Hidden Suffragette History in Halifax

Halifax Suffragette Walk 180617 (4)
Pretty Skircoat Green Cottages

Having twice taken part in Jill Liddington’s Walking with Women’s Suffrage excursion through Discover Huddersfield (report from two years ago here), I decided to branch out and join her related walking tour, Suffragettes and Slaves in Halifax, organised through Calderdale Heritage Walks. As I’ve explained before, Jill is a local writer and historian who has published several books on the women’s suffrage movement (amongst other topics) and is particularly interested in how it affected and involved women in the north of England. She’s also fabulously energetic and enthusiastic as well as a great imparter of knowledge.

Halifax Suffragette Walk 180617 (5)
Number 32 Skircoat Green, 1911 home of Mary Taylor and her husband Arthur

We began our walk on a very hot Sunday the 18th of June 2017, and I was very glad to have remembered my sun-cream for once. Having assembled at the appropriately named Standard of Freedom pub, we set off up the hill to the top of Skircoat Green, where we found our first notable location. Number 32 Skircoat Green was the home in 1911 of Mary Taylor, aged 47, and her husband Arthur, a blacksmith, both listed on the 1901 census as living at number 60 Pellon Land in Halifax itself. Mary was very active in both the Independent Labour Party and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, apparently with the support of her husband, and was jailed for 14 days in 1907 for taking part in the ‘Women’s Parliament’ protest. Her name does not appear on the 1911 census, and so we believe she was one of the women who protested their lack of parliamentary representation by hiding from the count (more on that later).

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3 Rhodesia Avenue, where Dr Helena Jones lived from around 1909

Our walk took us through a variety of areas of Halifax, some more prosperous, then and now, than others. At the more prosperous end of the scale was Rhodesia Avenue, Savile Park, where Dr Helena Jones lived from around 1909. The 1911 census lists only her housekeeper, and includes a statement signed by that woman that the head of the household was not present on the night of the census, nor did she return until after 8am the following morning. Another prominent Suffragette hiding from the census: Dr Jones chaired a meeting on the March 30th 1911 at the Mechanics Institute (now the Halifax YMCA), at which Emmeline Pankhurst was the main speaker.

Leaving the Savile Park area, we passed through Manor Heath Park: a public park in the former grounds of famous Halifax carpet manufacturer John Crossley’s mansion built in 1852, and demolished in 1958. The site of the house itself is now a very pretty sunken garden.

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Sunken Garden in Manor Heath Park: the site of John Crossley’s mansion
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Old Mill: ripe for conversion

After a short stop for a picnic lunch, we dropped down into the more built-up and industrial parts of Halifax, in particular the Pellon Lane area where various of the suffragettes that Jill has studied lived during 1901, 1911, or both. Not all the houses in this area are still standing, although many of the streets are much as they were back then, albeit with perhaps smaller families living in better conditions. Some of the mills where a number of the women worked can also been found, though they are now either dilapidated, or converted to other uses.

As we walked past these buildings into the town centre, we discussed other ways in which women could protest their lack of representation via the 1911 census. Dinah Connelly of 22 Howard Street, Pellon Lane, for example, gave her occupation on the census as ‘slave’. This form of protest was mirrored by at least one other woman in Halifax as well as others elsewhere in the country.

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Alleyway leading to workshops where suffragettes may have hidden

After pausing to view a narrow alleyway, which in 1911 housed workshops and may have been where some of the protesters hid on the night of the census, we reached our final destination, the White Swan, where we enjoyed tea, homemade biscuits and further discussion until it was time to catch a bus back to Skircoat Green where our carriages awaited.

More information on the 1911 Census can be found in Jill’s book Vanishing for the Vote: Suffrage, Citizenship and the Battle for the Census and also in this paper, which I have so far only had time to skim.

 

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