Published: 09 March, 2012
by PAVAN AMARA
THE suffragettes were a formidable fighting force – in more ways than one. The leaders of the fight for women’s votes had their own elite bodyguard, trained in jujitsu, to protect them from the police. Among these elite minders was Edith Garrud, who spent most of her life in Islington, and is to be honoured by an Islington People’s plaque.
Edith’s great-nephew Martin Williams, who helped found Caledonian Road’s Gay and Lesbian Switchboard in 1974, and was treasurer from 1986 until 2010, says he learned lessons living in the shadow of a great-aunt who “inspired” him.
“Edith was born in Bath to Clara Williams and the Bath Journal’s newspaper proprietor John Williams in 1872,” having spent the past few years researching his great-aunt, he said.
“But she was born out of wedlock, which was a sort of social death to a middle-class family in those days. She was sent to live with her aunt in Islington, but when she went to school, she was picked on by the other kids. She became a rolling stone, her childhood developed a sense of fight within her.”
When Edith was 23, she married Evan Jones. Shortly afterwards, the couple met Japanese jujitsu instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi in Soho.
Edith become one of the world’s first female martial arts instructors, running a club in Seven Sisters Road. Her first dojo – place to train – was a rented room in the new Palladium Academy, which was a school for dancers in Argyll Street.
“The whole strategy of the suffragettes was that they would create a group around the main leaders like Emmeline Pankhurst, and when the police tried to get close they’d fend them off using the jujitsu Edith taught them.”
A 1910 issue of Punch portrays a cartoon image of Edith singlehandedly tackling six policemen.
Holloway Prison’s security staff also knew Edith well, because she would regularly climb the top of the outside wall of the prison, where many suffragettes were held, sing protest songs, and wave the flag of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
She gave jujitsu displays at suffragette meetings held at Caxton Hall, taking on ever-curious newspaper reporters, policemen, or anyone who dared cross her. She took over her former instructor Uyenishi’s Golden Square dojo.
“She didn’t want people to know Golden Square was a dojo, so she was very pleased to have it in the posh end of town because people were less likely to suspect. The suffragettes would create a disturbance in Oxford Street, but then they’d run back to the dojo and hide their clubs and bats under the floor. By the time the police arrived they’d be pretending they were in the middle of their exercise class.”
Edith, who died in 1971, had three children – Owen, Sybil and John – and six grandchildren. In 1950s her and husband Evan left her, but they remained legally married, and both went on to have separate relationships.
“With the women’s movement, it was baby steps forward,” Martin said. “First it was only women over 30, and then eventually all women got the right to vote. That’s a bit like the gay rights movement, and my great-aunt’s story is testament that we need to keep driving forward for equality. I had a civil partnership six years ago. That must have been how Edith felt when she was in her 20s and got her first vote. We still have further to go on both fronts though.”
During the 1970s, Martin began to feel “a sense of déjà vu” as he began attending gay rights marches through central London in the same locations Edith had fought for women’s legal equality. “I couldn’t help but think she was doing exactly the same thing in Trafalgar Square only a few decades earlier,” he said. “I began to feel a strong affinity with her, because we both felt like toughened up outsiders. She wasn’t happy to be the little woman at home, and I wasn’t happy to live in a world that didn’t accept me.”
Martin says Edith’s addresses included Thornhill Square, Canonbury, and the Angel, combined with short stints in Hackney that always saw her return to Islington.
Andrew Johnson looks at the People’s Plaques shortlist
A STALWART trade union activist who worked tirelessly to right miscarriages of justice has found himself in the company of other leading Islington lights such as the fashion designer Alexander McQueen, inventor Michael Faraday and the first life coach, Isabella Beeton.
They have all been shortlisted for the next round of People’s Plaques – the green plaques the Town Hall erects to the notable residents and places of the borough chosen by a public vote.
The shortlist – from which three plaques will be chosen – includes the following:
• Jack Kennedy, who died in 2003, lived in Drayton Park, was a prominent figure in the campaigns to free the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, men who were wrongly convicted for IRA pub bombings in the 1970s. He was born in Tipperary in Ireland in 1935 and on moving to Islington with his family became a well-known member of the Irish community and a longstanding activist for construction site safety. He was also a prominent member of the Islington North Labour Party.
• Artist Cyril Mann, whose friends and family have had a longstanding campaign for his memory to be honoured. The painter and sculptor, who died in 1980 aged 69, lived in Bevin Court, Cruikshank Street, and is known for his work in exploring sunlight.
• Fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010. McQueen, who lived in Highbury, was chief designer at Givenchy and won four British Designer of the Year Awards.
• Isabella Beeton. Born in the City of London, her Book of Household Management became a standard practical guide to running a Victorian home, giving advice on everything from fashion to childcare, as well as recipes. Born in 1836, she died in 1865.
• The Angel Inn. Now the Coop on the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road, the public house was first recorded in 1614 but probably dates back to the 15th century. It was painted by Hogarth, and mentioned by Charles Dickens in his works including Oliver Twist.
• Catherine Griffiths. A suffragette and women’s rights campaigner, who died in 1988 aged 103. She was notorious for trying to break into the House of Commons to plant nails in Lloyd George’s seat, but also served as a councillor between 1937 and 1965 with a year as mayor in 1960 to 1961 after moving to Finsbury after the First World War.
• Michael Faraday. A pioneer of electricity and magnetism, he lived in Barnsbury Grove from 1862. He was born in 1791 and died in 1867.
• Bombing of Dame Alice Owen’s School. The basement of the school, then in Goswell Road, was used as an air raid shelter during the Blitz in 1940. On October 15, it suffered a direct hit and 100 people were killed.
• Alexander Aubert. Lived in Highbury House from the 1780s and built a large observatory on the site. He was well-regarded as an amateur astronomer and was friends with George III and Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.
He was born in 1730 and died in 1805.
• The White Conduit Cricket Club. The forerunner to the Marylebone Cricket Club, the White Conduit, founded in the 1780s near Chapel Market, can be said to be the birth place of the English sport.
• Florence Keen. In 1913, 10 per cent of children in Islington died before the age of five. Keen helped change that by founding the North Islington Infant Welfare Centre and School for Mothers in Holloway. By 1920 it had educated more than 12000 mothers about disease prevention. Now known as the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust, it continues to provide healthcare in Islington. Keen was born in 1868 and died in 1942.
• Wessex Sound Studios. The former church hall of St Augustine’s Church in Highbury New Park became a recording studio from the 1960s to 2003. The Clash’s London Calling was one of the significant recordings made in the studio, which also hosted The Sex Pistols, Queen and the Rolling Stones.
Vote for your favourite at www.islington.gov.uk/peoplesplaque by April 10. The top three will have plaques erected.