Who would have thought it that an e-cigarette shop in Albany Road was the centre of a Suffragette protest in 1911. I’m certainly thinking this is going to be a candidate for one of our virtual Roath History plaques.
Earlier this year I saw an exhibition at Cardiff Story Museum that explained the following:
In 1911 the Woman’s Freedom League (WFL) called for its members to ‘Boycott the Census’. Their motto was ‘No votes for women, no information from women’.
They declared ‘Any government that refuses to recognise women must be met by woman’s refusal to recognise the Government ……. we intend to do our best to make it [the census] unreliable and inaccurate
Boycotters in Cardiff spent the night at 34 Albany Road, Roath. The census record for the premises reads ‘this is the shop where the local suffragettes spent the night of Sunday April 3rd 1911 in order to evade the census & on the authority of Mr R J Watkins, Superintendent Registrar, the estimated number was: Males 2, Females 15, Total 17’.
The Western Mail reported that ‘it is definitely known that the number exceeded fifty’.
Whilst the census boycott didn’t nullify the census results, it did focus the public’s attention on the suffragette movement and its campaign for ‘Votes for Women’. The outbreak of war however somewhat slowed advancement of the suffragettes’ cause.
Eventually, after the First World War, Parliament passed the 1918 Qualification of Women Act which enabled women over the age of 30 who were either householders or married to a householder, or who held a university degree, to vote It was not until the 1928 Representation of the People Act that women were granted the right to vote on the same terms as men.
Then last month Bernice Maynard posted on the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page a postcard of Edwards & Co Drapers in Albany Road and wondered if anybody knew where in Albany Road this shop used to be. A number of people rose to the challenge and identified it as being number 34 Albany Road, the very address where the suffragette protest had taken place.
Edwards & Co Drapers had closed prior to 1911 and at the time of the census was lying vacant, but the postcard probably still gives a good impression of what the premises looked like at the time. Today it is the Flavour Vapour e-cigarette shop.
There were many responses to Bernice’s post. Someone shared a Western Mail newspaper article relating to the protest and someone pointed towards a copy of the 1911 census return for the premises. Many thanks to Bernice Maynard , Pat Allen, Jackie Lewis and others for sharing their research and to the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page.
The interesting newspaper article, supplemented with some pictures found elsewhere, follows below.
Suffragette Protest for the 1911 Census – WESTERN MAIL
Password of the Ladies
“ESCAPE FROM THE CENSUS IN CARDIFF.”
HOW A SECRET WAS WELL KEPT.
NIGHT IN UNTENANTED HOUSING.
EARLY MORNING CALL BY REGISTRAR.
None of the suffragettes who were successful in evading the census was prepared on Monday to give any hint as to the number who spent the night in the untenanted house in Albany Road, Cardiff. Reticence on this point was only to be expected for it was hardly likely that they would give any information which would nullify their all-night vigil. It is definitely known however that the number exceeded fifty, and while the majority of them belonged to the Social and Political Union, some of the members of the Women’s Freedom League and the Cardiff and District Suffrage Society joined in the scheme. Those concerned displayed unrestrained delight that they had kept their plans a secret and had thus been able to “diddle the enumerators” and cheat the Registrar-General.
The story of the scheme was related in Monday’s Western Mail, but it was not known until the early morning where it was being carried out. It transpires that Miss Barratt of Newport, acting on behalf of the Social and Political Union, had secured the use of commodious premises, part of which is a shop in Albany Road no 34. The ladies turned up singly or in two’s during the evening and, in order not to create suspicion, they made their way to the premises through the back lane. None was admitted until she had given the appropriate password “Escape.”
The night was spent in the sitting-rooms of the houses, where fires had been lit early in the evening. A large number of chairs had been secretly conveyed into the building, but those were nothing like sufficient for those who turned up, and many had to lay on the floors. They had, fortunately, taken the precaution of having a good supply of rugs, cushions and pillows.
