Pioneering women who fought in the Suffragette movement to gain rights and votes for women are being celebrated at a new housing development in Blackburn.
The first street under construction – Entwistle Drive – was inspired by local woman Louise Entwistle, who was part of a group that took part in a raid on the House of Commons in February 1907. Aged just 20 and a mill worker in the town, Louisa travelled to London to take part in what was called The Battle of the Suffragettes and was arrested and jailed for a week in Holloway Prison.
Back in June 2006 Twissle Times published an article by EFHA’s founder Barbara Nightingale:
A Blackburn Suffragette
EFHA member Harry Entwistle sent me a copy of an article he had come across, Blackburn and the Women’s Movement by Stanley Miller. This mentioned a young lady named Louisa Entwistle, who was among those who lobbied the House of Commons on 12 February 1907. As a result of reading this article I found newspaper reports of the event in question in Blackburn Library. The following is based on those reports:
On Saturday 9 February 1907, The Blackburn Weekly Telegraph reported:
“A meeting under the auspices of the Blackburn branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union was held in Lees Hall the previous Monday evening, the chair being taken by Miss Entwistle. Following an address on Suffragist Policy by Mrs. Pankhurst, it was proposed that Mrs. Snowden, Miss Entwistle, and Miss Eccles would represent Blackburn at the meeting to be held in London at the opening of Parliament to demand votes for women. If this demand were not granted, they would make things very unpleasant indeed for members of Parliament”.
The following Saturday (16 February 1907), The Blackburn Weekly Telegraph gave an account of The Suffragist Raid on the House of Commons:
Blackburn Girl Goes to Gaol
“Miss L. Entwistle, daughter of Mr R. Entwistle, 133, Burnley-road, elected to go to prison for seven days in default of paying a fine of 10 shillings. In coming to this decision, she was but following the example set by a large body of sister suffragists, who found themselves in the hands of the police as the result of a raid upon the House of Commons on Wednesday night. For nearly an hour there was a fierce struggle between the authorities and the crowd. Mounted police were called out, and the horses cut through the women’s ranks, knocking many over and injuring a few. As the result of this first onslaught no fewer than 34 women were arrested. In a second scrimmage, later in the evening, over 20 captures were made.
“The second act in the drama was laid at the Westminster Police Court on Thursday. It was amid a good deal of cheering, some sympathetic and some derisive, intermingled with booing and laughter, that the suffragists, who all refused to pay the fines, in three Black Marias, in the afternoon, left the police station at Rochester-row, for Holloway Gaol. Whether Miss Entwistle, the young Blackburn lady who has come into prominence as a result of the proceedings described above, will continue in the active campaign is not yet certain, for though her parents freely support her in her fight for the cause, they hardly feel that they can spare her from home. Miss Entwistle has not yet attained her majority for she will not be 21 until 25th of March next.“
On her return home Louisa was interviewed by a local reporter with the by-line ‘Candide’, and the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph (Saturday March 9th, 1907) gave an account of
A Blackburn Suffragist. Miss Entwistle on her Prison Experiences
“It is said that when Miss Louise Entwistle the young Blackburn mill girl who went up to London to fight in the “battle of the suffragettes,” took her stand in the dock, somebody in court, struck with her youthful appearance, exclaimed, “Votes for children!” Miss Entwistle pleads guilty to the accusation of youthfulness, but despite this a talk with her reveals the fact that she has clear and well-formed ideas on many of the social and political questions of the day, and a strong and burning enthusiasm for the cause she has taken up. She looks forward with a bright hope to the time when women may take their part with men in the endeavour to produce better and happier conditions under which the toilers may work and live.“
And now to let the story be given in Miss Entwistle’s own words.
“I left Blackburn on Tuesday” (the day before the incidents at Westminster) she told me. “We had the meeting on Wednesday in the Caxton Hall, and then we decided to go to the House of Commons. We had our battle cry, ‘Rise up, women,’ but we went quite in an orderly way along the streets in procession, and the traffic was held up as we passed across the roads. When we got to Westminster, however, the police tried to stop us, but we told them we had come there for a fixed purpose. It was through us being so determined that the police stopped us. I got them right angry. I expect they thought because I was so little, they would soon dispose of me. I got angry, too, and started talking back to them, and they told us to pass along, but we wouldn’t. Then two policemen picked me up and carried me across the road, but I got back through the crowd again. Once I saw six policemen lined across the road in front of me, and I called out to them, ‘Just fancy, six “bobbies” to a little one like me.’ The crowd laughed at that, and then one of them came up to me and said, ‘Come along, we’ve had enough. I’ll take you.’ We were taken into Cannon-row Police Station, but we were jolly enough there. We were singing songs, ‘England, arise!’ and ‘The Red Flag,’ until we were bailed out.”
Miss Entwistle’s Prison Life
“Miss Entwistle gave an interesting description of her prison life in Holloway. “It’s not bad to be in prison at all,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind a bit if I had to go again – for the same cause, of course. We had to get up in the morning at six o’clock and tidy up our cells. Then we had breakfast – a dry loaf and tea. For dinner we had boiled potatoes – no gravy – and soup, and for tea we had dry bread again and cocoa. But though the food is plain, it’s good, and everything is very clean. After breakfast we had an hour for exercise. We simply walked round and round a ring, one yard apart. I never saw anything sillier in my life,” she added, with a laugh. “We had a lot of time to ourselves, and we could either sew or read. They give you very good books, indeed. But of course I was glad to come out again after my seven days. It felt very nice to be free.” Miss Entwistle went on to discuss the future of the movement and said that it would go on in spite of all that was being said about it. “It is not because we want to make ourselves into martyrs,” Miss Entwistle said, earnestly; “it is because the working women suffer so much under the present conditions that it is only just that they should have the power to alter the conditions by which they are oppressed. We don’t want to make a name for ourselves, and it is for women who work in the mills, and who have their homes and their children to look after, that we single women are trying to get the vote. It is for these helpless women that we are fighting. Our opponents know that if we get the vote we shall alter a lot of things, and they are frightened.”
Barbara Nightingale – reprinted in ‘Twissle Times’, March 2020
A Biographical Note:
Louisa’s family seem to have moved about a lot, as the children were born in Nelson, Accrington, Ramsbottom and Chorley! In 1891, when Frances Louisa was aged 5, they were living at 69 Burnley Road, Lower Booths, Rawtenstall, and Richard’s occupation was a cotton waste bleacher’s labourer.
In 1901 the census entry for 135 Burnley Road, Blackburn, reveals the fact that Louisa’s full name was Frances Louisa Entwistle, aged 15, born in Accrington, and working as a biscuit packer. [St Catherine’s index shows the birth of Frances Louisa Entwistle registered in Haslingden in 1886, quarter 2.] Her father, Richard, was a baker’s salesman, and he and his wife, also Frances L., had another five children ranging from 16 to 2 years.
By 1911 Louisa, aged 25, still lived with her parents and four younger brothers, by then at Queen’s Park Terrace, Blackburn. Her father had become a window cleaner, employing two of his sons. The other three sons worked for confectioners and Louisa was a cotton winder.
??? I’ve been unable to find any further record of this family. Can anyone help?
A Historical Note:
At the beginning of the 20th century only men over 21 were entitled to vote and even then, only if they satisfied certain property qualification rules. The Representation of the People Act 1918 abolished the property qualification and famously allowed women the vote for the first time – although only from the age of 30. The Equal Franchise Act 1928 equalised the minimum voting age between men and women, making it 21 for both. The Representation of the People Act 1969 then reduced that common age to 18, although the change did not take effect until 1970.
The current minimum voting age remains 18 for both men and women, for all levels of public election in the UK.
[Eileen Cowen, Editor and member 241]