Herstory Walks - Palm House, & The Liverpool Suffragettes

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Palm House is a beautiful Grade II* listed building located in Sefton Park, Liverpool. Gifted to the city in 1896 by Henry Yates Thompson, this iconic Joseph Paxton style glasshouse is often described as the jewel of the park. Surrounded by palm trees and exotic flowers visitors can soak up the calm and tranquil atmosphere whilst enjoying refreshments in the beautiful café. Palm House is a stunning venue for weddings, music festivals, craft fayres and much more. It's one of my favourite places in Liverpool.

If I had to choose a theme tune to reflect Palm House’s history – my choice would be I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. Badly damaged during the May Blitz of 1941, followed by years of decline, the Palm House's journey has not been an easy one. Before the blitz and neglect, in the Autumn of 1913 Palm House faced its first challenge in the form of an attack planned by the notorious women’s rights campaigners – the Suffragettes.

Suffragette Target

In November 1913 an unexploded bomb was discovered on the porch of Palm House. The bomb failed to ignite because the fuse had been blown out by the stormy weather. The Liverpool branch of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) never formally claimed the attack, however, its universally accepted WSPU were the perpetrators. Suffragette promotional literature was found on the steps and the timing of the incident coincided with other WSPU attacks in Liverpool and across the country.

Liverpool Militancy

Other attacks in Liverpool included a fire at the school on Greenbank Drive, destruction of the choir stalls at St Anne’s Church Aigburth, vandalism at the Liverpool Exhibition and a failed bomb attack on the Stock Exchange in Liverpool City Centre. Despite the increase in the violence monetary donations to Liverpool WSPU increased and local support for the Liverpool suffragettes grew.

Possible Perpetrator – Actress – Kitty Marrion

Historic England asserts that the attack on Palm House may have been carried out by radical London based suffragette Kitty Marion. To describe Kitty as a committed Suffragette would be an understatement. Arrested and imprisoned on several occasions her dedication to ‘The Cause’ (the term used by WSPU to describe the fight for the vote) never wavered. As a regular hunger striker Kitty was subjected to many force-feeding sessions. On one occasion in protest to being force fed Kitty used gas lamp to set fire to her prison cell.

Kitty carried out many extreme acts of violence on behalf of the WSPU. She maintained a record of the arson attacks she had carried out in a personal scrapbook. This makeshift ‘diary’ also contained newspaper articles regarding suspected WSPU bomb attacks. Historian Fern Riddell, writer of Kitty Marion: Death in Ten Minutes: The forgotten life of radical suffragette believes that Kitty is subtly taking responsibility for the Suffragette bomb attacks through her scrap book.

Kitty had friends in Liverpool and press cuttings of the Palm House attack were found in her scrapbook. Using Fern Riddell’s rationale alongside the fact Kitty had links to the city – Historic England’s assertion that Kitty Marion carried out the attack on Palm House is a compelling one.

My Palm House Journey

My Palm House Journey

In February 2018, to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act (1918) (the law that gave some women the right to vote) I created a presentation on the history of the suffrage movement for Palm House. It was during my research for this, that I discovered the attempted bombing in November 1913.

I’ll admit I was shocked and a little saddened by my discovery. On an intellectual level I have always been aware of the more extreme acts carried out by the WSPU, however, the fact that this event was close to home and involved a building I cherish, it affected me on a personal level.

As much as I admire the women of the suffrage movement, I must recognise that some of their actions were problematic and remember that historical enquiry is not always comfortable. Historic moments like the Suffragette attack on Palm House are often lost or hidden away in historical archives. By discovering the attack on Palm House, I gained a greater understanding of the Merseyside Suffrage movement, I re - adjusted my position on the suffragettes and gained a greater appreciation for a beautiful building.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Palm House and its amazing team, as they provided me with an opportunity to re-ignite my passion for women’s history and share my love of suffrage history with the world.

Happy #suffragesaturday!

More information about Sefton Park Palm House can be found

Learn more the Liverpool Suffrage Movement

Mrs Brown is a Man and a Brother: Women in Merseyside's Political Organisations 1890-1920 by Krista Cowman

Learn more about Kitty Marrion

Kitty Marion: Death in Ten Minutes: The forgotten life of radical suffragette by Fern Riddell

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