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Former Post Office in Newcastle recognised for its 'front line' role in votes for women fight

08 Jun 2018, 11:45 ... d-14758825

The Old Post Office, in St Nicholas' Street, was the scene for a major protest by suffragettes and is being recognised by Historic England

Thousands walk past this grand former post office every day as they make their way through Newcastle - but do you know about its important place in suffragette history?

The listed General Post Office sits opposite The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas and next to Tup Tup Palace nightclub.

While the 19th century building has impressive enough due to its stunning architecture, there is another reason the old Post Office is one of Newcastle’ s most important historic buildings.

The General Post Office is one of 41 sites ‘on the front line of the suffragette struggle’ being officially recognised by Historic England, 100 years after the Representation of the People Act 1918 first gave women the right to vote.

Why is the former General Post Office on St Nicholas Street an important site in the history of women’s suffrage?

Suffragettes - women who used disruptive tactics to campaign for women to be given the vote - held a landmark protest here dubbed ‘The Battle of Newcastle’

Since Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, suffragettes targeted the Liberal government in their protests.

In October 1909 - almost a decade before any women were allowed to vote for the first time - Chancellor and future Prime Minister David Lloyd George held a series of meetings in Newcastle’s General Post Office, where he was joined by then Education Secretary Walter Runciman.

Suffragettes demonstrated outside the meetings, leading to clashes labelled as the ‘Battle of Newcastle’ by the Votes for Women newspaper.

The authorities tried to keep the suffragettes out of the hall by issuing tickets and putting up barriers. The protesters hit the streets outside, while one women managed to cut through the barricades with a hatchet.

Two women - Kitty Marion and Dorothy Pethick - planned to smash the windows. First, they snuck inside and checked if anyone would be hurt by flying glass, before walking outside again and throwing stones at the windows, Historic England says.

Windows were also smashed at Liberal Club, the Palace Theatre, in Pink Lane and at Barras Bridge, while Lloyd George's car was pelted with stones.

Police arrested 12 women. Eleven were taken to Newcastle Prison, where they went on hunger strike. Seven were force fed - including Gateshead-born Kathleen Brown, who was later arrested at a demonstration in London and held in Holloway Prison. The others were deemed too unfit to be force fed and were released by doctors.

Where else is being recognised?

The Prince’s Stand at Epsom Racecourse has also been added to the suffragette heritage record.

Morpeth suffragette Emily Davison was fatally injured there as she staged possibly the most famous protest of the suffragette era. Ms Davison was trampled by the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby as she attempted to tie a banner to the animal. The Palace of Westminster is another building added to the list. A blue plaque inside the palace already honours Ms Davison. She hid in a cupboard inside the palace so it would be recorded as her place of residence in the 1911 census.

Who was suffragette Emily Davison? 100 years on from women getting the vote we look at the North East link

In total, 41 sites have been recognised. They were all already listed, but their listings made no mention of their place in suffragette history.

Celia Richardson, director of communications at Historic England, said: “The history of suffrage can be traced through the fabric of our city streets and buildings, and even though there are few tangible markers left, 41 of the listed buildings and places the suffragettes used as their public theatre of protest have had their official records updated, ensuring the part they played in the struggle for suffrage is fully recognised.”

Heritage minister Michael Ellis said: “A century after the first women won the right to vote, it is vital that we continue to remember all those who campaigned so hard for greater equality.

“I am delighted we are recognising the places that were at the heart of suffragette action 100 years ago.”

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