Sunday, 13 April 2014

Suffragette attacks on working people; the postal system

Many of the more violent and extreme activities of the suffragettes have been airbrushed from history. Few people today have heard of the bombing of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, to give one example, or the explosions which took place in London churches. The one form of violent protest which is widely known about is the damaging of letters. This is usually treated as a bit of a lark; little more than harmless vandalism. The tactic of attacking pillar boxes by setting fire to the contents or pouring acid into them was started of course by Emily Davison, about whom we shall have much to say in later posts. A campaign was started in 2012 to celebrate the centenary of Davison's death. The inaugural meeting of this group was addressed by Diane Atkinson; a historian who writes about the suffragettes.  Her speech may be seen here;

The arson attacks on the postal system are describe by Atkinson as; 'bold and brave' actions against, 'the establishment'. This is such an extraordinary and distorted perspective, that it is worth looking back and seeing who the victims of the arson attacks initiated by Emily Davison actually were. Here are a few random examples of the kind of people being targeted in this way by the suffragettes. On January 29th 1913, fires began at sorting offices in Croydon and York. These fires were caused by phosphorus; the fumes from which caused permanent lung damage to several workers. On February 5th, that same year, five postal workers were injured, four of them seriously, when packages that they were handled exploded and caught fire. On February 22nd, another postal worker was badly burned when a parcel caught fire as he was handling it.
Far from being 'bold and brave' attacks on, 'the establishment', the arson against pillar boxes was actually a series of cowardly, hit-and-run attacks against ordinary working people. On July 19th 1913, six fires broke out in pillar boxes in Birmingham. A postman was severely burned and left with disfiguring scars to his hands, when he handled letters which had been drenched in concentrated Hydrochloric Acid. On December 22nd, mail bags in Nottingham caught fire, injuring a number of workers. The following year, on July 11th 1914, a train caught fire in the north of England, when a mail bag burst into flames. A man called Barlow was very badly burned as he tackled this fire.

These are a just a few of the injuries which resulted from the suffragette tactics of starting fires by means of sending dangerous chemicals through the post. It is worth remembering that the working men who were injured were, like the suffragettes themselves, not allowed to vote at that time, because they were not householders.

1 comment:

  1. Good work. This history is so hidden. Apparently the Suffragette fellowship whitewashed all the information and memorabilia after the event.