When I was researching my book A Song of their Own, about the local campaign
for Votes for Women a hundred or so years ago, I enjoyed looking for and at
the places where some of the events occurred, and where they were organised.
The first thing the two new suffrage organisations in town did when they set
up in 1909 was to hire office premises. The most radical of these, the
Pankhurst-founded Women's Social and Political Union, started out at 4a
The Women's Freedom League first had a room at 13 Friars Street (right by
the Unitarian Meeting House), and then moved to a larger office at 16 Arcade
Street. This was on the corner of Arcade Street and Museum Street until part
of it became the Henslow Room within Arlingtons Brasserie. It is fitting
that the old WFL office is now part of the restaurant. The Old Museum Rooms,
as the restaurant was called then, belonged to an auctioneer, who let out
rooms for meetings. In 1911 the Women's Freedom League, led by the social
reformer Constance Andrews, hired it out for a night of protest.
The Census Boycott - No Vote, No Census - involved women staying away from
home on Census night (April 2 1911) so their personal details could not be
entered on their household Census form. This was in protest at having no say
in how such information would be used by the Government. Astonishingly for a
small town like Ipswich, about thirty women went and spent the night in the
Old Museum Rooms. If we remember how little power, influence and freedom
women had at this time, their courage is noteworthy. We're told that they
had an all-night party, singing political songs and playing games, eating
supper and breakfast.
Constance Andrews continued to show her absolute commitment to the cause
when she was fined for not buying a dog-licence. In a national campaign
called No Vote, No Tax, women refused to pay taxes until they had a say in
how the Government spent their money. Constance refused to pay her fine,
and when the bailiffs turned up at her home in 160 Norwich Road, they found
that she had signed all her possessions over to her sister. She was arrested
at what is now the Ipswich Institute and taken to the women's section of
Ipswich Gaol. This law-abiding, determined woman served a week's sentence to
demonstrate the strength of her beliefs.
The women's prison was a tiny part of Ipswich Gaol. The records of the time
show that there were only three other women in prison at that time. On her
release, Constance was met at the prison gates by a huge crowd. She was
placed in a carriage which led a triumphant procession through the town
centre to a celebration breakfast in Arcade Street.
The suffragettes rented shops in the town. The WSPU were at 2 Dial Lane
first and then Tower Street (where H&M is now), and the WFL had a shop at 22
Queen Street. Their shop fronts were decorated with banners and posters.
Inside, they sold propaganda booklets and their weekly newspapers,
suffragette games and other merchandise. They might have a little library of
suffrage books, and a tea-room for people to meet and talk.
In the picture of the WSPU shop in Tower Street, the placards relate to the
force-feeding in Ipswich prison of two women from the Midlands who came to
the area and burnt down the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe in April 1914.
Details of all these, and many other, events by local campaigners are in my
local history book A Song of their Own - the fight for Votes for Women in
Ipswich. Published by The History Press, it is available from Waterstones
and Ipswich Tourist Information Office.