Locals explore Ilford’s suffragette history

Redbridge Central Library paid homage to International Women’s Day on 8 March by reviving Pat Heron’s walk around Ilford, discovering iconic sights of the suffragette movement. Raeesa Mukhtar joined the group to discover how much history is retained right on her doorstep!

Development Librarian Rhonda Brooks was our leader for the day. She assembled us in the library’s foyer for a brief background to suffragette history and the walk itself. The walk was devised by Pat Heron, a former local studies staff member here at the library who had a keen interest in suffragette history. Pat has looked closely at the branch secretary of Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Ethel Haslam who spent most of her career as a suffragette here in Ilford. We were lucky enough to be joined by Pat’s daughter, Alice who brought along her mother’s book entitled ‘The Life of Ethel Haslam an Ilford Suffragette’.

Eager to set off, we all bundled out of the library and spilled out onto the streets of our local town centre. Our first stop was just outside Ilford Station where Rhonda explained how suffragette papers would be sold outside and to help us visualise she passed around old pictures of the very sights we were looking at. It is eye opening to think that women today who use the station to get to work are passing through the very same station where suffragettes campaigned for women’s equality in work and politics. On the corner of Balfour Road is a building that very recently was a Santander Bank, but even further back than that, it was the headquarters for the Ilford Recorder. The space was used as an open area meeting corner for the suffragettes. Seeing the building on the corner of Balfour Road made me question the significance of Ilford Town Hall in suffragette history as the buildings certainly resemble each other and are huge landmarks in Ilford. I put this thought to Rhonda who reckoned that seeing as the Town Hall is so central it is likely that the suffragettes would have protested outside.

We were halfway down the bustling Cranbrook Road when Rhonda stopped us as we were actually standing opposite the former house of Ethel Haslam herself. Now a cake shop, then the home and meeting point for many WSPU members. We visited two other homes of suffragettes not far from Ethel’s, and one was home to a married couple which raised the question of the role that men played  in suffragette history. As women paused their campaigns to help out in the war effort during WW1, they gained sympathy from society which could link to the reason why the group suspected that some men were supportive of the movement.

The final stop was the boating lake in Valentines Park which has a very interesting story attached to it. Haslam and some others once went out in a boat to the middle of the lake with their purple banner which had their motto ‘believe and you will conquer’ boldly written across it, however hooligans began splashing and throwing chocolates of all things at them.

Looking out onto the lake glistening in the lazy sun I can’t help thinking about how much has changed, today really had been food for thought. Now, each time I pass by the sights I saw today, those thoughts will be re-kindled in my mind.

Post Author: Raeesa Mukhtar

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