'˜Enthusiasm there was none': Suffragettes march through Edinburgh

On Saturday 9 October 1909, the suffragettes movement in Scotland was in full flow as several thousand took to the streets of Edinburgh to take part in a mass demonstration.

The procession began at Bruntsfield and ended at Waverley Market via Lothian Road and Princes Street. The Scotsman reported on the event the following Monday. The report is notable for heavily down playing the level of enthusiasm at the march.

Suffragist demonstration in Edinburgh: ‘A fine spectacle – absence of enthusiasm’

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Something of a pageant, largely a procession, and wholly a spectacular advertisement, the women’s franchise demonstration which took place in Edinburgh on ­Saturday afternoon will be remembered as a great success from the point of view of its promoters, the Women’s Social and Political Union.

On 9 October 1909 a WSPU demonstration attracted thousands of suffragettes to Princes Street. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Everything was in its favour. Better weather conditions could not have been chosen; the streets were in perfect condition; and although the southerly breeze may have troubled standard bearers, it was agreeable to the enormous crowds who came to witness the scene.

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The demonstration elicited much public attention. From Bruntsfield Links, where the procession was marshalled along the main thoroughfares to the Waverley ­Market, where a public meeting was afterwards held, spectators were massed on both sides of the street. It would be impossible to estimate their numbers, but a fair proportion of the city’s population must have been present on the route. Interest in the show was keen, but of other feeling – enthusiasm, for example, there was none.

Occasionally there was a slight vocal exhibition of hostility, and once in the vicinity of Castle Terrace a bag of peasemeal burst over the heads of the immediate lady processionists.

On 9 October 1909 a WSPU demonstration attracted thousands of suffragettes to Princes Street. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

At intervals where groups of ­sympathisers had assembled there was cheering and some waving of handkerchiefs. But the vast majority of the onlookers exhibited no other sentiment than that of mere curiosity. They were passive ­spectators, and nothing more. The long string of policemen who kept order on either side of the street had little else to do than prevent their respective section of the crowd from breaking the line and straying on to the roadway.

It was only when the cavalcade had, unmolested, filed into the Waverley Market, and the exhibition of the day was over that the hitch occurred. After the procession had passed, thousands of the spectators all along the route followed in its wake. Closely behind the last of the suffragists came a dense mass of people, who swept before them all the police, mounted and on foot. The people in front of the moving mass had no desire to overcome the police, but they were impelled forward by those behind. In Princes Street at Waverley Bridge, they came into contact with a closely-packed stationary crowd which had not yet had time to disperse. For a short period the greatest confusion reigned, and there seemed an imminent risk of severe crushing and trampling. By the strenuous efforts of the police, however, the tension was relaxed, and the overwhelming mass of people gradually ­dissolved.

There was a perfect forest of bannerettes; there were quantities of inscribed banners carried on two poles and there was quite a selection of imposing standards. All were in suffragist colours: purple, white a green. The triple tints were everywhere. No two banners had the same inscription. “What’s guid for John is guid for Janet” had its ­obvious hint.

As has been indicated, great crowds lined both sides of the route, which was by Bruntsfield Place, Tollcross, Lothian Road and Princes Street to Waverley Market.

When the procession ­finally arrived there was symptom of enthusiasm. An excited hum of ­conversation and comment arose, but there was none of the cheering and no exhibition of the feeling which a demonstration on behalf of any of the parties in politics was bound to have elicited.

Scene in Waverley Market - police called in

When the first of the processionists arrived at the Waverley Market few persons were inside the large hall, which had been specially fitted up for the accommodation of the suffragists and their supporters.

There was no attempt at decoration beyond some pretty paintings, which formed the screens at each end of the platform, and a profuse display of the colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union hung from the roof. Seating accommodation for over a thousand persons had been provided, and all the seats in this barricaded area were filled. Outside the barriers there was a large crowd, and it was estimated that altogether there was in the meeting between 4000-5000.

Punctually at four o’clock, Mrs Pankhurst and the other members of the platform party took their places. Mingled with the cheering was a considerable volume of booing from the back of the hall.

A good deal of jostling went on at the rear of the hall. Mrs Pankhurst intervened and counselled the audience not to trouble about a “handful of irresponsible boys”. The “irresponsible boys,” however, were not easily put down. They rushed the barrier placed round the reserved seats, and a large number of ladies in the vicinity were badly crushed.