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Suffragette cities: walk a mile (or four) in the suffragettes' shoes

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Walk a mile (or four) in the suffragettes' shoes as Stylist reveals the walking tours of London and Manchester that map out hidden landmarks of the fight for equality.

Walk past St Paul’s Cathedral and you can’t shake the weight of history that hovers in its midst – the Great Fire, Lord Nelson’s funeral, the bombs raining down in the Blitz. In Manchester, there’s no surer way of hammering home the city’s industrial past than a quick canal-side stroll. But when it comes to women’s fight for equality, the markers of that chapter of history are hidden. Every day we unknowingly walk past the places that witnessed the history of equality unfold. We don’t give them a second glance but the history is everywhere.

The suffragette movement started in 1903 within the modest surroundings of Emmeline Pankhurst’s living room in Manchester. Here, along with five other suffragettes, she created The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – an organisation founded on the belief that women deserved the same rights as men, including the right to vote.

WSPU’s tactics were militant from the outset – but they were a reaction to decades of peaceful protest that had been dismissed by the government and ignored by the press. The violence came from a dogged need to be heard. So much so, that in 1906, they relocated to London to make their struggle more visible.

The women leading the charge were Emmeline and her daughters Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison, Mary Richardson and Marion Wallace Dunlop. Between 1906 and 1914, their acts of extreme militancy – planting bombs, smashing public buildings, destroying works of art – were felt by many to be the only way to be heard.

In various spots across the two cities, WSPU held secret cafe meetings to plot attacks and hundreds of women stood defiantly brandishing placards to fight for freedom. Women risked their livelihoods and reputations for the cause, and it even split the movement, going on hunger strike in jail and being force-fed by their jailers. In fact, it’s easy to gloss over the sacrifice they made, which is why their full history deserves to be retraced now. Consider this your guide to following in the steps of the women to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. After all it’s said you can’t fully understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. So, what are you waiting for? 


London

​If you are yet to stumble across the capital’s radical history, this is where the suffragette movement really took hold between 1906 and 1914. This two-hour tour is broken up with afternoon tea, and a coffee break and puts you firmly in the footsteps of the suffragettes

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START: St George’s Church, Bloomsbury Way, WC1A

Despite a ban on people attending Emily Davison’s funeral on 14 June 1913 (after throwing herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby), 5,000 suffragettes followed her hearse from Victoria to Kings Cross, stopping off here for a memorial service the day before her burial in Northumberland. (Walk to next stop, 0.5 miles/10 minutes)

The Gardenia Restaurant, 6 Catherine Street, WC2B Now a food advisory organisation, this was once the vegetarian restaurant where, on 4 March 1912, Christabel Pankhurst and WSPU members plotted a militant demonstration on Whitehall in the top-floor rooms, while a troupe of detectives waited outside to arrest them. (Walk to next stop 0.5 miles/10 minutes)

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, WC2N; admission free

Head for Room 30 of the National Gallery and place yourself opposite Rokeby Venus by Diego Velasquez. Then imagine suffragette Mary Richardson attacking the painting with a meat cleaver, as she did on 10 March 1914, provoked by the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst the day before. (Walk to next stop 0.2 miles/4 minutes)

VISTA, The Trafalgar Hotel Afternoon tea, £20 per person; booking required; SW1A

The balcony overlooks Trafalgar Square where hundreds of women gathered to boycott the 1911 census – if they were not counted politically they felt they shouldn’t be counted at all. Ponder Holloway Jingles, an anthology by suffragette inmates, over your tea. (Walk to next stop 0.4 miles/8 minutes)

Downing Street Front Door, Visible from gates; SW1A

In 1909, Miss Daisy Solomon and Miss Elspeth McLellan ‘posted’ themselves (allowed under Post Office regulations) to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. Sadly, their mission was short-lived when a Downing Street official refused to sign for the “human letters” and sent them back to the WSPU offices. (Walk to next stop 0.3 miles/6 minutes)

Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yard, SW1P; £18; Book in advance

