On 24 November 1912 Sylvia Pankhurst and George Lansbury held what was described as a ‘Great Suffrage Demonstration’ at Bow in the heart of the East End. A poster at the time advertised the event. Purple, Green and White it described it as a ‘Fight To Win’ and it was to be at the grandly named Bow Palace!
Part of the by-election campaign for the seat of Bow and Bromley, Lansbury had forced the vote after originally winning his seat for the Independent Labour Party in 1910. Dismayed however with the failure of parliament to deal seriously with the issue of women’s suffrage, he resigned and fought the by-election on the issue of Votes for Women.
Bow and Bromley By-Election of 1912
Lansbury, who in later life would become Labour leader, failed to win back his seat. He lost to a Conservative called Reginald Blair by 751 votes on 26 November 1912. It was however this act which had brought Sylvia Pankhurst into the area to help campaign for him. It was she who would then stay and eventually form the East London Federation of the Suffragettes.
But that’s just the back story. We’ve covered the history of the East London Suffragettes extensively before here on Inspiring City. Instead, what we are really interested in here is the location. Just where was the Bow Palace? Where was this building where great demonstrations would be held? This palace in which great campaign speeches would be orated?
Search for the Bow Palace
It’s not as straightforward as it seems. Look in the archives for the Bow Palace and the place isn’t immediately obvious. The poster actually pronounces the location boldly as being on the Bow Road. It will have been well known at the time but then so much is different now. The area has changed extensively with slum clearances in the 30’s and the effects of bombing in the 40’s accounting for much of the areas rapid evolution since 1912. That said there were have been a number of buildings that may at one point have been known as the Bow Palace.
The People’s Palace – Mile End
The People’s Palace in Mile End was one such place and the first in our list. Completed in 1892 it was intended to provide recreation, culture, amusement, sport, training and education to the people of East London. The Palace’s Queens Hall burnt down in 1931 and then rebuilt with much more of a focus on education. The building now is part of Queen Mary’s University. The building despite being known as the people’s palace would have been known and used in 1912. However it wasn’t in Bow despite being not far away and so wasn’t the location of the Great Suffrage Demonstration.
Bow Station and the Bow Palais – Bow Road
The old Bow Station is the next option. A domineering and grand building on the Bow Road. It would have been at the heart of the Bow community. Certainly it played host to a number of society’s and institutes over the years. In later years it was known as the Bow Palais which would have been pronounced the Bow Palace. That was in the 1950’s though. At this time the venues once grand ballroom would become one of the key places to hang out in the East End. So here, despite it being known by many as the Bow Palace, it was at least 40 years after the events of 1912 and the Great Suffrage Demonstration.
Old Palace – Bromley by Bow
Another place which actually went by the name of the ‘Old Palace‘ once stood nearby in Bromley By Bow. Built in 1606 it was however demolished in 1894 a good few years before the events of 1912. One of the rooms of the Old Palace was saved. Re-assembled at the V&A museum in South Kensington. There is a tradition that James I used to come into the area and use the building as a hunting lodge. It’s not that fanciful either. The area would have been rural and the gentry would often come out from the city to take in the air. So no link at all to the Great Suffrage Demonstration but still once known as a palace.
Palace Theatre – Bow Road
The real Bow Palace though actually started out as a pub called the ‘Three Cups‘. Built in 1811 it experienced a number of re-developments. First in 1855 a Music Hall was added to the back and it become known as Marlow’s Music Hall. It was then rebuilt in 1892 and became the Eastern Empire Theatre though from 1903 to 1917 it was known as the Palace Theatre. For the locals it became known as the Bow Palace despite that name never having been it’s official title at the time. In 1923 it was once again redeveloped and this time the name given to it was the Bow Palace. Undoubtedly a recognition of the fact that this is what the locals knew the building to be.
The last hurrah of the building that was once the Bow Palace began in 1935 when it was once again re-developed. This time becoming the Regal Cinema. Bomb damage during the war forced it’s closure only to open again in 1947. Finally the Regal Cinema closed on 11 January 1958 before finally being demolished in 1960. The last film shown was ‘The Sun Also Rises‘ which starred Errol Flynn.
Site of the Great Suffrage Demonstration
Situated at 156 Bow Road this was the site of that Great Suffrage Demonstration in 1912. The Bow Palace would have stood opposite where the Statue of Gladstone is now in front of Bow Church. Just a little bit further down the road on the same side of the street would have been number 198 Bow Road where Sylvia Pankhurst first set up shop for the Votes for Women campaign. The Bow Palace would have been used a number of other times. It became one of the locations in which to hold rallies promoting the cause of universal suffrage.
In later years, people would look back fondly on the cinema before it’s demolition in 1960. It was to be another time of change in the area. Council planning now looked to build modern high rise developments with preservation not top of the list. It’s location on the corner of Bow Road and Bromley High Street is now taken by a block of social housing. This is also true of much of the area once occupied by the old Bow village. The Bow Palace, remembered through the promotions of a time long past is now just a fading memory.