Location Three

3. Rosa May Billinghurst’s Attack on a Deptford Pillar Box

Audio Description Caption Three
Summary for Caption Three

Born on May 31st 1875 in Lewisham, Rosa May Billinghurst was a disabled woman and suffragette. Billinghurst had polio as a child which left her partially paralysed, and she used a modified tricycle. As a young woman, Billinghurst’s experience at the Greenwich and Deptford Union Workforce influenced her interest in the suffrage movement.

In November 1910, together with over 300 other suffragettes, Billinghurst participated in the Black Friday protest against parliament’s dropping a proposed bill on women’s voting rights. Although it was intended to be a peaceful protest, it turned violent: the police assaulted the protestors both verbally and physically, and Billinghurst was thrown out of her wheelchair.

Billinghurst Passing by the Pillar Box in Deptford on which an attack was made.

Undeterred, Billinghurst continued protesting for women’s rights and was arrested in 1911 for obstructing the police during the opening of parliament. Billinghurst was again arrested for participating in a window-smashing campaign in 1912, where she used her wheelchair to carry the bricks used in the destruction. Billinghurst would often use her tricycle to her advantage and it proved a valuable tool during the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) protests.

In December 1912, soon after her release from jail, Billinghurst joined a campaign that attacked and destroyed Deptford pillar boxes (post boxes). She would pour a sticky dark brown fluid over the contents of the box, leaving the letters damaged and the pillar box unserviceable. The government claimed damage of over 5,000 letters by the WSPU. These attacks saw Billinghurst sentenced to eight months in Holloway prison.

Fellow suffragette Lilian Lenton said of Billinghurst:

“She would set out in her chair with many little packages from which, when they were turned upside down, there flowed a dark brown sticky fluid, concealed under the rug which covered her legs. She went undeviatingly from one pillar box to another, sometimes alone, sometimes with another Suffragette to do the actual job, dropping a package into each one.”

References

Ayers, C., 2018. Beyond the Suffragettes: Rosa May Billinghurst – Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust (RGHT). [online] Greenwichheritage.org. Available at: <https://www.greenwichheritage.org/blog/post/beyond-the-suffragettes-rosa-may-billinghurst>

Smith, O., 2020. The Disabled Suffragette. [online] Herstory Club. Available at: <https://herstory.club/2020/11/16/the-disabled-suffragette/

Fox, K., 2017. Rosa May Billinghurst: Suffragette, Campaigner, ‘Cripple’. [online] The National Archives blog. Available at: <https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/rosa-may-billinghurst-suffragette-campaigner-cripple/

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