Women’s Suffrage October 1915

When war broke out in 1914, all militant suffragette action ceased.  From that point, all focus was on the war effort.  The following extract is typical of the patriotism of both suffragists & suffragettes.

Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser 15 October 1915

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies

(Non-Party and Non-Militant)

Contains over 602 Societies and 16 Federations


Mrs. Fawcett L.L.D


Countess Brassey

Hon. Treasurer

Miss Druce, Thornhill, Sevenoaks

At this crisis the N.U. has suspended political activities in order to utilise its large organisation for the relief of distress caused by war.  It desires to illustrate the truth that Suffragists desire duties rather than rights, and that their ideal is the service of humanity.


Politicians & Women’s Suffrage in Britain

Herbert AsquithIt is fascinating to read historical newspaper accounts of women’s emancipation which expose attitudes markedly different than those today.  Two contrasting newspaper articles about liberal politicians show remarkable differences in values, from which today’s politicians could draw a lesson.  The first article, reported in The Bury & Norwich Post 14 June 1898, shows a politician with considerable personal integrity, prepared to leave the Liberal Union due to their opposition to the “modest and reasonable” wish for women to have the vote.  He felt unable to serve an organisation with values so incompatible with his own.

Mr Jacob Bright on Liberalism and Women’s Suffrage

“A Cowardly and ungenerous Attitude”

The treasurer of the Manchester Liberal Union has received from Mr. Jacob Bright, formerly for many years MP for Manchester, a letter giving the reasons for not renewing his subscription of £50 to the Union.  Mr Bright writes: “Ever since I entered political life I have advocated the claim of women to Parliamentary representation.  For the last thirty years my wire, my sisters, my nieces and almost without exception, the women connected with my family, have given much labour to the cause of the enfranchisement of their sex.  I have never been satisfied with the attitude of the Liberal party towards this question.  I think it has been and is a cowardly and an ungenerous attitude.  I see that the hesitation, not to say hostility, with which certain leading liberals treat a claim so moderate and reasonable is seriously undermining the very foundations of the Liberal creed.  Considering the length of time which has elapsed since the principle and taxation and representation should go hand in hand was established, it is only just that women should be at once admitted to their share in the government of the country as they contribute to maintain.  For these reasons I have reluctantly decided that until Women’s Suffrage is seriously adopted and pressed forward as a measure of immediate Liberal policy any means at my disposal must be given to those who at great personal cost and labour, are advocating a reform which I hold to be essential.

Jacob Bright’s support for the cause is strikingly different to that of Herbert Asquith..  This may be due, in part, to the change from the peaceful tactics of the suffragists to the law-breaking of the suffragettes over the intervening years.  The attitude of Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith following the second reading of the conciliation bill was reported in the Framlingham Weekly News 6th April 1912.  The conciliation bill, narrowly defeated by 14 votes, would have given voting rights to about a million women.  It was reported that, upon defeat of the bill, politicians leapt to their feet waving papers and handkerchiefs, cheering enthusiastically.  The vote was opposed by Winston Churchill and, of course, Herbert Asquith, amongst others. Asquith stated that his opposition was based on the one word, “sex.”

He said, “As a student of history and of political life, there is, in my opinion, a natural distinction of sex which admittedly differentiates the functions of men and women in many departments of human activity.  That differentiation ought to continue to be recognised, as it always has been, in the sphere of Parliamentary representation.”

Asquith was the target of many Suffragette attacks, during one of which the Downing Street windows were broken.  He fundamentally disapproved of militant action and it was not until 1917 when women ceased militancy to concentrate on the war effort, that he came around to the idea of women gaining the vote. Women over 30 or women householders over 21 were finally granted the vote by the last serving Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in 1918.

Double booking for the hangman….

NooseDuring my research for Vote for Murder, I came across the following extract  in a letter from P Jones to his friend and cousin Major Jones in which he mentioned murderess Mary Emily Cage, my inspiration for the book.  The letter entitled,  The brutality and cruelty of the British people , describes several British murders during 1851 including two Suffolk murders & the Chelmsford poisoning.  He claims that “such occurrences are seldom or never heard of in our southern states”.


