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Archive library offers chance to find out if your ancestor was an East End suffragette

PUBLISHED: 18:00 13 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:48 14 September 2018

Suffragettes sell their newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnaught, which was printed and published in Bow. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive

Suffragettes sell their newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnaught, which was printed and published in Bow. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive

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A family history event is being staged to help anyone who thinks their ancestors may have been East End suffragettes fighting for votes for women more than 100 years ago.

Sylvia Pankhurst mural on wall of Morpeth Arms pub in Bow where she set up wartime distress centre for women in 1915. Picture source: Tower Hamlets ArchiveSylvia Pankhurst mural on wall of Morpeth Arms pub in Bow where she set up wartime distress centre for women in 1915. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive

Talks are being held on Saturday at Tower Hamlets Archive library at Mile End during the morning to find out more about the campaign.

Stalls and displays are being put up and visitors can bring laptops or tablets to use the library’s online family history resources.

Workshops run from 10am, followed by the East End History Club’s drop-in session at 2pm exploring women’s lives in the 20th century.

It is part of a series marking the centenary year of women’s votes in 1918 that also tells the story of Sylvia Pankurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes which set up in Bow in 1912, first in a converted butcher’s shop in the Old Ford Road, then a mission hall and a public house.

Sylvia Pankurst... suffragette leader who set up her campaign in London's East End. Picture source: Sylvia Pankhurst TrustSylvia Pankurst... suffragette leader who set up her campaign in London's East End. Picture source: Sylvia Pankhurst Trust

One highlight of the series is a Saturday garden party on September 22 from 12 noon to 5pm at the Clarion Estate next to the Lord Morpeth pub, where Pankurst established a cost-price community café and a ‘distress’ centre during the first World War.

The centre helped women struggling to pay the rent with their menfolk away at the Front or killed in action and was used as a meeting place, café and venue for jumble sales and a job exchange.

The library in Bancroft Road is staging an exhibition until October 22, about projects like the co-operative toy factory, health clinic, and a nursery in the Morpeth which Pankhurst renamed the Mothers’ Arms.

“This exhibition and public programme shows how important it is to continue the legacy of the suffragettes,” Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs said. “We are proud of the East End’s rich history of campaigning for the rights of women and the less privileged.”

1915... Speech to crowd outside East London Federation of Suffragettes HQ in Old Ford Road. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive1915... Speech to crowd outside East London Federation of Suffragettes HQ in Old Ford Road. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive

The exhibition funded by Heritage Lottery evokes the Suffragettes’ headquarters in a former Baptist mission which was renamed ‘The Women’s Hall’. Objects and archive materials on display include a rare teddy bear made in the co-operative toy factory behind Roman Road that Pankhurst set up to give jobs to mothers struggling to make ends meet during the First World War when their husbands were abroad.

The suffragettes also published their own newspaper, The Woman’s Dreadnought, using a local printer in the Roman Road.

Author Rachel Kolsky is also leading a guided tour on October 6 following in the footsteps of Sylvia Pankhurst.

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