Suffragette City celebrates women’s vote in the London Pavilion

To mark the centenary since some women received the vote in 1918, a new immersive experience gave Londoners the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a suffragette.

Suffragette City, made in partnership between the National Trust and the National Archives, focused on the real testimony of Lillian Ball, a dressmaker from Tooting, who was arrested for smashing a window in 1912.

Inspired by and featuring records from the National Archives, three spaces were recreated at the London Pavilion to tell Ball’s story – an Edwardian tearoom, a suffragette headquarters, and a police interrogation chamber and cell.

Rowena Hillel, education and outreach officer for the National Archives, said: “It is a privilege to tell Lillian Ball’s story.

“This partnership with the National Trust allows us to use records in a creative and imaginative way to bring the life of suffragettes to a 21st century audience.

“Lillian’s story is just the tip of the iceberg – the National Archives hold hundreds of records which give an important insight into the suffrage campaign and the thousands of women and men who fought for the vote.”

Audience members went on their first suffragette mission, with actors leading the way, where they made a series of choices about how committed they are to the fight for equality.

Shows commenced with a briefing by a lead suffragette and were followed by a craft exercise, whereby participants decorated rocks for the window smashing campaign with popular suffragette slogans.

Participants were then led on their first protest through Piccadilly Circus, chanting pro-suffrage songs and holding banners to make their mark.

Once audience members were sent onto the streets with rocks stashed in their pockets, they were sabotaged and arrested by officer Canavan Connolly, who emerged from the underground station and led suffragettes to their cells.

They were then interrogated by officers Edward Andrews, Ralph Bogard and Padraig Lynch, before eventually being released and returning to suffragette HQ.

Joe Watson, creative director for the National Trust in London, said: “Alongside many other organisations this year, the National Trust is taking the opportunity to focus on women’s history and the fight for equality in our Women and Power programme.

“The compelling story at the heart of Suffragette City unearths the stark choices facing those who engaged in that endeavor.” 

The London Pavilion was an important meeting place for the suffragette movement, as was the Criterion Theatre opposite.

The Pavilion was also the scene of Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest on a number of occasions.

Asif Aziz, CEO of Criterion Capital and founder of the Aziz Foundation, said that he was delighted by the efforts to enlighten all generations on the road to suffrage.

“Projects like these bring the sites of the struggle to life.

“I was excited to see those of all ages and backgrounds have history revealed to them so that they can gain a deeper understanding of this great city of ours and the power of the people to create positive change in our society,” he said.

A map of the local area showing the focus for window smashing campaigns and marches. Source: Suffragette City
A map of the local area showing the focus for window smashing campaigns and marches. Source: Suffragette City

Like many women of the era, Ball made life-changing choices in her fight for the vote.

These choices saw her join the Women’s Social and Political Union, undertake militant action, and then be arrested, interrogated and imprisoned, before testifying against some of the key leaders in the involvement.

The immersive experience formed part of the organisations’ wider programmes that commemorate 100 years of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted the vote to property-owning women over the age of 30 or graduates voting in a university constituency.

The set was created by the creative producers O’Neill and Ross, who specialise in curating and designing site-sensitive experiences.

For more information on the Suffrage 100 season of events and exhibitions, and suffrage records and resources, visit nationalarchives.gov.uk/suffrage-100

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