“It will no doubt be in the recollection of many persons that the High Sheriff of Suffolk, in March last, was placed in no very pleasant position in consequence of the services of a hangman not being obtainable to carry into execution the last sentence of the law upon Maria Clarke, for the murder of her illegitimate child, by burying it alive in the parish of Wingfield. The high-sheriff, however, on that occasion, was spared an unpleasant duty by a reprieve coming down for the condemned woman two days before that on which her execution was to have taken place. At the assizes held at Ipswich, on the 2d inst., Maria Emily Cage was found guilty of the murder of her husband, James Cage, at Stonham Aspel, by administering to him a certain quantity of arsenic. Her execution was ordered to take place on Saturday (Aug. 16), in front of the Ipswich county jail, but the same difficulty was again presented as in March. Calcraft, the hangman, on being applied to, could not attend, as he had promised to perform a similar office the same morning at Norwich. An application was next made to the hangman at Warwick jail, but that functionary could not attend, as he would be similarly engaged at Shrewsbury on that day. A messenger was then despatched to the Secretary of State’s office, who explained the unpleasant position in which the high-sheriff of Suffolk was placed, and requested that the execution of Mary Emily Cage might be postponed. The answer from the Secretary of State was to the effect that no alteration as to the day named could be made; thus leaving the high-sheriff to get out of the difficulty in the best way he could. To have had the law carried into effect on Saturday would, in all probability, have been repugnant to the feelings of the high-sheriff, for, as no person could be found to supply the place of Calcraft, the high-sheriff must have performed the horrid duty himself. To avoid doing that, the high-sheriff has, on his own responsibility, ordered the execution to be delayed until an early day in the ensuing week. The condemned woman’s demeanor is becoming her awful position. She appears to be resigned to her fate, but protests that she is innocent. The unpleasant position of the high-sheriff, not only on this but on a former occasion, may be attributed to the usual course not being adopted—the making sure that Calcraft can attend before any day be appointed for the execution.”— The Times, August 17th, 1851.

It must have been rare for an execution to be delayed for want of an executioner, but there were an unusually high volume of death sentences that year.  Somewhere in the region of 50 death sentences were handed out in 1851, resulting in the public hanging of 3 women. Despite the delay recorded above, Mary Cage was ultimately executed by William Calcraft – the longest serving executioner.  Calcraft executed approximately 450 people,  34 of whom were women.

Five Star Reviews

It’s always lovely to log onto Amazon and find a new review, and even better if it’s a five star review. I am grateful for each and every review, believing that any writer can learn something from a reader’s comments, be they good, bad or indifferent. In this case I was especially pleased to receive the following accolade, not just because my reader enjoyed the book, but also because she acknowledged the relatively unusual story telling technique:

“This book is brilliant – a real page turner!
It was fascinating to see how women were treated in the different times. You can’t believe how unfair some women’s lives were through no fault of their own and you find yourself feeling sympathy for a really unsympathetic character which is an amazing achievement for the author.
I especially enjoyed the information at the end of the book and the story of how it came to be written – a twist I have never come across before.”

Many books combine fact and fiction; many combine stories set in different time periods.  I have often read books combining different genres – but Vote for Murder is unusual in that it does all of that, at the same time as being inspired by real characters from my own family history.  The kindle version of Vote for Murder links to a real family tree and a website with articles relating to the true crime contained within the book.  This will be updated in the future.

So Vote for Murder is a work of faction in the historical fiction and true crime genres, set in Victorian and Edwardian England with family saga & genealogical overtones, based on my own family history!  Quite a mix.  Does it work?  I will be watching future reviews with interest…..Mary Cage Updated tree

Location #1 – Christchurch Park

View of Ipswich from Christchurch Park GainsboroughVote for Murder is set in two main locations; Stonham Aspal during 1851 and Christchurch Park, Ipswich in Edwardian times.  Suffragette Louisa Russell, cousin of Millicent Fawcett, lives in Ivry Road on the outskirts of Christchurch Park.  These two areas, together with Henley Road and Fonnereau Road, account for many settings within the book.

Christchurch Park was the former site of an Augustinian Priory disbanded by Henry Viii during the dissolution of the monasteries.  It was acquired in 1545 by Edmund Withipoll and later in the 18th century, by Claude Fonnereau.  In 1892 Felix Cobbold gave it to the City of Ipswich.

There are various monuments set within Christchurch Park, both the Brett Fountain donated in 1863 and the Burton Drinking fountain, gifted in 1895.  The same year The Cabman’s shelter was moved from Cornhill to Christchurch Park.

Vote for Murder was set in 1911.  One scene in the book describes Louisa walking past the Martyr’s Memorial:

“…The cross-topped monument stretched skywards casting a lanky shadow over the path ahead. Recently completed, the carved round pillars caught the light of the morning sun and the carved inscription stood fresh and clear.”

The Martyr’s memorial was erected in 1903 following a campaign through The East Anglian Daily Times to provide a symbol to remember the protestant martyrs.  The Ipswich martyrs were a group of men and women put to death during Queen Mary’s reign for their refusal to recognise the Roman Catholic doctrines.  Many were burned at the stake.  There are nine martyrs named on the memorial, all of whom are mentioned in Foxe’s book of martyrs.  They were reported to have met their deaths with bravery and spirit.

A cenotaph dedicated to the men and women who fell in World War I was placed in Christchurch Park in 1924 joining the Boer War memorial erected in 1906.  Further features of the park include a fountain, an ice house and an Arts and Crafts shelter known as ‘The Bandstand’.  Prince Albert visited Christchurch Park in 1851, the same year that Mary Cage was hanged in Ipswich Gaol.

Christchurch Mansion, a red brick Tudor House, still houses the museum in which furniture, paintings, and pottery can be found.  Exhibits have a strong Suffolk theme with displays by John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough and cases of Lowestoft porcelain.

Nowadays Christchurch Park is a busy, family orientated area, ideal for indulging in outdoor pursuits, sports and the Arts.  The Park enjoys strong support from The Friends of Christchurch Park.

