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.
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|
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.
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.