During the night the ladies were visited by police officers, and one of the census enumerators handed two census forms to one of the ladies. These were however refused and the enumerator then threw the forms on the floor requesting that they should be properly filled up. The only reply he received was that they would not be touched and that they should have been delivered on Saturday. The request of the enumerator was not complied with, and when the ladies left, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning- they did so in small batches – they had what satisfaction is afforded in believing that they had prevented a complete census of Cardiff’s citizens. They did not however return to their homes until late afternoon, and after having breakfast at various restaurants, they either took long walks in the country or spent their time in the Free Library.
One of the party told our reporter that the night was pleasantly spent, and none of them had the slightest cause to regret their attempt to “spoil the census.” Everybody she said, “brought a stock of refreshments. and, after our supper party we talked for hours, and when this morning was well advanced we played cards. It was certainly an interesting experience, and if it served to show the ludicrousness of shutting out of the Parliamentary franchise all of the women of the country well -we are satisfied.”
HOW THE LADIES SPENT THE NIGHT
Mrs Keating Hill, interviewed by a Western Mail reporter, described the scheme as “thoroughly interesting and more successful than we at first thought it would be.”
Asked how many turned up, Mrs Hill replied, “We were a large family of about – well, how many do you think? I really didn’t count them.”
Mrs Hill went on to relate how the night was spent. “Although we had before us the prospect of a night’s ‘dossing,’” she said, “everybody was in gay spirits, and the proceedings opened with a ‘reception.’ Then we had to divide forces, because we all could not possibly spend the night in the same room. Things were exceedingly comfortable. There were bright fires in the grates, and we had a plentiful supply of refreshments. We had to be cautious in regard to light, as we knew police would be keeping a sharp look-out for us, but we had treated the window with whiting, and were able to burn candles with some amount of safety. After midnight some of the party wrapped themselves up in their rugs and went to sleep, their ‘bed’ consisting of a newspaper spread on the floor. Others preferred to do some crochet work. In our room we were fortunate enough to have a clever fortune teller, and she provided an interesting entertainment and of course we talked for hours.”
“There were certainly some diverting incidents during the night. We soon discovered that we were being ‘looked for,’ and occasionally men peered in through the front window. Then of course we spoke in whispered tones, so as not to give the game up. We could hear and thoroughly enjoyed the heated argument between a police officer and a gentleman who had been peeping into the shop, and who turned out to be a Western Mail man. He was certainly well on the scent at that time, but had he continued knocking we should probably not have answered the door just then.”
VISIT BY THE POLICE
“Later a couple of policemen came and hammered at the door, and demanded to know what we were doing on the premises. ‘The occupier’ was adamant, and a policeman might just as well have endeavoured to get a tramcar to discuss philosophy as to question her. Fancy, the police wanted to go through the door, but we would not allow them: and them came two more officers and a lady inspector, but it was all of no avail, and the census man who followed was met with no greater measure of success.”
“We all remained at the house until about seven o’clock, and as there were still some of the police about, and we did not want to give them the chance to count us, we had to watch our opportunity to get away. We left in small batches and scattered in all directions. We had a jolly picnic, and we believe we have done a service to the cause we advocate. Some of the party had their first experience of hard suffragetting, and we are pleased to know that they are not in the least bit daunted. They expressed themselves as being ready for greater hardships than that, so that the Government will experience more trouble than they have had before.”
“SCHEME A COMPLETE SUCCESS”
The census dodging party included Miss Barratt of Newport, who is the organising secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union for South Wales. Seen by one of our reporters on Monday Miss Barratt remarked that the scheme had been a complete success, and that they had all spent a thoroughly enjoyable night.
“We certainly hadn’t a dull moment in the room I was in,” Miss Barratt went on, “and if we were not listening to entertaining discussions on the situation and the cause, we were able to watch some of the ladies playing their best trump cards in whist. Of course we did not play cards on Sunday night- we waited for that until the early hours of Monday morning.”
Referring to the visits of the police, Miss Barratt said they appeared to be under the impressions that they had a right of entry to the house and would not credit that the building had been rented for two nights. “They had no search warrant,” added Miss Barratt, “and of course they could not come in, especially as the person in charge explained that she was responsible for the conduct of the house.”