“Oh may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

(Inscription on the memorial to the Ipswich Martyrs)

Mary Emily Cage – Murderess or victim?

Front cover snipOn 23rd March 1851, James Cage took his last breath, poisoned to death by his wife, Mary.  The Press were quick to report on the murder and  before long produced damning reports of Mary and her ‘depraved’ character, as evidenced in the extract from the 9 August 1851 Norfolk Chronicle, below:

“It will be remembered that just before the last Assizes, Mary Emily Cage, at Stonham, was examined on a charge of murdering her husband, by poisoning him.  The case was remanded until the Summer Assize, and at half-past eight o’clock on Saturday last, the wretched woman was placed at the bar to take her trial for the offence.  She exhibited little alteration in her appearance.  It is not our intention to lift the veil from the domestic history of this woman, any further than the trial itself removed it, for unfortunately there is not a feature in it that is not degrading to our common humanity. – Messrs. Power and Mills prosecuted; Mr. W. Cooper defended.

The case presented features of great depravity.  The deceased was an agricultural labourer, and with his wife, the prisoner, lived at Stonham Aspal.  They had a family of seventeen children, but one of them, now a lad of twenty years of age, was not the result of wedlock.  The deceased was imprisoned twelve months, and during his incarceration she cohabited with another man, and the result was the birth of the boy.  During the last eighteen months, she left her husband not less than three times, and exposed her daughter, sixteen years of age, to be debauched.  In other respects she led a very dissolute and depraved life…”

Vote for Murder” is a murder mystery based on Mary’s life . It takes a more sympathetic view of her behaviour than the Victorian press, taking into account the abject poverty in which she found herself.  The murder of James Cage contrasts with the second (fictional) murder set in a comfortable, middle-class household close to Christchurch Park in Ipswich.  Both lead female characters are headstrong; Mary determined to behave as she sees fit despite the social conventions of the time and Louisa, a suffragist campaigning for the right of women to vote.

Vote for Murder is a work of ‘faction’, where historical fact meets fiction.  From the first moment I read the Mary Cage story many years ago, the circumstances of the crime did not ‘feel’ as black & white as the press implied.  Vote For Murder is my fictional interpretation of Mary’s life and times.

Vote for Murder is now available through the Amazon Kindle Store http://tinyurl.com/pbpzehr

“There can be no peace until women get the vote”

Bath Hotel FelixstoweIn Vote for Murder, Louisa Russell witnesses the unedifying spectacle of Clara Delaney enduring force-feeding in Holloway prison.  Though a work of fiction, this is based on numerous true accounts of the tortuous force-feeding of suffragettes who resorted to hunger strikes, willing to die for their cause.

The Bath Hotel in Felixstowe was completely gutted on 29th April 1914 when suffragettes Hilda Birkett and Florence Tunks burnt it to the ground.  The women, who refused to give their names to the police, were arrested in Felixstowe on suspicion of being involved in the fire.  When the fire was investigated, evidence of arson was soon found.   Cotton wool had been carefully placed on the broken edges of the glass window of the kitchen at the east end of the building.  It was assumed that the cotton wool was placed to avoid injury while undoing the latch. Once inside, the arsonists started fires in the bedrooms and corridors of the empty hotel.

Evidence against the suffragettes was found in the form of tie-on labels bearing inscriptions in ink in large capital letters with the slogan – “There can be no peace until women get the vote” and other similar declarations. These labels corresponded to similar labels in the possession of the suffragettes.

Hilda Birkett and Florence Tunks were tried at Bury St Edmunds in June 1914.  The women, described as ‘of superior education,’ were disruptive in court, making frequent outbursts.  Hilda Birkett “refused to recognise this Court, a Court which is entirely of men.  It is absolutely wicked and wrong that they should dare to try women.  Women are not recognised under the law.”

In the course of the trial it transpired that Hilda Birkett had been convicted in Birmingham in 1909 for damaging a railway carriage by throwing stones.  She was imprisoned again in 1912 for damaging plate glass windows and was awaiting trial for setting fire to a grandstand in Leeds in 1913.  Florence Tunks had not been convicted but she was under suspicion for other matters.

While Florence Tunks had nothing further to add before passing sentence, Hilda Birkett spoke passionately.  The Bury Free Press of 6th June 1914 reports her address to the judge thus: “…Whatever sentence you impose, I shall not serve because I have made up my mind that I will not take any food or drink while I am in prison.  I cannot stand the torture of the feeding tube for a great length of time … and if Mr McKenna does not release me I shall die in prison…”

Despite her eloquent address, Hilda Birkett was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and Florence Tonks to 9 months imprisonment.

Following letters of support in the weeks following the trial by Ursula Hartley, member of WSPU, it transpired that before their trials both Hilda Birkett and Florence Tunks endured weeks of forcible feeding while in prison.  Ursula Hartley wrote again on 17th June 1914 to make it publicly known that the father of one of the suffragettes had been unable to locate his daughter, despite having applied to the Home Office for advice of her whereabouts.

Hilda Birkett was finally released on 1st September 1914 following the Home Office amnesty.  During her imprisonment, she was forcibly fed 292 times.