Woodhouse Moor

Woodhouse Moor has played a great part in my life. When a student over
40 years ago I walked across it daily, then I lived in a flat overlooking the
Moor and still all these years later I walk across it once or twice a week.
So, I was interested when I heard somewhere of the Suffragette rally held
on the Moor in 1908. Hence the piece I will now read. Some of it is taken
from reports in newspapers of the time…
Woodhouse Moor
As we walked on from Leeds,
my home town,
I, Miss Mary Gawthorpe,
read the newspaper on Monday 22nd July, 1908.
We still felt elated by the crowds that had greeted us,
many thousands.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported,
“The little band of marchers had
all the winsomeness, refinement and delicacy
which one expects to find in women”.
The Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society welcomed
us ‘law-abiding suffragists’.
In Ripon a man had tried to speak with his ‘rude hands’
But, Miss Ida Beaver of Tyneside, ‘floored him’.
This march was to present women as responsible public citizens,
to distinguish us from our anarchic suffragette sisters.
We took tea at the Mansion in Roundhay Park
and spoke to 500 supporters next to the lake.
My heart stirred as we approached our destination.
I had lived just down the road,
5 Melville Street, Woodhouse.
As we approached Woodhouse Moor,
local supporters strewed Woodhouse Lane with flowers.
We pilgrims were subject to ‘rough chaff’ and booing
until we were recognised as belonging to the ‘peaceable’ party.
Many thousands, some say 100,000
gathered on Woodhouse Moor.
Bands played.
The Salvation Army took the opportunity
to hold a meeting,
on the outskirts of the throng,
and spread their word.
I spoke to the vast crowd.
One man reviling women in general,
“was made to beat a speedy retreat by means of chaff,
mingled with the more substantial persuasion of sods.”
Miss Gladys Keevil, a young lady with a winning smile, and a most
becoming hat admitted that some of the doings of the Suffragettes
had not been quite lady-like, but she pleaded that they had done nothing
We marched on to London.
In 1905 I had moved to Bramley
where you can see my blue plaque.
You will see I turned away from peaceable activity
and turned to more militant action.
I died, age 92, in 1973.
There was still so much more to do…
Meanwhile, on the other side of Leeds,
I am Leonora Cohen, of Hunslet.
When Asquith, in 1911, broke his promise
of Votes for Women,
I could take no more,
and took the militant route.
I was terrified of violence
but could see no other way.
I spent time in prison.
My family, they stood by me
but I lost many friends.
4 years after the great rally on Woodhouse Moor,
when I was 40,
I threw an iron bar
through the glass of a cabinet
in the Jewel House
of the Tower of London.
On that bar I wrote,
“This is my protest against the Government’s treachery to the working
women of Great Britain”.
When Asquith visited Leeds in November 1913
2 comrades tried to burn down the stand at Headingley Stadium.
I smashed some windows
and was sent to Armley Gaol.
I declared a hunger, and thirst strike,
but was released soon after
through the ‘Cat & Mouse’ Act,
relieving me from the torture of force feeding.
My husband, Henry, wrote, in protest, to the Home Secretary
but was persuaded to take me away
to avoid further life-threatening injury.
I set up a vegetarian boarding house in Harrogate
and once gave sanctuary to a fleeing suffragette.
In the 1920s we moved back to Leeds
and lived at 2 Claremont Villas
on Clarendon Road
where you can see my blue plaque.
I was awarded the OBE
and served as a Leeds magistrate for 30 years.
I never lost my ideals
working within the trade union movement,
campaigning for better working conditions.
My devoted Henry died in 1949,
but I lived on until 1978.
I was 105,
and yet there is still so much more to do…

Malcolm Henshall