so, inspired by all that mancunian heritage and an invitation by miss anne malone, a young bluestocking about town, we promptly nipped off to the suffragette city tour the very next week. we have been meaning to go on one of these Urbis Wednesday walks for ages but prior commitments have so far prevented it. not this time though - arrangements were confirmed and a whole morning of howling wind and rain wasn’t going to put us off. after all, women had chained themselves to railings, been carted off to prison and force fed with tubes so that we could take an unfettered hour and a half stroll around town, so brave the uncertain weather we must. undaunted we booked our places, met our guide in the foyer of urbis and set out to discover a century of everyday stories of the radical women of manchester, women just like you and me.
the most enjoyable aspect of the whole experience was the informality of it all. maybe it was the fact that we were the only 2 people to take the tour that afternoon, maybe it was the enthusiasm of our guide but what most struck me was that this was not so much an account of the pankhursts and their epoch changing campaigns but more a commemoration of the legions of less socially prominent women toiling away behind the scenes who nurtured and sustained the movement; everyday heroines and activists every one. as ever it seems that behind the headlines and illustrious figures of any story there lie fascinating tales of everyday people achieving extraordinary things…
our guide led us all the way to kendals before beginning the ‘official’ trail, perhaps a deliberate ploy to foster the bond and camaraderie that can result from the simple but unusual act of strolling about, making small talk with strangers – itself a quietly revolutionary act, given that urban life is by and large characterised by a studious avoidance of other people’s existence! whatever the reason, by the time we had reached our first stop on the tour, the ice had been broken and we had each shared anecdotes on the subject of the city as it is and has been experienced for women past and present.
i don’t want to spoil suffragette city for those of you planning to attend it – and I know all you bluestockings both male and female are eager to – so im not going to transcribe it here. besides, depending on who turns up on the day and their unique input, its likely to become a subtly different version every time, each recollection and personal experience adding to the depth and power of this never ending tale of the city.
still I cant resist piquing your appetite with one or two fascinating snippets, such as:
back pool fold off cross street and next to sams chop house was for a long time the site of the town’s ducking stool. this murky pond and its notorious stool was reserved for the regular punishment of ‘lewd women and scolds’, the latter a common term in the 17th and 18th century for noisy and troublesome women!
in 1845 frederick engels was guided around manchester by mary burns who lived in the slum district around deansgate. this young textile worker was to introduce engels and the entire marx family to a side of the city they would never have gained access to by themselves. one could argue that this working class chartist kick started the whole socialist manifesto and revolution…
3 unrepentant suffragettes were arrested in 1913 following repeated attacks on 13 paintings in the city art gallery with hammers.
in the mid 1990’s 'reclaim the night' campaigners created a literal sit-in outside the town hall, gloriously subverting the institutional municipal space of albert square into a giant living room with an array of domestic props such as arm chairs and settees!
suffragette city is a beautiful idea, based on the premise that woven into the pavements, bricks, mortar, perhaps the very air of manchester, is a tradition of activism and desire for social change that has repercussions for us all today. it reveals the city as a springboard for the women’s suffrage movement, a location ripe for the single mindedness of the pankhurst family, but offers this not as the end of the story but merely the start of a journey through more than a hundred years of female radicalism, great and small, historical and contemporary….
highly recommended! offer open to gents too of course...