Miss Barratt stated in reply to a further query that the majority of the census evaders were educated women, and ranging in age from sixteen to 60. The number also included several married ladies.
Early Morning Call
REGISTRAR’S FRUITLESS VISIT TO ALBANY ROAD
On Monday afternoon one of our reporters interviewed Mr. Jack Taylor, registrar for East Cardiff, who has control of more than 30 enumerators. Mr. Taylor was familiar with the hiding-place of the suffragettes. It was he said, the shop and house, 34 Albany road, formerly in the occupation of a draper, and now vacant and to let.
“This morning,” he went on, “at two o’clock, I had some unexpected visitors in the person of Police-sergeant Wootton and Police constable Jack Hudson. They woke me up as registrar and reported that certain females were evading the census. I got out of bed, and foreseeing certain difficulties, I prevailed upon my wife (who acts as my deputy) to accompany me in the hope that she might be able to identify at least some of the ladies. We went together, and immediately I rang the bell three ladies came to the door. They carried ‘candle dips’. I asked one of them ‘Who is the head of the house?’ and she said ‘I am,’ but as it was past twelve, she in answer to my inquiries, refused any information.
“Were the police with you?”
“they were outside listening. I asked the ladies for their names, but as the schedules had not been served upon them before twelve they declined to give their Christian or surnames. I did not know them, and I should not know them again, neither do I know how many were in the house, but those I saw were well dressed. One of the three retired. I served each of the two remaining with a schedule, but they still declined information. I read to them the section under which they are liable to a forfeiture of £5 each. All they said was that they were advised not to give their names or addresses because the enumerator had not served them with schedules before twelve.”
“That being so , will they be able to escape the penalty?”
“Certainly not,” answered Mr. Taylor, with emphasis. He added that at half past eleven on Sunday night some ladies were seen to enter the house in Albany Road and at twenty minutes past twelve the police reported the admission of three others. The officers rang the bell. The trio made a move towards the door but did not open it. Mr Taylor will report the facts to the Registrar general.
“GONE TO CARDIFF TO EVADE THE CENSUS.”
A prominent gentleman in the neighbourhood of Cardiff has a daughter who is an enthusiastic supporter of the cause, and this young lady was one of those- chiefly school mistresses and assistant teachers – who passed Sunday night in the house in Albany Road. Her name and all the required details had been included in the schedule at home but immediately her father learned of the cause of her absence he put the pen through the name and wrote: ”Gone to Cardiff to evade the census.” The gentleman informs us that a good scolding awaited the young lady on her return on Monday morning.
One person only was found by the police wandering aimlessly about Cardiff streets on Sunday night and was enumerated as one of the homeless.
A Voice From The Inside.
HOW THE NIGHT WAS SPENT IN ALBANY ROAD
(By one who was present)
Late on the eventful night, along a convenient and little known back street, we approached the House of secret Abode. from the other end of the street’s dimness three forms approached, grotesque shapes gradually becoming outlined into the figures of three women, rugs and bundles, panier-like at their sides.
“Can they be some of us and don’t know the way to it? Shall I ask?”
“Better not,” my companion cautioned. “Perhaps it’s a trap.”
With furtive glances we passed them by. With equally furtive glances they passed us by; when “It must be,” said I, and turning after them called, “Are you a _?”
“ Yes we are!” came the prompt rejoinder, chorused in unmistakable relief. “Oh where is it? We don’t know where to go, and we are afraid to go anywhere.”
“Come along; it’s quite close now. But we must divide.”
So in twos, we dived through the little door, that opened noiselessly and readily at our approach into the garden, and then, with many stumbles and “Hushes,” into the House of Secret Abode, giving vent to a sigh of relief that at last we were safely inside.
Already there was a good crowd of us. From the ”reception-rooms,” sumptuous with a fire, one table and a clean floor, we overflowed into the “bedrooms,” to deposit our rugs in their bareness and select our planks for the night. In many rooms were already stretched on the planks they had chosen prostrate forms, occasioning – for “No Lights” was the order of the House – much stumbling stifled “Oh’s,” and suppressed laughter.
