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West Street an important note in the Suffragette movement

Jeremy  Knight from Horsham Museum recalls Horsham’s links with suffragettes, whose work was featured in a recent film, in this article.

In 1913 a strange shop opened on the second floor of 60 West Street whose existence today virtually forgotten but it represents an important part of the woman’s suffrage movement.

The shop was Qui Vive Corps Depot. The only notice that exists today of it in Horsham is a flyer/poster in the museum’s collections.

Qui Vive Corps was originally called Marchers’ Qui Vive Corps and founded in 1912 by Mrs Florence De Fonblanque following on from and in the spirit of enjoyment experienced by women who went on the Woman’s March in 1912.

The March from Edinburgh to London saw six women in total complete it, of which at least two became founding members of the Corps.

The basic aim was to provide an umbrella type organisation which all women suffrage groups could join. Then at a moment’s notice the women could be “mobilised” offering its services impartially whenever extra women were required to achieve a specific purpose.

Although not military it was organised on military lines, partly in order to show the men that the women of England were capable of organisation, discipline and comradeship, though they did swear not to enter into any militant action whilst wearing the uniform of  brown with green cockade and badge.

What were the crises talked about at the start of the poster?

Although there had been some movement, by 1908 on granting women the vote the Liberals who were broadly pro suffrage were led by Asquith who hated the thought of it.

The Tories were led by Balfour and then Bonar Law who were mildly in favour but whose followers opposed the idea. This led to political stalemate.

In 1908 the National Anti-Suffrage League was formed, which countermined its own views by being very well organised.

In 1910 General Election there were three suffrage candidates but they only received 696 votes in total, though a 280,000 petition was signed supporting it.

By March 1912 things had spiralled out of control with attacks on private property and a rampage in Knightsbridge.

The following February Christabel Pankhurst, one of the key pro suffrage organisers,  followers smashed the orchid house at Kew, set railway carriages alight and bombed Lloyd George’s house.

Two months later the Government would pass the bill that allowed hunger-strikers to be released on health grounds only to be re-arrested if they didn’t pledge future “good behaviour”.

It was this militancy that the Corps was against as well as the crises they refer to. If anything the poster portrays the key elements of middle class values – the walk or marches to places, the list of products which later in the century would be portray the Women’s Institute, the self-learning through books and publications, the art of debate and public speaking, not how to make banners but how to speak. 

Whilst the last paragraph which jars today, typifies the concerns of the period, of racial purity – women who love their race, not race as in fellow women, but racial type, for the mention of Empire makes that clear.

The reference to White Slave trade was shorthand for issues concerning prostitution.

Following the death on the Titanic of the campaigning journalist W. T. Stead, who had done much to make Victorian and Edwardian public aware of the issue which in turn led Scotland Yard to set up the White Slavery Bureau, Parliament in 1912 passed the Criminal Law Amendment (White Slavery) Bill.

When Pankhurst Came to Horsham

Another perspective on the war effort was shown later on in 1916 when one of the champions of women’s suffrage, Miss Sylvia Pankhurst came to Horsham to promote the repeal of conscription. The account following gives a full flavour of the hostility to the speaker and her cause, a cause that some in Horsham actively engaged in as there was a group calling itself “The Horsham Council Against Conscription”. Unfortunately we have no records of the group and probably after the war the desire to keep records of such a group wasn’t uppermost in people’s minds, if at all.

A Carfax Demonstration

Protected by about a score of policemen, with others in reserve Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, Mr W. W. Kensett (Hon Secretary to “the Horsham Council against conscription”) and Mr Alec Gossip, Secretary of the Furnishing Trades Union held what the handbills and posters styled “a demonstration in favour of the repeal of the Military Service Acts” in the Carfax last evening. 

There was a vast crowd, good humoured, but sufficiently hostile to render the meeting abortive and speaker inaudible.  Miss Sylvia Pankhurst arrived on the scene (in company with the Misses Kensett) carrying a bundle of newspapers.  Mr Gossip, who was announced to preside, opened the meeting in dumb show, and then the lady speaker fluently addressed the crowds, but could only be heard within a narrow circle.  For the most part the rotten oranges and lemons, tufts of grass, cabbage &c &c were badly aimed, but all too soon her white straw hat was dirtied and presently a nasty whack on the forehead stopped the flow of speech.  At times the crowd cheered, either to thoroughly drown the remarks or to kindly give needful rest.  Then there was booing and hooting, varied with the singing of “Rule Britannia.”  And all the while, now ebbing and now flowing came a gentle stream of missiles into the circle, the general public often getting the benefit.  No wonder Mr. Kensett persisted in a permanent smile. At 8.35 there was an ugly rush, and the impromptu platform and speakers were overturned.

However the police came to the rescue and Miss Pankhurst, who also had the support of Mr E. E. Lawrence J.P., and Mr. Townsend, came through unscathed.  The constabulary charged back and widened the circle, and then Mr. Kensett, all smiles, spoke briefly.  At 8.40 the meeting broke up.  Some of the policemen escorted Mr. Kensett southwards to East Street, but the bulk of the vast crowd followed Sgt. Wareham and several constables in the opposite direction.  They had charge of the lady.  In the upper and wider part of North street, where there was an ample supply of “ammunition” loosened by the recent rain, tufts of grass of varying sizes an weights were thrown, and the scene was a lively one.  Near the upper entrance to Horsham Park a cab met the fugitive.  She was hurried into the vehicle, which turned, and, with a policeman on the box, went off at full speed, followed by nimble pedestrians anxious to “keep the pot boiling”.  To their chagrin the “cabby” eventually whipped up over the railway bridge.  Apparently, the chief demonstrator was not booking from Horsham station.  She was certainly favoured.  Not only were the police in remarkably strong force, but Horsham for last night only had been placed “out of bounds” to those in Roffey Camp.

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