finally by the police.

A Proper Interruption.

For the defence, Mr Greaves Lord said that as these ladies had been treated in an unjustifiable manner then undoubtedly they were perfectly entitled to struggle and take the course they did. It was all very well to say the woman was white with rage, but no woman could be dragged, along a roof without showing fear. Mr Lord sarcastically described the stewards as models of discretion. He held that the interruption was a perfectly proper one. Pushed and dragged. Miss Marsden gave a graphic description of the ' struggle, which, she said, was simply due to the hysteria of the stewards.

Outside she said they would go quietly, having made their protests, and that there was a perfectly safe way, but they were pushed and dragged along at great risk life of and limb. It was an absolute falsehood to say that her arm was tied by a cord to the framework. She and the other defendants were considerably scratched by being pushed through the broken window, but the window was not broken before the stewards came. One of the stewards doubled her over an iron bar and pressed on her back as it to break the bar.

Witness, cross-examined by the Town Clerk, said they got into the ceiling of the hall through ' trap-door near one end of the stage. First one and then another was assisted through the trapdoor,' and then the third was pulled up using rope. They were quite willing to take the full consequences of those uninvited attendances. They could not get inside they were determined to send their message by megaphone or missile, or some other means.

Further evidence was called after luncheon, and ultimately the Chairman stated that a majority of the magistrates were of the opinion that the case had not been technically proved, and the defendants would be given the benefit of the doubt.

(Source: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Tuesday 07 December 1909)

Some readers may note that this happened 99 years ago, and yet, women are still having assert their rights today. Such slow progress.