St Leonards and violence at a Women’s Tax Resistance League march, 1913

On Thursday the UK has a general election. We cannot take the right to vote for granted, as it was only in 1928 that women gained full equality with men. Women had won the right to vote in 1918 but were more limited in their rights than men. They had to be aged 30 or over, instead of 21 as for men. Also, they could only vote if they (or their husbands) met a property qualification (a rateable value of £5 or more).

The 17 May 1913 issue, page 4 of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer described riotous scenes when an auction was to be held selling goods of ‘tax resisters’, women who refused to pay taxes on the grounds that they were denied a vote, their slogan being ‘No vote no tax’. The Observer had published an advert about a protest march in the 10 May issue, as shown below.

The Observer, 10 May 1913. A march to be held by the Women’s Tax Resistance League

The article describing what happened has three headlines: TAX RESISTANCE. HOSTILE CROWDS ATTACK PROCESSION. EXTRAORDINARY SCENES OF VIOLENCE. The complete article is given below. I know it’s long, but it is worth reading in full. The suffragists mentioned were those who, at least in theory, used peaceful methods to agitate for the vote, as opposed to the suffragettes, who used violence. It may seem odd that many women clearly opposed claiming the right to vote. The band mentioned led the procession.

Wild scenes marked the Suffragists’ “Protest” on Wednesday against the sale of goods taken from Suffragist tax resisters.

 Long before the advertised time of the starting of the procession from Mrs Darent Harrison’s house, that part of Church-road, St Leonards, was filled with a hostile crowd, amongst which were many women.

 Every now and then a body of the younger men “rushed” the carriages and the police, and tore the banners from the grasp of the women. One Suffragist lady pursued the captor of a banner and it was given back to her. When Mrs Darent Harrison appeared and gave directions to the coachman of the leading carriage, there were shouts of “Hellingly.” A comical incident was the behaviour of a street musician, who played a zylophone, oblivious of the fact that the music could not be heard in the din.

 From the starting point of the procession down Church-road and along the Front to the Memorial and back to St Leonards, the march was a continual struggle, varied by a free fight between the “Antis” and the Police and male friends of the Suffragists. The ladies behaved with courage, but practically all their banners had been torn away before they reached the Memorial. Some of the captured flags were WAVED AS TROPHIES openly by the rougher element, and some were flung down areas [sic]. One woman having captured a banner declared that she would stick it in her garden. When near the Hospital one of the ladies walking in the procession was rushed to the railings, and her hat was torn off and tossed into the air.

 One of the Suffragists retaliated by striking with the pole of her stolen banner and cut open the head of a young man in the crowd.

 The attitude of the crowds in Robertson-street and at the Memorial was very threatening. The band played “Sussex by the Sea,” but this did not have a soothing effect. There was much booing, and the occupants of the carriages were pelted with missiles. The windows were filled with sightseers, and the street corners round the Memorial were lined with spectators, most of them, apparently, in sympathy with the “Antis.” 

On the return march the crowd repeatedly “rushed” the procession, and several of the walkers lost their hats. A girl sprang at one of the carriages, and fought with one of the ladies, the combatants striking at each other. The crowd cheered the assailant with cries of “Good gal.” Hostilities culminated in Norman-road, where the sale was to have taken place. Here the throng pressed back the Police and overturned one of the carriages. The coachman jumped clear in time. The ladies commenced to lunge out with their umbrellas, but some of the police prevailed on them to resist, and escorted them away. Attempts were made to tear off their clothing. Another carriage was in danger, but was driven away in time. Some of the ladies had to seek safety in a stable until they could be got away, and others took refuge in a forge. Flour was thrown freely. Several of the bags, aimed by the street rowdies at the carriages, struck the police officers, and smothered their uniforms. The crowd was determined that the occupants of the carriages should not gain access to the auction rooms, and they, by their weight of numbers, prevented the police from clearing a way. There were shouts of “Levetleigh,” and “Put on your ta-ta, little girlie,” in allusion to the loss of the Suffragists’ hats. The police persuaded the ladies not to return to Norman-road, where the crowd besieged the auctioneers’ premises until a notice, “postponed” (strangely enough in green lettering on white) was displayed. Even then many people would not go away until the auctioneer, the tax collector and two or three ladies (who, the police assured the crowd, were not Suffragettes), had left.

A Band, said to be from Hailsham, headed the procession. The police did their best to hold back the crowd and prevent actual rough handling of the Suffragists, who showed considerable courage in continuing the march under the circumstances.

The ‘strange’ mention of green on white refers to, with purple, these being the colours of the Suffragettes.

I do not know why there were shouts of ‘Hellingly’ — can someone enlighten me ? The shouts of ‘Levetleigh’ referred to the suspicious burning down of that house (at the corner of Brittany Road and Dane Road, now occupied by modern flats). It was attributed by many to Suffragettes. This was on the night of the 13 April 1913, so just over a month before the march, and feelings were running high. Levetleigh had been lived in by the Conservative MP for Hastings Arthur du Cros, who had succeeded his father as MP in a 1908 by-election. Du Cros had in fact moved out a year before, the house being owned by the Eversfield estate. Like his father he opposed Parliamentary votes for women. Papers supporting votes for women were found scattered in the wreckage, but it has been suggested that these were deliberately placed there by opponents of women’s suffrage. No one ever admitted to arson.


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