Minnie Baldock's active suffragette life in letters and photos

Thursday, 8 March 2018


This article is published on International Women's Day, one hundred years after women first achieved the parliamentary vote in Britain. It brings together a small collection of photos and papers, held by the Museum of London, concerning prominent Forest Gate suffragette, Minnie Baldock.

We have written before about Minnie and her role in the local suffragette movement here and here.

These documents and photos, many published for the first time today, give a glimpse of the involvement of Minnie in not only suffragette politics in London, but also in the wider sphere of radical Edwardian politics, in the early years of the twentieth century.

She was at her most active, politically between 1905 and 1911, when the onset of cancer enforced her early retirement from campaigning political life.

Below, we provide a short synopsis of her life, accompanied by relevantly dated photos, letters and other material related to it.

c 1864 - born in Polar, later to become a shirt maker

1889 - married Harry Baldock, a general labourer, also of Poplar

1890 - birth of oldest son, also Harry - who later is employed in the ship-building trade

1891 - census - living at 23 Oak Crescent, Canning Town - now an unbuilt upon grass area - see photo

Oak Crescent, Canning Town today
1896 - birth of second son, John Francis Baldock (known as Jack), who also was later employed in shipbuilding industry

1890's - became a member, along with her husband, Harry, of the recently formed Independent Labour Party (ILP) and a comrade of local MP, Kier Hardie

1901 - 1907 - husband, Harry, becomes ILP councillor for Tidal Basin of West Ham Council

1903 - Minnie, with Kier Hardie organised political meetings in Canning Town about low pay for women in the area

1905 - joins Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and becomes active in demonstrations

1905 - successfully contests election to become a Guardian of West Ham Workhouse

Minnie's leaflet for her
successful campaign as ILP
 candidate for West Ham
 Board of Guardians, 1905

1905 - December, heckles Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith at a meeting in Queen's Hall, Langham Place



1906 - leading suffragette, Annie Kenney lodges with the Baldocks in Canning Town, when she moves to London

Late 1900's - moves to 447 Green Street (see envelope address, and the house as it is today)


447 Green Street address of Minnie
 Baldock in late 1900's

The house, today
1906 - July 4, Minnie speaks at WSPU rally in Hyde Park, in support of Teresa Billingham. She and Minnie had led a demonstration to Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith's home, in Cavendish Square. The resulting altercation with the police lead to several suffragette arrests, including Teresa Billingham. The subsequent conviction became the first occasion on which 
a London suffragette was sent to prison. She received the longest sentence available - two months in Holloway - although an anonymous donor later paid her fine and she was released 


Handbill for a demonstration in Hyde Park,
organised in support of arrested suffragette
Teresa Billingham. 

1906 - July 15, Minnie speaks at WSPU rally in Victoria Park. The meeting was provoked by the arrest of  Adelaide Knight, Mrs Sparboro and Annie 
Kenney on 19 June 1906 for protesting outside Asquith's home.

 The leaflet announcing Minnie as a speaker.
The reverse (below) of the leaflet
spells out the WSPU's case against 

"Squiffy"  and for Votes for Women
1906 - November, imprisoned in Holloway, for the first time. We have no details of the incident surrounding the imprisonment, but a fragment of a letter from Minnie to her husband survives, in which she shows herself to be a loving wife and devoted mother, clearly greatly upset at the separation imprisonment had caused the family. See text and copy, below

Prison letter

Minnie's prison letter to her
 husband - transcript below
From: Lucy M Baldock, Holloway Prison Nov 6 1906

My dear husband and comrade,

I wanted to say a great deal to you.  But am reminded of the fact that all letters will be seen by someone before you receive them.

Therefore, I cannot say quite credibly what I would like.

As your opinions we cannot blame anyone for that, only those who make these rules. The first time for 18 years dear that anything has come between the sacredness of our married life. Not to kiss each other, or shake each other by the hand for even a few times seemed to me very hard indeed. But I must not complain, I have seen you and that is something to make me glad and know that things are going alright is a great blessing. You understand how much I miss you and Jack. 

But I cannot mention this. The xxxx have xxx the great cause of the Emancipation of Women. A Miss Robinson, a lady from America visited us the other day and promised she would write to Jack. Tell him  (document fades) ... Tell him that ... I know he misses.  Tell him I will make it up ... (the text fades, but clearly displays a great concern for the welfare of her younger son, Jack - by now aged 10).

1906 - December
Leading members of the WSPU, including
 Flora Drummond and Minnie Baldock


Suffragette leaders Christabel Pankhurst,
 Minnie Baldock, Edith New

1907 - January, Minnie protests at a meeting in Baldock (sic) in Hertfordshire.

