Saturday, June 28, 2014

Miss Lyons Boarding House

48 Doughty Street
Miss Lyons Boarding House

Location: 48-49 Doughty Street, London, England

Opened: At least as early as 1901

Closed: 1923 by the latest

Found a website I absolutely adore, Women and Her Sphere. It is absolutely chockful of the most amazing stories from the English suffrage movement, with each tale more fascinating than the last.

We've posted before on tearooms in general (and more specifically Alan's Tea Room), and the critical role they played in providing women with space to discuss and organize suffrage strategy and tactics.

Now we're going to look at a (mostly) all-women boarding house, and the amazing role it played in the suffrage movement.

The information here is gleaned from a post entitled What Links Charles Dickens, The Rokeby Venus And The Number 38 Bus? And if you love women's movement history as I do, I urge you to read it in its entirety.

So who was Miss Jane Lyons? She was an older woman--born in 1836--and from a large family. Up until at least 1871, Jane worked with her mother and five of her sisters in the family’s stationers shop in Birmingham. At some point after that, she moved to London. In 1881, she was living in a boarding house at 72 Gower Street in Bloomsbury. And then by "1891 Jane Lyons was housekeeper at ‘Brunswick House’, 56 Hunter Street, Bloomsbury.  Here lived 45 boarders – all women – most of whom were working – as teachers, typists, clerks, and artists."

And now to get to the heart of the story:

Ten years later, in 1901, Jane Lyons was the proprietor of a ‘Private Hotel and Boarding House’ at 48 & 49 Doughty Street.  Here, on the day of the census, she had 24 boarders – all women – again clerks, teachers and typists (and a stockbroking nephew). By 1911 Miss Lyons’ clientele had slightly changed – now numbering a good half-dozen men among her boarders.

Mary Richardson (1913)
This image of her was included in the sheet
of ‘surveillance photographs’ of known
suffragettes sent to museums and
art galleries

Miss Lyons, as a single woman running her own business, was very much the type of woman we might expect to support the ‘votes for women campaign’ – perhaps as a member of the Tax Resistance League. But from Mary Richardson’s evidence she went that bit further and gave active support to those who were evading the police. According to Mary, while she was living at number 48 Annie Kenney, who was also on the run, stayed for a time in Miss Lyons’ boarding house. I wish I knew more about Miss Lyons.

Annie Kenney was "an English working class suffragette who became a leading figure in the Women's Social and Political Union. She attracted the attention of the press and the public in 1905, when she, and Christabel Pankhurst, were imprisoned for several days for assault and obstruction, after heckling Sir Edward Grey at a Liberal rally in Manchester on the issue of votes for women."

And who was Mary Richardson?

Mary Richardson was a militant suffragist who got into enormous trouble with the authorities for taking "a hatchet to the Velasquez painting, The Toilet of Venus-known as The Rokeby Venus, while it was on display in the National Gallery in March 1914." In a 1961 interview, Mary "revealed that she had chosen the Rokeby Venus because she hated women being used as nudes in paintings – she had seen the picture gloated over by men, and she ‘thought it sensuous’."

Looking again at Mary Richardson’s story – as she tells it in her suffragette autobiography, Laugh a Defiance -I was interested in a brief mention she made of the house from which she set out for the National Gallery on that fateful day – Tuesday 10 March 1914. It was a house in which she had been given shelter when she was let out of Holloway the previous October under the terms of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, after going on hunger strike. She continued to live there clandestinely – as a ‘mouse’ – evading the police.

A bit of background on the so-called "Cat and Mouse Act":

The government sought to deal with the problem of hunger striking suffragettes with the 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act. 

This Act allowed for the early release of prisoners who were so weakened by hunger striking that they were at risk of death.  They were to be recalled to prison once their health was recovered, where the process would begin again.

So basically Miss Lyons Boarding House was a "safe house"--a place where the "mice"  hid out from the "cat."

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