Lloyd George and the Suffragette Bomb Outrage
At 6.10am on the 19 February 1913, a bomb exploded at the summer house that was being built for Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, at Walton-on-the-Hill, causing damage estimated at £500 (modern equivalent nearly £55,000 in today’s money).
This extract from the police report by Superintendent Henry Coleman on the 19 February gives details of the bomb: “It is suggested that the explosion was caused by a full tin of black powder…bound round with a cord and had a fuse attached composed of a strip of rag saturated with paraffin…with the other end of the rag in a baking tray in which was a candle”. There had been two bombs, but it was reported that the second did not explode, it was presumed that the rush of air from the explosion had extinguished the second candle.
Police witness statements taken two days later all report a car arriving from the direction of London at about 4 to 4.20am, and then leaving half an hour later; one witness says that an earlier car had passed by at 1am. A further police report ultimately tracks down a car with the number plate P848Y reportedly driving through Banstead at 2.50am and returning at about 5am.
On the evening of the incident Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), claimed responsibility for the bomb at a meeting at Cory Hall, Cardiff, where she admits that they have “blown up the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s house”. Pankhurst was willing to be arrested for the incident saying “I have advised, I have incited, I have conspired”; and that if she is arrested for the incident she shall prove that the “punishment unjustly imposed upon women who have no voice in making the laws cannot be carried out”. On the 24 February, Mrs Pankhurst was arrested at her home in London, placed under the custody of Mr McBrien and taken to Leatherhead Police Station. Interestingly the police report states that she was “being detained in Inspector Tudgay’s sitting room”, as it was the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions that she be “treated with due consideration as to her comfort”. She was also allowed to sleep in one of Inspector Tudgay’s spare bedrooms.
Why did they target Lloyd George?
Emmeline Pankhurst announced “we have tried blowing him up to wake his conscience”. The bomb may have been targeted at Lloyd George because of the continuing disagreement between him and the suffragette movement, although he had once been a supporter of the suffrage movement, he did little to help their cause when in power becoming a “false friend” as Pankhurst described him. Once in power Lloyd George often stopped bills passing that would allow women to have the vote, for example the second Conciliation Bill, which was proposed in 1911 and passed its second reading, expired when Lloyd George stated that there would be no further time allotted to the bill in that session, and if a bill did not become law by the end of a session it then expired. Lloyd George did not want to oppose the Prime Minister of the time, Herbert Asquith, who openly opposed women getting the vote, because he wanted to be in a strong position to become the next Prime Minister.
In retaliation to the bomb Lloyd George wrote an article in NASH Magazine, entitled “Votes for Women and Organised Lunacy” where he claims that the “main obstacle to women getting the vote is militancy”. Lloyd George writes in the article that he is a “convinced advocate of Woman Suffrage” and that he believes that women should have the vote because they would offer a different point of view on many parliamentary issues, like the housing problem. He also remarks that he voted against the Conciliation Bill because it only enfranchised one-tenth of the working women of the country, and that the Dickenson Bill appeals to him most, as it gives the vote to women householders and the wives of married electors. However, he feels that it is the women’s militancy that has stopped them from getting the vote, as they have isolated those who would have previously supported them; he believes the only way for women to get the vote is a new movement “absolutely divorced from stones and bombs and torches”.
Lloyd George enjoyed playing golf on the Walton Heath course and so took the opportunity to have his own house built nearby. The suffragettes had already attacked a number of golf courses in Manchester and Leeds, in the same month, and so his half-built house would have been seen as a fantastic opportunity to target.
Details of the trial and sentencing
After Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest on the 24 February she appeared at the Epsom Petty Sessions two days later. There she was charged with having “counselled and procured” those persons who damaged Lloyd George’s house. The case was then fully reviewed the next day where extracts of her speeches were read and it was decided that she would be committed for trial at the May Assizes, in Guildford. Pankhurst, however, refused the bail she was granted, because she would not withhold from any acts of militancy before the trial and she was taken to Holloway Prison where she immediately began a hunger strike. The trial was almost immediately moved to 1 April at the Central Criminal Court, and she was then released on bail.
The full trial was held between 2-3 April, where the courtroom was mostly filled with women who had acquired a special ticket, while several more lined the streets outside. The prosecutors were Mr Bodkin and Mr Travers Humphreys, the Judge was Mr Justice Lush, and Pankhurst decided to defend herself in consultation with her solicitor Mr Marshall. She pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge of having “wickedly and maliciously incited women to crime”, as she believed that her actions were not wicked of purpose; she was tried under the “Malicious Damages to Property Act” of 1861.
Evidence against Pankhurst followed, beginning with a private letter where she had defended militancy as a political necessity. Extracts of her speeches from January to the day of the bombing were read out, Pankhurst objected claiming that they were inaccurate and only accepted her “Cardiff Speech”, but her objection was dismissed. Witnesses at the trial included the foreman in charge of the house who detailed the damage and its cost, as well as the police officers who first arrived on the scene. Pankhurst was not accused with being directly connected to the bomb outrage, instead it was stated that anyone who had committed the outrage would have been incited by her.
On the second day of the trial after more witnesses were heard, Pankhurst then gave a speech in her defence. She criticised Mr Bodkin’s opening speech and remarks he had made on her personal character: that she was a “…woman flying about in a motor-car inciting other women…”, Pankhurst denied this declaring that she had been in prison three times herself. She also stated that if she was to be charged with inciting vote-less women, then those in authority who denied them the vote and so incited them, should also be put on trial.
The jury ultimately found Mrs Pankhurst guilty, but “with a strong recommendation to mercy”. The Judge sentenced her to three years penal service.
Upon the announcement of the sentence the court erupted in outrage, with shouts of “shame” rising up from the crowd, the women took up the song “Marching On” to the tune of the “Marseillaise”, whilst Pankhurst calmly allowed herself to be led from the courtroom and taken to Holloway Prison. Upon arriving, Pankhurst instantly started a hunger strike. Shortly after, new legislation was passed, ‘The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act’ of 1913, which allowed those on hunger-strike in prison to be temporarily released until their health improved. The act was nicknamed the “Cat and Mouse Act” by Frederick Pethick Lawrence. Upon Pankhurst’s temporary release she resided at Brackenside, Peaslake, the home of WSPU supporters, the Brackenburys, where many women recovering from hunger-strike sought refuge.
Contributed by Helen Alice Douglas, ‘The March of the Women’ project volunteer
Surrey Constabulary reports of suffragette activity in the county: explosion in a back bedroom of a house being built for David Lloyd-George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, at Walton on the Hill, 19 Feb 1913 (SHC ref CC98/11/3)
Atherton, K., 2017. Suffragettes, Suffragists & Antis: The fight for the vote in Surrey Hills.
Bartley, P., 2007. Access to History: Votes for Women.
Pankhurst, E., 1914. My Own Story.
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