The Luton Times and Advertiser of 11 January 1907 reported that Minnie and fellow suffragette, Mrs Flora Drummond of Manchester:

"made matters rather hot for the Honourable Member (ed: Julius Bertram, MP for North Hertfordshire), the complaint against him being that he was responsible for killing the Women's Suffrage Bill, when it was before Parliament."

Mrs Drummond was ejected from the meeting.

"Then Mrs Baldock tried to speak, but she was instantly put into the street. After the exciting struggle, the meeting proceeded on its normal course."

1907 - photo of Minnie handing out leaflets in Nottingham

Minnie handing out leaflets in Nottingham

1908 - no exact date, but Minnie becomes a paid organiser for the WSPU in Forest Gate

Minnie in 1908

1908 - 13 February, with nine others, arrested in demonstration outside Parliament and convicted for obstructing the police. The demonstration occurred on the day that it was discovered that there was no mention of women's suffrage in the King's Speech. 

Given the choice of a £5 fine, or a month in prison (for the second time). She, like the other suffragette demonstrators, chose imprisonment in Holloway, to gain publicity for their cause.
Arrest of Emmiline Pankhurst, accompanied
 by Minnie Baldock and Gladice Keevil.
Emmiline was sentenced to six weeks in
Holloway for the part she played in the
demonstration


Suffragette leaders Christabel Pankhurst,
accompanied by Annie Kenney and Minnie
Baldock leads delegation to Parliament,
 the outcome of which was Minnie's arrest
Press reports at the time, described her as a WSPU organiser of West Ham.  The Daily Mirror said that she went round: 
"with a megaphone and shouted 'Votes for Women' as far up the stairs of the St Stephen's entrance (of Parliament)as the megaphone could send the words."
Bound over letter

Bound over letter - transcript below

Metropolitan Police
A Division, 
Cannon Row station

Take notice that you, Minnie Baldock are bound in the sum of two pounds to appear at Westminster Police Court, situated at Rochester Row at ten o'clock a.m. on the 14th day of February, to answer the charge of wilfully obstructing Police in the lawful execution of their duty at Victoria Street 13.2.08. and unless you appear there further proceedings will be taken.

Dated this 13th day of February One thousand nine hundred and eight.
Signed  Officer on Duty.

Holloway discharge letter

Discharge from Holloway letter
transcript below

HM Prison Holloway
7th March 1908
14327

Minnie Baldock will be discharged from this prison at 8.30 a.m. on 13th March and I shall be glad to hear whether you intend to meet her at the prison gate. She wishes you to know that she is in good health.

Signed

Governor


1909 - Involved in recruiting for the WSPU in the West of England
While there, Minnie has a letter published in the Western Daily Press, see below, suggesting that the WSPU views of women Members of Parliament, at this time, were not very demanding, as per the last sentence in the letter: "We are today fighting for the vote, and we are not asking for seats in Parliament."

Western Daily Press May 29 1909
Transcript:


A Correction
 Sir, I wish to contradict a statement which you made in reporting my speech at Roke yesterday afternoon.
You stated that I should say it was when they had a Parliament composed of men and women they would have perfectly fair and just administration, instead of which I stated it is only when women as well as men could send their representatives to Parliament that we should have perfectly fair and just administration.
 We are to-day fighting for the vote, and we are not asking for seats in Parliament.
 Yours truly
 Minnie Baldock

Minnie in 1909
1911 - contracted cancer and was treated, successfully in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital in Euston. This effectively signalled the end of her active political life.

One of a series of postcards produced by
 the WSPU, of their organisers and leaders (undated)

1911 - census, the family were living at 490 Barking Road. (see photo, below).

490 Barking Road, today
Minnie was not present on the night of the census, but her husband and younger son, Jack were. She could either have been away from home campaigning for the suffragettes, or possibly have been confined to hospital with the cancer that she contracted that year.  After the operation, she went to Brighton for a time, for convalescence.

1911 - recovery from cancer

One of the surviving letters in the archives, suggests that she had recovered from the cancer operation by August that year. The letter and text are shown, below.

p1
p2

p3
Recovery from  operation letter

From: C d Mountford, 
22 Elmhurst Ave, 
Forest Gate, 
August

My dear Mrs Baldock,

I am so pleased to hear the operation was successful. I have just received the news from Mr Balcock, who ??? is is pleased to think you are on the road to recovery.

What a brick you are, dear. I wish I had your courage.

You will be sorry to hear that I have been laid up with my old complaint and still in bed, so will not be able to come to see you tomorrow, but will come as soon as I can.

How we have all prayed and thought of you. My sister sends her love and hopes to see you soon.

I have to go out tomorrow so will be able to come and see you very soon.

And that God may soon restore you to perfect health is the sincerest prayer.

Yours very sincerely,

C d Mountford

1911 - evidence of reputation of effective trade union organiser and promoter of women's rights at work.