“What’s that? Hush! Oh,” with relief, “It’s only gravel thrown at a window. It’s one of us – she can’t find the way in, Quick; fetch her in or she’ll give us away.”
Gradually all were got safely in, the stealthy tramping to the bedrooms ceased and all sounds died down.
Thunder, thunder, bang –crash!
“Good heavens!” and with the shock of it the floor seemed to depart from our shoulders, and like marionettes on strings we sat up with a jerk.
“Will you open the door?” Bang, bang, “Open the door, I say,” and the impatient hammering began again.
“It’s the police. They’ve found us. Oh!”
Then footsteps were heard hurrying down: the door opened, the voice of She Who Resisted for Us raised in altercation, alternately heard and drowned in the two angry voices of someone who must surely be two huge, angry policemen. Doors were stealthily opened, and from each issued a bold spirit, to hang in darkness over banisters and report in hurried whispers what she heard.
“They want to come in. They want to search the house … They say they will come in … She won’t let them. No, she won’t – protests they have not the right. Oh,” with a gasp that made us all lie back with one accord – flop. “They are coming, I do believe.” And our particular bolder spirit hounded back into our room and fell over all of us in turn in her hurry to hide herself in her rug.
“What will they do?” was asked.
“They can’t do anything,” we all stoutly agreed.
A footstep on the stairs. Coward hearts thumped wildly. “Oh, it’s only one,” And then the re-assuring vision, behind a shaded candle, of Her Who Resisted.
“They have gone to get a warrant to search the house. Mind, answer no questions: give no names: just say you are my guests.”
With a shriek of inextinguishable laughter at the thought of the luxurious accommodation we “guests” had had provided for us, we buried our heads in our rugs till the excitement subsided into harmless gurgles and gasps.
Two hours of suspense. Every creak an alarm: every step in that uncarpeted house the loud step of what we feared. But gradually fear and wakefulness faded, and all rested, save the cricket down in the garden that chirped the night cheerfully away.
W-h-i-r-r-r-r-r, and a bell like twenty alarums for suddenness and violence rang and rang.
“Sh-sh-sh, keep perfectly quiet,” floated up the word from below. Then voices again, not angry, but – argumentative. Snatches were audible:
“Well, I admire you for ——“
“Oh, girls, it’s all right,” came a stifled voice: “he admires us.”
“Well, they won’t, if they come up and see us looking like this.”
Then again silence till the word came up –
“It’s all right. We’re safe.”
Then that House of Stealthy Steps and Stifled Voices became the House of Babel . Doors were flung open, and we trooped out and down the bare stairs to hear what She Who Resisted had to tell.
“Three policemen, a woman, and the enumerator. Yes, positively. But I refused to take the papers in, and, look, they have had to drop them on the floor. And they are gone. They haven’t the right to search.”
“Who wants to give three cheers?” sang out a voice. “No, no, the neighbours. Hush! Now to sleep, and then in the morning we must be up and out before they come for the papers.”
So it was done. Soon after dawn a hasty toilet, assembly downstairs, outer door opened, and we filed silently over the dropped census papers out into the street. And, hey, pronto! We are gone: nameless ones, melted away, no one knows where.
Along my way later dashed a taxi, windows full of fares smiling at me, of hands waving at me, the last batch of the comrades of that unforgettable night – “The rummiest night I’ve ever spent,” as one had quaintly remarked.
And what, after all, is behind it? Not fun, not laughter, not rumminess. Ah, no. It is the spirit of rebellion that is abroad, in growing earnestness and passionate desire for justice and freedom: it is the awakening in women of a new feeling of collective consciousness, of high responsibility for others. And he who reads aright the signs of the time sees therein a tremendous force for good making a higher civilisation, wherein the womanly qualities shall have direct sway in the molding of the nobler race of the future.
More information on the protests in Cardiff at the time is detailed here