[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information. Note: indicates a link to material outside theVictorian Web, which will open in a new window.]
At about 8pm on 20th May 1913, an NUWSS meeting at the suffrage club, 7 Havelock Road, was interrupted by a mob of angry 'roughs' who began yelling, threatening, and hurling missiles, including eggs, stones, and flour, at the building. The mob had actually gathered to attack a WSPU open-air gathering in nearby Wellington Square, but the police advised them to postpone it. The mob were all worked up for a fight and thus were looking for a suitable alternative target.
After a while, the police came and told the women that it was safe to leave to club (photograph at left), although the mob was growing by the minute. As some left, they were attacked physically. About 300 men had by then assembled. Miss Marchant, a mistress at Silverhill Boys' School, was hit in the back and head, and her hat was ripped off, the pin tearing out her hair. More police were now present, trying to hold back the mob which had gathered by the archway at the station end of Havelock Road. The mob grew larger; some say there were as many as 3,000. There were skirmishes up and down the road as men attacked the escaping women, ripping their clothes and bruising them. Ladies leaving by motor car suffered smashed headlights and windows. One young woman, Miss Pelly, was almost dragged out of her car by the baying mob, but was saved by her mother and Miss Strickland. Three women took refuge in Green's Hotel, 1 Havelock Rd. The crowd followed and attacked the hotel (pictured above the day after the attack), smashing its windows and glassware.
The landlord, Mr Wade, ordered the women to leave, fearing his hotel would be wrecked, but the women, under great pressure, promised to pay for any damage. Wade insisted on a written agreement, which was hastily drawn up. He later presented a bill for £12.5s 6d and was paid.
Led by NUWSS Hastings Branch Secretary Miss A. Kate Rance of 17 East Ascent, the women sued the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Hastings, under the Riot Damage Act, for recovery of the money paid to Mr Wade. Click here to read the press report of the court-case.
It was suggested that the men were incensed by the recent Levetleigh incident, in which an empty mansion recently vacated by the local MP was burnt down, and suffragettes were suspected. If that was the reason, the mob was ignorant of the finer points of the suffrage movement: the women they attacked were the constitutional suffragists, totally opposed to violence.
Last modified 2000