Two remarkable letters survive in the archives testifying to Minnie Baldock's reputation as fearless and effective organiser around Women's rights. The first is from J Hopkins,  of Tower Hamlets Road, Forest Gate,  the parent of a laundry worker at the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam Laundry in Upton Lane (see photos, below). In it, s/he explains the parental concern for the daughter, the author of the second letter, below. The two letters make pretty grim reading of conditions in the laundry, at the time.

Women's Union organiser - Forest Gate steam laundry (1)


Letter, from the parent, accompanying letter, of "a laundry girl", below

33 Tower Hamlets Road

Forest Gate

18 August 1911

Dear madame,

The reason my daughter is writing the enclosed letter to you is this. Yesterday I was discussing with a friend the conditions under which laundry girls worked and on them not being able to get anyone to take up their cause. The remark he made was you want a lady like Mrs Baldock to take it up, if she could not, I have no doubt she would be able to let you know of someone who would. I asked for your address, but he could not give it to me. He told me if I wrote to Mansfield House, no doubt it would find you.

If you could in any way help the laundry girls, I would be very thankful indeed. I am sending you my name and address, which for the moment I am asking you to keep private, for we know if it reaches the firm, who it is agitating, it means being discharged at once.

Trusting I am not taking a liberty in writing to you.

Yours respectfully

J Hopkins

Trade Union organiser - Forest Gate steam laundry (2)


Above and below, letter from "a laundry girl" asking for Minnie's help in organising the women to fight the dreadful conditions at the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam laundry, Upton Lane



15/8/11

Dear Madam,

I am writing to ask you if you can help us laundry girls of West Ham get more money and fairness to all. Most of the girls are willing to do something, but they are unable to as they have no leader or anyone to speak for them, so I thought of you, who I know would help us if it were possible.

The girls from other laundries say they will do something when "The Forest Gate Steam Laundry of Upton Lane" start because that is the largest and I thought I would be doing no harm in writing to ask you to help us.

Our grievance is we want more money. In one laundry there is a class of girls called Packers and because they are a little more refined, they are allowed every privilege, they do the easiest work, they work in the coolest part of the building, they are allowed a week's holiday and paid for it and at the end of the year they are given a Christmas Box, while the girls in the machine room who are in the steam all day long (most of whom only earn 5/- (ed: 25p today) a week, the rate of 1d per hour (ed: 1d = less than half a penny). They have to do there (sic) dirty work and if they ask for a day off (that means they are the loser) they are refused and if they take it off they get the sack, or else a lecture.

Why should there be so much difference made when we are all working girls(?) Other factories have come out and got what they want, why can't we(?).

We have not our grievances before our mistress yet because nobody seems to have the courage enough. I thought if they heard someone who could put things in a proper manner, they would find the courage to speak up for there (sic) rights.

I hope you will excuse me writing. Thanking you in the hope of you being able to send someone to help us.

Yours,

a laundry girl

1902 photograph of the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam
 Laundry, Upton Lane - to which the letters, above, refer

Forest Gate artists, Eric Dawson's depiction of 
the laundry, which eventually closed in 1964.It 
was located between Studley and Whyteville Roads.
  The site is now occupied by a fuel service station
1913 - Minnie with her husband, Harry, moved to Southampton - the home town of her mother. She later moved to Poole in Dorset

Postcard of Minnie holding a baby girl. On
 the reverse, handwritten in pencil:
"Two suffragettes come to wish you a happy
 time this Xmas and always.
 Lucy Minnie Baldock. Her name Millicent
 Mary Lucy Baldock" c 1916.

The photograph above seems likely to be Minnie and her grand-daughter, Millicent. Ancestry records show that a Millicent Mary Lucy Baldock was born on 14 October 1915 in Southampton. This is the only person of that name recorded in Ancestry's 2 billion records.  The location accords with what we know of Minnie moving to her mother's home town soon after leaving West Ham. 

Presumably Millicent was the daughter of one of Minnie's sons, Harry or Jack. She married George Ernest Pomery in 1939 and died in Swindon in 1986. Whether she ever knew the part her grandmother played in the women's suffrage movement is unknown.


1954 - died in Poole, aged 90. National Probate Records show:
Lucy Minnie Baldock of 73 Lake Road, Hamworthy, Poole, widow, died 10 December 1954. her estate was valued at £1,810 8/8d. The executor was Emily Clark, spinster
Evidence from Jean Bodie who knew her towards the end of her life, as recorded in comments in this blog (see here), suggest that she was feared by local youngsters, because of the long black dresses she wore  and they thought her to be a witch. Sarah Downing, who has also written to this blog (see above) was one of her great grand-daughters.  She believed that Minnie left her land to the Local Labour Party.

Minnie, aged 90

2011 - Poole museum, produce a short video, celebrating her active political life (see here)

Still from Poole Museum's video of Minnie

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