For suffragettes, handbags were a tool for extreme tactics against patriarchy. This is where one unnamed suffragette successfully set off a bomb in Edward the Confessor’s Chapel, close to the Coronation Chair, after ditching her bag in a pew and fleeing. Within the recovered bag was a feather boa and a guidebook. (Walk to next stop 0.2 miles/4 minutes)

Cellarium Café and Terrace, 20 Dean Farrar Street, SW1P

This cafe – set under the arches of a former 14th century store house – is just minutes from the Palace of Westminster where Emily Davison boycotted the 1911 Census by hiding in a cupboard. It appealed to her sense of irony that, as a woman with no right to vote, her place of residence on census night would be the House of Commons. (Walk to next stop 0.4 miles/8 minutes)

Caxton Hall, Caxton Street, SW1H

Now an apartment block, Caxton Hall was the site of the WSPU’s women’s parliament, which took place at the beginning of every parliamentary session from 1907. In 1907 – the day after votes for women was omitted from the King’s speech – Emmeline Pankhurst cried “Rise up women” to 400 suffragettes who answered: “Now!” (Walk to next stop miles/2 minutes)

The Suffragette Memorial, Christchurch Gardens, SW1H

This bronze scroll-shaped sculpture commemorates Caxton Hall’s significance in the movement and includes a faint etching of the WSPU badge. (Walk to next stop miles/4 minutes)

Howick Place Post Office, 7 Howick Place, SW1E

In March 1912, suffragettes Matilde Wolff van Sandau and Katie Mills smashed the post office building’s windows with stones. The suffragettes saw the postal service as a symbol of the oppressive male government. (Walk to next stop 0.7 miles/14 minutes)

Eaton Square, SW1W

Grab a juice from Itsu and stroll through Eaton Square – the same walk nurses and midwives took in 1909 to The Pageant of Women’s Trades and Professions speech at the Albert Hall. Continue to Sloane Square and then join the Fulham Road all the way down to the Brompton Cemetery. (Walk to next stop 2.2 miles/40 minutes) 

The Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Road, SW10

At the northern end of the cemetery, beneath a red sandstone Celtic cross, lies the grave of Emmeline Pankhurst who died on 14 June 1928 aged 69. Just 18 days later, parliament gave women over the age of 21 the right to equal votes with men, regardless of property ownership.  

Follow our interactive map here.


Manchester

As well as being home to Strangeways Prison – where Emily Davison famously went on hunger strike in 1909 – Manchester was the birthplace of the suffragette movement before it moved to London in 1906. We’ve compiled an hour and a half city centre tour to help you discover more… 

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START: Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, M2; Free

In 1913, three suffragettes snuck in to destroy artworks, protesting against the value placed on property over people. (Walk to next stop 0.1 miles/2 minutes) 

St Peter’s Fields

Now St Peter’s Square; M2 In August 1819, 80,000 people gathered to demand the vote. Known as the Peterloo Massacre, 11 people, including a child, were killed by the military. (Walk to next stop 0.1 miles/2 minutes)

The Free Trade Hall, Peter Street; M2

In 1905, Christabel Pankhurst held a ‘Votes for Women’ flag during a political meeting. She was arrested but was released when MP Winston Churchill paid the fine. (Walk to next stop 0.1 miles/2 minutes)  

Épernay, Watson Street, M3

Take a break at this bar, minutes down the road from the former offices of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage, before the next leg. (Walk to next stop 1.7 miles/34 minutes)

Pankhurst Centre, Free; 60-62 Neslon Street, M13

The Pankhurst family home was the birthplace of the suffragette movement. Now, a museum and heritage centre stands as a legacy to the suffragettes. (Walk to next stop 1.5 miles/30 minutes)

Alexandra Park, Russell Street, M16

In 1908, suffragettes headed here for The Great Demonstration. Then, in 1913, Kitty Marion destroyed the park’s cactus house with a pipe bomb, just one of her many violent acts in the name of women’s rights.

Follow our interactive map here.

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