We were very excited last week when members of the production team behind the new 'Suffragette' film visited the Parliamentary Archives. Here's director Sarah Gavron, screenwriter Abi Morgan, and producers Faye Ward and Alison Owen, looking at some of our suffrage related documents in the Parliamentary Archives searchroom.
As ‘Suffragette’ comes to a cinema near you today, you might be interested to know what the crew looked at. We've got a small but strong collection of material relating to women's suffrage in the Parliamentary Archives.
This is our star item, a Women’s Freedom League banner from 1908. It’s actually a printed handbill with a gummed back. Thousands of these ‘Proclamations’ were printed at the time, and stuck up all over London. However, ours is the only copy known to survive, because it was stuck onto linen and mounted on bamboo poles for a protest in Parliament. Helen Fox and Muriel Matters famously chained themselves to the brass grilles covering the windows of the Ladies’ Gallery, while a third suffragette, Violet Tillard, thrust the banner through the grille and lowered it into the House of Commons chamber. The authorities took the grille out of the window, frogmarched the suffragettes out still attached to the grille, and cut them off in a committee room.
And this is one of the most important Acts of Parliament relating to the suffrage struggle: it's the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act 1913, better known by its nickname, the 'Cat and Mouse Act'. This Act was passed following public outcry about forcible feeding of hunger-striking women, something you can see in all its horror in 'Suffragette'. The Act allowed the authorities to release hunger-striking prisoners until they had regained their health, then re-arrest them to continue their sentence - likened at the time to a cat playing with a mouse, it condemned some women to a constant, unending circle of prison, starvation, brief freedom and then prison again.
Finally, the 'Suffragette' team were very interested to look at the police reports we hold on Emily Wilding Davison, a very well-known suffragette who features in the film. She most famously hid in Parliament on census night in 1911, an event marked by a plaque put up by Tony Benn MP. However the reports show she was here on numerous other occasions too, including hiding in a ventilation shaft, breaking windows and found on a staircase in the middle of the night. You can see all the Emily Wilding Davison police reports online here.
The 'Suffragette' crew were very excited to visit the Original Act Room and see some of the 64,000 Acts of Parliament on the shelves. They also got a tour of some of the other parts of the building with relevance to women's suffrage - view the Reuters news report or see Parliament's Flickr set on their visit. 'Suffragette' was partly filmed on location in the House of Commons - look out for scenes in the film with Carey Mulligan's character Maud giving evidence in a committee room, walking through Central Lobby, and gathered just outside the building in New Palace Yard.
Parliament is celebrating the launch of 'Suffragette' with Suffragette season, a programme of tours and events through October 2015. You can find out more about the history of Parliament, women and the vote on Living Heritage.
Image credits: all ©Parliamentary Archives