Discovering the Bow Palace site of the Great Suffrage Demonstration

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 Palace Demonstration Suffragettes 1912
The poster for the ‘Great Suffrage Demonstration’

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. It was however this act which brought Sylvia Pankhurst into the area. It was she who would 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? It sounds so grand! Where was this building where great demonstrations would be held. This palace in which great campaign speeches would be orated?

george lansbury
George Lansbury resigned from his seat in parliament to fight on a platform of Votes for Women in 1912.

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 boldy 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. The effects of bombing in the 40’s accounting for much of the areas rapid evolution since 1912.

THE PALACES OF BOW

As it happens there are a number of places which could have been the location. These were also known as Palaces. The People’s Palace in Mile End was one such place. 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.

Pic 12. Bow Station c.1928
The old Bow Station around 1928. In the 1950’s the second floor would be known as the Bow Palais

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. 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. Then the venues grand ballroom become one of the key places to hang out in the East End.

Another place which actually went by the name of the ‘Old Palace‘ was 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.

old palace bromley
A section of the Old Palace of Bromley still survives in the V&A Museum. This panelled room was saved and is now on display. Picture copyright of the V&A Museum

The Real Bow Palace

The real Bow Palace though actually started out as a pub. Albeit a pub which has had a number of extensions over the years. In 1912 it was best known as the ‘Three Cups Public House‘. The Palace itself was a music hall. Built onto the back it become known as the Palace Theatre or the ‘Bow Palace’. It then underwent a number of other iterations before finally becoming the Regal Cinema in 1935. It eventually closed in 1958. The last film shown was ‘The Sun Also Rises‘ which starred Errol Flynn.

Situated at 156 Bow Road. It stood opposite where the Statue of Gladstone is now in front of Bow Church. The area would have looked very different. Just a little bit further down the road on the same side of the street would have been number 198 where Sylvia Pankhurst first set up shop for the Votes for Women campaign. The building 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.

bow palace
A turn of the century photograph of Bow Road. The Bow Palace would have been the grand building on the right

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.

One of the only pictures I could find of the old Regal Cinema. Formerly the Bow Palace

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