Radical Women of Bow
If you look at Bow today, it is full of modern developments, the odd Regency terrace hidden among the tower blocks and smart new apartments. It is hard to imagine how the area would have looked a century or so ago, with sweatshops on every corner, factories, filth, poverty and overcrowding.
But this poverty brought forth resistance, especially from women. The match women who went on strike at the Bryant and May factory in 1888 were protesting not only against working fourteen hours a day for a wage of less than five shillings a week but against fines, ranging from three pence to one shilling, imposed by the Bryant & May management. Offences included talking, dropping matches or going to the toilet without permission. Some of this may sound familiar today! After three weeks, delegations for Parliament and national press coverage, the Matchwomen won. The successful organisation of unskilled women brought a new strength to the trade union movement and this is marked by a plaque on the side of what is now the Bow Quarter apartments.
If you look at the site of the second headquarters of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, the second headquarters of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, you will find a modern building. The one that Sylvia Pankhurst moved into in 1912 was flea-infested and was torn down many years ago. From this base in the middle of Bow, Sylvia and her friends organised demonstrations, smashed windows and, when the First World War came along, organised creches and toy factories for the women left behind when their men marched off to the trenches.
This summer the Women’s Hall project are launching an exhibition on the East London Federation at the Tower Hamlets Archive, which will be transformed into a unique space evoking the headquarters of the ELFS, a former Baptist mission hall on Old Ford Road in Bow which the suffragettes named ‘The Women’s Hall’. This will be a fascinating chance to delve into the lives of suffragettes in the East End. For more details see: The Women's Hall.
These are just a couple of stops on Oonagh Gay's East End walk, which also takes in the story of Minnie Lansbury, the Poplar councillor who paid for resisting the Government with her life. You can see the Lansbury memorial clock today on Bow Road. There’s plenty more to tell!
Radical Women of the East End tour 17 June at 2pm. To book, click here: