Minnie Landsbury, Angela Lansbury, and the Bow suffragettes

The Minnie Landsbury Memorial clock on the side of Electric House, 65 Bow Road. Photos My Bathroom Wall

I'd walked past the Minnie Lansbury Memorial clock (1) hundreds of times without noticing it, until on a recent stroll the sun caught its green and gold, and I looked up. Absent-mindedly, I wondered if it was connected to Angela Lansbury the actor, but I read the plaque below it and looked online, and discovered that Minnie Lansbury was effectively killed by the state in 1921, and that Bow was an unlikely centre of the suffragette's 'Votes for Women' movement.

It turns out that there were fracas, marches and arrests all around its streets, and that windows were smashed by women outside my barbers, mounted police charged a protest at nearby Tomlins Grove (2), and Minnie is a relative of the Angela Lansbury, who helped pay for the clock's restoration.

Minnie Lansbury receiving glad-handing encouragement on her way to arrested in 1921

Drive east along the A11 and Bow is the area just before the desperately ugly Bow Flyover, which is pretty much on the site of the original bow-shaped bridge that gave the area its name. But thanks to slum clearance in the 1930s, the Blitz a decade later, and then the community-cleaving four-lane A12 'motoway' built in the 60s, and many an historic site - and even whole streets - have disappeared.

I've lived in the locale for over a decade now, but just of late I've realised that all is not lost.

Just beyond the memorial clock and still on Bow Road is Bromley Public Hall (3), an Italianate grey-stone building where the suffragettes were banned after their increasingy disruptive protests - and where Sylvia Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline) once hid behind in a stable before being spirited away in a large sack on a cart.

Their campaign of civil disobediance saw women (and some male supporters) roughed up and arrested. Their actions included repeatedly ringing the doorbell of No. 10 Downing Street, attacking golf club greens, setting fire to churches, and on the 1st of March 1912, 150 women produced hammers from their handbags for a synchronised window smash in London's West End. Some 124 of them were arrested. They also shut the National Gallery for two weeks, after Mary Richardson slashed Velazquez's famous Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver.

Angela Lansbury in the 1971 film, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and at an award ceremony in 2017

The plan was not to threaten human life, but some of the arson was risky, and planting two bombs at the home of the Chanceller of the Exchequer - David Lloyd George - especially so. Most infamous of all the actions was when Emily Davidson threw herself in front of the King's horse in the 1913 Epsom Derby. Her death, and the shocking pictures of it gave the cause a martyr that galvanised opinion.

It wasn't all destruction though - the area was littered with suffragette efforts to improve the lives of ordinary women. At 198 Bow Road (4), now a post war block of flats, Sylvia Pankhurst opened the first East London branch of the Women's Social and Political Union, which then relocated to 321 Roman Road, where they ran a market stall and produced the Women's Dreadnaught newspaper. The Roman Road street market Tuesday-Thursday, and on Saturdays, is still going strong.

One street north of the Roman Road is the Old Ford Road. The suffragettes bought the Gunmaker's Arms at number 438 (5). Sadly no longer there, they renamed it the Mother's Arms, set up a nursery, baby clinic and Montessori school. Sylvia Pankhurst lived at number 400 (6) for more than 10 years (now demolished), and close by at number 45 Norman Grove (7), which is now a residence, was a toy factory and nursery.

Bromley High Street C1960s, and today. C. Selby & Son had its windows smashed by the Suffragettes

I should of course have wondered if Minnie Lansbury was related to George Lansbury; the former local MP, Labour leader (1932-1935) and votes for women supporter. He lived on the Bow Road at number 39 (8), long since demolished, but where there is a smell memorial to him. He was Minnie's father-in-law and Angela's grandfather, because Minnie married his son Edgar. George Lansbury was by far the most well known male supporter of women's suffrage, and according to AJP Tatlor, 'the most loveable figure in British politics'.

Crimes committed locally saw the suffragettes detained in Bow police station at 111 Bow Road (9), built in 1903 and closed in 2013. From here they were taken to serve their sentences in Holloway Prison. The state was brutal in intimidating, manhandling, and force-feeding the women, many of whom were arrested repeatedly and refused food in protest at not being given political prisoner status.


The current C Selby & Son (116 Bow Road), and Bromley Public Hall next door. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Minnie Lansbury came from a Polish Jewish family who fled Russian-backed anti semitic pogroms, and was born in Stepney in East London. She began teaching at a primary school in 1911, joined the trade union movement, and supported the priciple of equal pay for women. She was arrested in 1921, along with 29 other Poplar councillers, for not passing on rate rises as decreed by parliament, and sent to Holloway prison for six weeks. The conditions were terrible and led to Minnie getting a bad cold, and then pneumonia, from which she died of six weeks after her release at the age of just 32.

Her memorial clock is a stone's throw from one of the suffragettes many stone-throwing incidents. Just around the corner on the drab spur of Bromley High Street (10) is where Sylvia Pankhurst spiced up her protest speech by hurling a brick through the windows of C. Selby & Son Funeral Directors (11). It's still a going concern and is now around the corner at 116 Bow Road.

Votes for women march passing the Bow Bus Garage (still in use) on Fairfield Road

The clock was erected in the 1930s and restored in 2008, with donations from far and wide, including from the Dame Angela Lansbury, who described Minnie as 'a heroine and inspiration'.

February 6th 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act that broke the dam and gave the vote to some women over 30, though full women's suffrage wasn't achieved until 1928. So the vote is won and the slums of the East End are gone, but now I'm a little enlightened about the bravery and industry of the areas suffragettes, the Minnie Lansbury Memorial clock always catches my eye.



Bow Road tube and DLR stations are just a short walk from all of the sites mentioned. Many busses ply the busy Bow Road from Central London or Stratford, and the number eight bus usefully runs from Tottenham Court Road (via Liverpool Street Station) to the Roman Road. See TFL for details.

35 For some super context on the suffragette struggle, the Museum of London is running a 'Votes for Women Centenary' exhibition until 6th January 2019. For events at the UK parliament, see www.parliament.uk/vote100. Also there is a Women of the World Festival at the South Bank Centre from March 7-11 2018. And if you ever happen to be in Manchester - birthplace of Emmeline Pankhurst, be sure to visit the excellent People's History Museum.