Friday, February 6, 2015

Tea Rooms and the Women’s Suffrage Movement

by Anita Davison
The Gardenia

Whilst writing the third in my Cozy Mystery series, the first of which is due out this year, my research of Edwardian London has taken me into the history of the Women’s Suffragette Movement. Perhaps I am being overly ambitious making this a series as there is no guarantee the sequels will find a home, but we writers certainly don’t let that sort of thing discourage us. "It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write."- Sinclair Lewis 

Something I was not aware of before embarking on this story was that until the 1880’s it was not considered respectable for a woman to eat or drink in public either alone or in the company of other women. Kate Frye, an organiser for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, stayed in a Norfolk hotel while organising suffrage meetings. Her diary of 22nd March 1911 states:

 Came in, had my lunch [in the hotel dining room] in company with four motorists. It is funny the way men come in here and, seeing me, shoot out again and I hear whispered conversations outside on the landing with the waitress. Then they come in very subdued and make conversation one to another and try not to look at me. Awfully funny – they might never have seen a woman before – but I suppose it does seem a strange place to find one.

Some enterprising business men, and women, saw the need for a haven for women away from the home, especially those providing female rest rooms. Thus cafes and tea rooms started to appear in the west end.  These proved immediately popular for suffragists who would gather there or hire adjoining rooms in which to organise their activities and hold meetings.
   
The smarter restaurants were Slaters, Fullers, and The Criterion Restaurant Room at Piccadilly Circus. Smaller establishments were Alan’s Tea Rooms at 263 Oxford Street, The Tea Cup Inn, Kingsway, and the Gardenia, a vegetarian Restaurant in Catherine Street, Covent Garden.

Some of these cafes were part of chains, like the ABC, founded in the 1880s, and Lyons in 1894, catering for upper-working-class and lower-middle-class women who could sit at separate tables and be served, not by waiters, but by waitresses.

Alan’s Tea Rooms
Corner of Alans Tea Rooms

Alan’s was located on the first floor of No 263  Oxford Street, close by Jay's fashion store. The red brick building, constructed circa 1864, had a semi-circular arcaded Venetian style window, an early-19thc-style fireplace, and contained arts and crafts furniture with slightly splayed legs and high stick-backs chairs with rush seats.

The owner was 34 year old Miss Marguerite Alan Liddle, the daughter of a Shropshire solicitor. She employed her brother, Alan who lent his name to the café, as a manager. When Emmeline Pankhurst split from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies [NUWSS] in 1903 to form the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union [WSPU], she began a newspaper, Votes for Women, in which Alan’s Tea Rooms was advertised. Helen Liddle lived at 8a Holland St, Kensington as a lodger in the apartment of Miss Emilie Chapman, a nurse, and ran the tearooms until 1916.


After a series of disruptive activities, in October 1909 Helen broke a post office window in protest at women being excluded from a Parliamentary meeting for which she was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. Her companion was Emily Wilding Davison whose will she had witnessed earlier that day. In Helen’s book, The Prisoner, a suffragette memoir, she states that she wanted to describe the atmosphere of prison and its effect upon a prisoner who is forcibly fed. While her brother was advertising her luncheons etc. in Votes for Women her sister was on hunger strike in Strangeways.

The Gardenia opened in 1908 by Thomas Smith, a young man who lived with his wife and two children in rooms above the restaurant. This establishment was well placed for the suffragist movement, as the Women’s Freedom League headquarters were located in Robert Street,  just south of the Strand. The WSPU headquarters were to the east of Aldwych in Clement’s Inn. Vegetarian restaurants were particularly popular among suffragettes – many of whom were aligned to the anti-vivisectionist campaign.

The Teacup Inn opened in 1910 in a ground floor shop and basement, located in Portugal Street off Kingsway. Entirely staffed and managed by women, the owners, Mrs Alice Mary Hansell and Miss Marion Shallard, advertised the cafe in Votes For Women as "Dainty luncheons and Afternoon teas at moderate charges. Home cookery. Vegeterian dishes and sandwiches. Entirely staffed and managed by women."

Across Portugal Street, the Tea Cup Inn faced the London Opera House which opened in November 1911 close to the WSPU office.
In 1912 the WSPU moved to Lincoln’s Inn House in Kingsway, making the Teacup Inn probably the nearest place of refreshment.  The Teacup Inn was advertised at least once in the Pankhurst paper, The Suffragette, in June 1914, stressing: "Kitchens open for inspection".

Molinari’s Restaurant  was at 25 Frith Street, Soho, advertised in The Suffragette magazine, offering to donate 5% of their takings to the cause for suffragists who wore badges.  However in the 1920s the Home Office reported that its proprietor, Angelo Molinari, was the proprietor of ‘doubtful’ restaurants – suspected of running brothels in upstairs rooms. 

Criterion Restaurant - The Criterion Restaurant built in 1874 at Piccadilly Circus [where it still remains] adjoins the theatre. In its Edwardian heyday it offered the Victoria Hall and the Grand Hall for hire on the first floor. The magnificently decorated Grand Hall overlooked Piccadilly Circus and was a café which provided the much vaunted ladies’ cloakrooms. The Actresses’ Franchise League [AFL] held its meetings at the Criterion due to its convenient location close to the theatre district.

Eustace Miles Restaurant opened at at Chandos Place, Covent Garden in May 1906 by Eustace Miles, who was a Cambridge-educated health guru – a real tennis player – prolific author – and vegetarian. He ran his establishment with his wife, Hallie as a ‘Food Reform’ restaurant.


Among his shareholders was the writer E.F. Benson, the headmaster of Eton, Bernard Shaw and his wife, Dr Helen Wilson, a Sheffield-based doctor and suffragist, and Mrs Ennis Richmond, a suffragette who ran West Heath, a progressive school in Hampstead.


