Miss Muriel Matters -oh no she doesn’t- oh yes she does

In the current political turmoil, today’s topic is by-elections and concerns a previous resident of my South Manchester home, staunch Conservative voter Francis William Johnstone. Aged about 40 in 1908, he unexpectedly found himself swept up in feminist politics.

The Grille Incident

Miss Muriel Matters chained to the grille. from House of Commons Library, Illustrated London News.  Published 7 November 1908. Their copyright.

April 1908 and Manchester was holding a by-election.  Three candidates were in the race and their nominations meeting was held in Manchester Town Hall on the morning of 21st April.   You may have heard of Winston S Churchill (1874-1965) – he was standing as a Liberal.  His rivals; William Joynson-Hicks (Conservative/Unionist) and Dan Irving (Labour/Socialist).  Attending this meeting and supporting  Mr Joynson-Hicks and was my  Francis William.

Suddenly, two women, members of the Women’s Freedom League (founded 1907 as a breakaway from Emmeline Pankhurst’s WSPU) demanded to know if they could submit nomination papers for women. Of course Australian actress Miss Muriel Matters (1877-1969) and Mrs Manson were refused. Mrs Manson demanded why not.  Churchill ignored them.

When Francis William returned home, did he tell his wife about the interruption?  Was he furious or sympathetic to the cause?  I suspect not. Francis must have been reminded of his encounter just a few months later.

On 28th November, Muriel Matters and fellow conspirator Helen Fox hit the national headlines by chaining themselves to the grille in the Ladies Gallery of the Houses of Parliament.  Their confederate Violet Tillard lowered a banner down to the Chamber.  Unable to release the two women, they were carried – still attached to the grille –  to the committee room finally released by sawing through the chains.

I would love to know how his wife reacted.

DSC01929 (640x480)

Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. As a suffragist not a suffragette, I am no fan of hers.  © Adèle Emm

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