Tag Archives: suffragette

Suffering Suffragettes

Currently walking past this fine Lego suffragette each day, in the foyer of the Wills Memorial Building. It has got me wondering whether her location was chosen in the knowledge that the WMB, though it was not there at the time, was just about opposite the site of the WSPU shop and HQ which was trashed by a mob of anti-suffragists and/or enraged Bristol University students in 1913, without much, if any, of a police response. See, e.g., this

It also brings back good memories of some good seminars I organised with a colleague here at the Law School in 2013, on this subject, and of a fun bit of animation I assisted with at home – still out in the ether here.



Words about words (in English and Welsh) about deeds not words

This is a paper I wrote in 2013, as part of a project to mark the anniversary of some ‘suffragette’ incidents in Bristol and elsewhere. Clearly, I never quite got around to tidying it up into a state suitable for submission to a journal. Maybe I will, one day, but, having come upon it as I clear out my home of many years, I thought I would put it out there in the world at least, and maybe it will be of interest to people looking for material on the suffrage campaign, on Abergavenny, or on Wales. I have more material on this, and especially a number of intriguing suffragette-related poems in Welsh to finish turning into English, but I think there are some points which can be made now (and, realistically, I have my hands full for the next few months, so, unless the whole thing is to be put back behind the back-burner, it feels like time to offer it up to the silent void). A bit of Swedish death cleaning (except, not off just yet, and in English/Welsh, not Swedish).

Coming back to these stories after a decade, two things strike me. First of all, the issue of a clash between different groups, with different claims to a history of bad treatment, brought into conflict, which we see in the ‘Suffragettes v. Eisteddfodwyr’ tension, has come to resonate even more than it did in 2013. I am not of the view that history has direct, simple, lessons for the present, but it is certainly interesting to think about the compound clash of identities involved in the episodes to be considered here – sex/gender, class, language, nation – all taking place in the fluid border country of Monmouthshire, which happens to be my native soil.

Off it goes … far from perfect, but has its good points …

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Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

‘Friends and enemies: ‘suffragette’ incidents in Abergavenny, 1913’

Gwen Seabourne, ‘Friends and enemies: ‘suffragette’ incidents in Abergavenny, 1913’

(abstract of a paper given at the University of Bristol Law School, June 2014)  

The National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Abergavenny in August 2013, and, leading up to it, there seemed to be particular reasons to suspect trouble: the militant suffragettes’ arson campaign was at its height. Wales, Abergavenny and the Eisteddfod had been targeted in the recent past, and two suffragette hate-figures, Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary (and north Monmouthshire MP) and Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, were expected. An anonymous Welshman threatened, in a letter to the press, to shoot any suffragette attempting to disrupt the Eisteddfod. Extra police were hired and other security precautions taken.


There was, in fact,  no direct attack on the Eisteddfod. Suffragettes were, however, reportedly present, leafleting. There was some apparently genuine destruction by ‘militant suffragettes’ in Abergavenny (the burning of a cricked pavilion and a hayrick), and also an case of a young man from Abergavenny creating a hoax ‘suffragette’ incident in nearby Llangattock shortly afterwards.


Until comparatively recently, there was an accepted narrative that suffrage campaigning, and particularly militant violence, was largely not acceptable to liberal, nonconformist Wales. It was not, however, entirely true, and it bears some reconsideration: see the painstaking work of Beddoe, Masson, Johns and Wallace,


The Abergavenny cases are good correctives to a too simple view of Wales as not interested or hostile to ‘the cause’ and the WSPU militants in particular as disruptive middle class English imperialists trampling all over cherished Welsh cultural institutions. It is worth considering why setting up this opposition was and has remained attractive.


‘Welshness’ is not and was not, in any case, an unproblematic thing, so that it is unrealistic to expect (or construct) a single ‘Welsh’ response to, or view of, suffragettes. And if Welshness in general is problematic, it is particularly so in Monmouthshire in general, and Abergavenny in particular: one only has to look at the Abergavenny Chronicle’s reports of wrangling over the holding and financing of the Eisteddfod there to see that that is true.


It is interesting to note, by way of postscript, that the version of Welshness of the Eisteddfod, with its emphasis on the language would have its own ‘militant’ phase, half a century and more later.

[I plan to publish a full – length paper on this topic in due course. For further reading, see, in particular, A.V. John, ‘Run like blazes: the suffragettes and Welshness’; and R Wallace, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Wales, 1866-1928 (Cardiff, 2009).]

Recent read: R Wallace, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Wales 1866-1928 (Cardiff, 2009)


Yes, I know it’s not new, but I have just getting around to reading this. It was a pleasure to read something outside my usual historical period, to broaden out rather than going into ever greater detail. The book itself is clear, thorough and unquestionably filled a need. It is surprising, really, that the Welsh aspects of the suffrage campaign had not been treated in sustained form like this before 2009. Given the targeting of Lloyd George and McKenna (a Monmouthshire MP) by the WPSU and the complex interaction between nationalism, the language, trade unionism, nonconformity and the campaign for votes for women, it is a fascinating area. The chapter on anti-suffrage campaigning was particularly good, and, having seen many bone-headedly misogynist newspaper articles (and some truly Vogon-level anti- suffrage poetry) from Wales in this period, it was a revelation to me to learn about the enlightened pro-suffrage line of the Cambrian News.