A giant mural of Sylvia Pankhurst has been painted onto the side of a pub in Bow. The location couldn’t be more appropriate. Sylvia had actually lived in the house next to the pub for ten years between 1914 to 1924.
A leading suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst formed the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) and based their activities in Bow. She would have known the area well. Moving into the house which would have been 400 Old Ford Road to stay with her friend Norah Smyth. We’ve written a lot about the suffragettes in the East End. You can learn more about the wider campaign here.
The Women’s Hall in Bow
The house soon found itself getting an extension and at the back a ‘Women’s Hall‘ was built. It was from here that the ELFS would be able to finally meet in peace. That is without the authorities trying to constantly disrupt their meetings. It was something which they were prone to do. Especially when those meetings were held in public halls. Many suffragettes at the time led a precarious existence. The likes of Sylvia often finding themselves at risk of arrest.
It wasn’t just a meeting place though. At the outbreak of the first world war the poor of the East End found themselves destitute. The men went to war and as a result factories closed and income was lost. The lost money was not replaced. The government’s administrative systems were simply not up to the task of providing respite. It meant that many women felt the brunt of running the home. Often having to do anything they could do to make ends meat. Many were plunged into desperate poverty as prices of basic goods and services rocketed on account of the war.
Sylvia Pankhurst Mural
The women’s hall then found itself diversifying. The campaign led by Sylvia Pankhurst for the vote found itself focusing more on social justice and improving the lot of people in the East End of London. As a result free milk started to be distributed from the hall. It also became a cost-price restaurant providing meals to many. It was an often cheaper alternative than buying the now sometimes prohibitively expensive raw materials and cooking it themselves.
This is just part of the story of the work that Sylvia Pankhurst did when she moved into the area. Campaigning not only for the vote but for social change. The mural on the side of the Lord Morpeth, shows a giant portrait of Sylvia looking out over the Old Ford Road. She will have known it well. The mural is flanked with two other common images of the leading suffragette. One selling the Women’s Dreadnought newspaper. The other issuing a rallying cry atop a cart in the heart of old Bow.
Jerome Davenport is the artist, he has spent six full days preparing and painting the mural. It’s not been great weather wise either. The Australian born artist who now lives in Bethnal Green has had to put up with all the elements that London in March has to offer.
We actually met Jerome, who paints under the name of ketones6000, as we arranged to have a wander around the area prior to painting the mural of Sylvia Pankhurst. We toured some of the locations in Bow where the suffragettes would have campaigned and lived. Wandering from Bow Road, up past the road more commonly known as the Roman, onto Old Ford Road and back again. The area is steeped in history. You can’t really tell it now as so much has changed. But this was a key location in the history of the suffragette movement.
Painting the Mural of Sylvia Pankhurst
Working into the night with only a scissor lift for company. He first created the image using photoshop before re-creating it on the wall. Using available historical images he first created a montage. Then used that as the reference for when painting the wall itself. Using spray cans to actually create the mural. He would often need to sneak a glance down to the screen of his phone to double check that he was on the right track.
So Bow finally has an acknowledgment of it’s suffragette past. Around the area there is the odd plaque detailing a few locations where notable activities took place. Other than that there is no obvious celebration to a movement which was powered by the working women of the East End. That is, there was no other obvious celebration until now.
The Suffragette mural on the side of the Lord Morpeth pub was visited a number of times between 7 March 2018 and 13 March 2018. Our tour with Jerome Davenport took place in February and we also interviewed him at the pub on 11 March 2018.
Suffragette Mural Gallery
For more articles about the Suffragettes of the East End of London have a look at:
Sylvia Pankhurst Walking Tour around the East End
The Bow Palace, Site of the Great Suffrage Demonstration
Thanks for such an interesting article.