Now home to a Pret-a-Manger, Clarks Shoes and a couple of travel agents, in the early 20th Century Brigg Street was an important location in Norwich’s Suffrage movement. A branch of Millicent Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage (NUWSS) opened a shop at 7 Brigg Street, and sold badges, pins and books, to raise money for the movement and spread the word. Despite this, Norwich was not a centre of Suffrage Campaigning; woman’s suffrage Historian Elizabeth Crawford has found that no Norfolk women signed the women’s suffrage petition of 1866, which enabled the issue to be raised in Parliament for the first time.
(Title image: Suffragettes walking down Prince of Wales Road. George Swain, 1914 - Credit Norfolk Heritage Centre)
In 1912, an office of Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (the suffragettes) was opened at 52 London Street (where Subway is now), and a ‘votes for women’ demonstration held in the city centre. As we briefly touched on above, although most of the main women’s suffrage campaigning organisations had a presence in Norwich, the city was not particularly excited by the issue of achieving the right for women to vote. Norwich’s coastal neighbour – Great Yarmouth – saw more suffragette activity; on the 17th of April 1913 suffragettes burnt down the town’s pier (after two previous failed attempts).
Even before women were given the vote, they were eligible to stand for some urban councils. Mabel Clarkson was elected as a Liberal councillor for Norwich in 1913, and would have worked at Norwich Guildhall (which was the seat of local government until the current City Hall was completed in 1938.) Mabel was the first (and only, for a while) woman serving in the council chamber. She was appointed as a magistrate in 1922, then became Norwich’s second lady Mayor in 1930 (the first was Ethel Mary Colman, of the famous mustard family).
On the 10th of June, women across Britain will walk together in a public procession that will form a “living portrait of women in the 21st century and a visual expression of equality, strength and cultural representation”. As part of this, 100 artists across the UK will be working with women, those who identify as women and non-binary, to produce incredible banners for the procession. Norfolk & Norwich Festival is working with artist Fiona Muller to create banners and T-shirts, and all participants are invited to take part in the procession in London on Saturday the 10th (free transport will be provided, find out more here).
Following new research, it was discovered that of a total of 3440 artists represented in the fine art collection at Norwich Castle, only 262 are women. This equates to only 7%. This underrepresentation is not unique to Norwich but is an ongoing issue for museums and galleries across the UK and has arisen from historic collecting policies and the difficulty women artists have traditionally had in finding a public platform for their work.
Now, in ‘Visible Women’, work made by women is brought together from Norwich Castle’s modern and contemporary collection, in order to celebrate their work and open up conversations about the under-representation of female artists in public collections. The exhibition- curated beautifully by Harriet Loffler – also features a new work held by the Castle, which is the first to feature a same sex couple and a woman of colour. It's powerful, emotional and full of intrigue; go and see it!
This post was written with thanks to Herstoria Magazine.
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