Ellen Terry’s daughter, Edith Craig, who lived nearby in Bedford Street, sold Votes for Women from a pitch outside the Eustace Miles.


In March 1907 the WSPU chose it as the venue for a breakfast celebrating the release from Holloway of the prisoners who had been arrested when taking part in the deputation from the first Women’s Parliament. A year later, a breakfast was held for women who had taken part in the pantechnicon raid on Parliament.


English Suffragette China
As with Alan’s Tea Rooms and the Gardenia, the Eustace Miles rented a room for suffragist meetings and by those giving women-related talks. Kate Frye, a non-vegetarian, often ate there. The restaurant flourished during the First World War when meatless cookery became a necessity and stayed in business for over 30 years.

Prince’s Skating Rink Exhibition

In May 1909, the more militant of the suffragist organisations, the WSPU, held a fund-raising event at the Prince’s Skating Rink, Montpelier Square in Knightsbridge, where Mrs Henrietta Lowy and her four daughters together with Una Dugdale ran a tea room to serve refreshments for delegates. Una, the debutante daughter of a naval officer, sparked a national scandal in 1912 when she married Victor Duval, the founder of the Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement, but refused to use the word "obey" in her marriage vows. The hall designated for the tea room was decorated with purple, white and green murals to Sylvia Pankhurst's designs with a blend of Pre-Raphaelite, Biblical and pagan symbolism of a female sower and angels as the centrepiece.

Lowry and Dugdale commissioned a Staffordshire pottery to make china specifically for serving refreshments at the exhibition - white china with a design based on Sylvia Pankhurst’s ‘portcullis’ and sported an ‘angel of freedom’ motif.  The initials ‘WSPU’ are set behind the angel set against dark prison bars, surrounded by thistle, shamrock, rose and dangling chains. At the end of the Exhibition, 22 piece sets were offered for sale and used as propaganda tools to convert the ladies’ ‘anti’ neighbours.


Sources:

http://womanandhersphere.com/
http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/?tag=tea-cup-inn
http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/wspu-suffeagette-restaurant-eustace.html



Anita Davison also writes as Anita Seymour, her 17th Century novel Royalist Rebel was released by Pen and Sword Books, and she has two novels in The Woulfes of Loxsbeare  from Books We Love. Her latest venture is an Edwardian cozy mystery being released in June 2015 by Robert Hale.

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21 comments:

  1. Another well researched and fascinating post, Anita. Thrilled to hear you are now on book 3 of your cosy mystery series!

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    1. Thank you Alison, For some reason Yahoo removed the images, [they are back now] and Murder On The Minneapolis is due out in June. As to whether the publishers will take the other two - we'll have to see.....

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  2. A very absorbing post. Thanks for passing on your research.

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    1. Much appreciated Linda, Yahoo wiped out my images but I replaced these - some the sources wouldn't let me use. There are some amazing photographs of Sufragette rallys on the Museum of London website but they wouldn't let me use them

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  3. This was a very interesting post, Anita - I hadn't realised just how many tea houses there were in London at the time or their political dimension.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Merryn - I was surprised too, but more about the 'no women ate in public' thing. Simpsons in The Strand wouldn't allow women in their ground floor dining room until 1984!

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  4. Fascinating post, Anita! Thank you. I'm writing a cozy mystery series set in a Massachusetts mill town starting in 1888. I'll look into tea rooms on this side of the pond.

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    1. Thank you Edith, I shall look out for your book too.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your research and presenting it in such an evocative manner. A treasure trove!

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    1. Thanks Anne, that's so nice of you. My character got fed up with taking tea at home - so once I started researching where else she could go I got carried away!

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  6. What a wonderful post. So rich in information, and nicely written. I've bookmarked it. You've also gotten me interested in your books. Love the Sinclair Lewis quote.

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    1. Thank you Elizabeth, I appreciate the comment - and you reading the post of course. I didn't know much about suffragettes before I started reading up on it for this novel - it's such a fascinating subject.

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  7. What about Gunter’s Tea Shop during the Regency? Per the Encyclopedia of London, "For many years, when it was considered not done for a lady to be seen alone with a gentleman at a place of refreshment in the afternoon, it was perfectly respectable for them to be seen at Gunter’s Tea Shop." See https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/gunters-tea-shop/.

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    1. Hi Regan, and thank you I will take a look at that that article. That's the absorbing thing about research, one thing always leads to so many more.

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    2. You are most welcome, Anita. I had done considerable research for my own books. The one I'm writing now, set in 1782, sent me to Gunter's Tea Shop's predecessor (same shop, different name) The Pineapple...which sold sweetmeats and ices in London the 18th century.

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  8. Beautiful post and lovely to hear of your writing. I would love to have you post some of this on my tea website and also to highlight your book. May I?

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    1. With pleasure, and thank you for the comment. Do e-mail me at akdvsn@yahoo.co.uk and we can organise it.

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  9. What a fascinating post! I never knew about these. And you go right on writing that series! If your publisher sells enough copies they will want sequels - and they will. Cosies, especially historical ones, are BIG. My mother reads a lot of them and I read them when I've had enough of the real world and gruesome true crime.

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    1. Thank you Sue, that's so nice. I'm as insecure as any writer but I do love writing these stories and the first one, Murder on the Minneapolis comes out in June - fingers crossed the publisher will want a series.

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  10. There are similar stories about tea houses in New York City's Greenwich Village early in the 20th century. There's a wonderful book by Jan Whitaker called TEA AT THE BLUE LANTERN INN, A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America.

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  11. It's strange to think that women's revolutions start in teahouses - just saw this on the news about women in Pakistan

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-35942068

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