Crying at The Flix

I  was privileged to have belonged to Clapham Film Unit for a while and to have done some research at the LSE and on the Internet into the Women’s Peace Movement.(WILF). Many people including Guardian readers do not know that women activists went to the Hague in 1915 to try to stop WW1. They weren’t all knitting for the troops. They were rather posh though. Clapham Film Unit empowered women to make a film about Tilbury Dock and to dress up and be seen. It was good. Women through Up Your Street came along and they were ones who had  opposed passively the Women’s Liberation Movement in the sixties. or not been in the UK then and saw politics as trouble. We all learnt together. We published stories about women in 1915.

Today went  like this…

Me “No. No. I don’t feel like going to watch a women and angst film”.

Daughter “Oh go and enjoy yourself”.

Oh dear. thinking positive,  I accepted the challenge and went for my first visit to the Empire in Walthamstow E17. The website was a little unhelpful but finally I knew I could see “Suffragette” for a fiver. Only one person I know had seen it and she was impressed because the story was through the life of a working class woman. (So? Remember “Dagenham”?) I knew the W I in Redbridge had gone as a group to celebrate themselves in Stratford east.

It was raining and the cinema at 12.30 was pretty empty. Plush but empty. One commentator on the Guardian review had said that older people would be more inclined to like the film. Bloomin’ cheek. But apart from one restless pregnant customer we were all old. Mind you, look at the time; hardly the lounging hour.

The film’s opening is powerful because of the music and the close-ups and bird’s eye views of machinery in a Bethnal Green laundry in 1912. I perked up. My grandmother to my shame worked in a laundry in 1912. Silly me not imagining how it really was.  You know, wash boards and soap. Curiously the working women in the blockbuster never wear head coverings whilst working at the machines and over the tubs. Fired up I remembered that my grandfather met nanny whilst he worked in a chemist’s. Woohoo. The Suffragette women in the film spent time meeting and planning in a pharmacy. But actually for most of the film I wondered what my female ancestors did for the cause. I am old enough to have been in the situation where a husband banned me from doing much because my feminist ways would shame him. My sister couldn’t even buy a new bra until her husband had decided the elastic was spent.  We evolved. In the auditorium I spent time sucking my Tesco chocolate thinking of women worldwide.

The camera work may have been innovative but was pretty annoying. Still if it had been slower the film would have been draggier. The whooshing shots helped to heighten the thrust of the violence and to be honest the force-feeding scene was more 18 than 12A.

After the story line was set with the usual run of  characters representing the lower class;  there’s a nasty boss,  a  hubby unable to work out child care, foul-mouthed workers, the beaten wife and so on  then the rest was sentimental slosh.

Yes the music was grand. The Empire is grand and better at welcoming than Hackney Picture House. If you say the word “Senior” the staff talk louder and slower. No magic cup of tea appears though. That’s at 11 am.

At Chapel Cinema in Bethnal Green next Tuesday on offer for free is “West Side Story”.

Cinema at its best.


These Dangerous Women

Clapham Film Unit with Lottery Heritage money is doing a project called “These Dangerous Women”.

Now as Bryn might say on “Gavin and Stacey” “I have got my knickers in a twist”.

I went along with five women from Up Your Street to an excellent training session in researching women who were prominent in 1915 in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Clapham Film Unit was running it in the LSE library, Holborn. There we were a mixed and ethnically diverse group representing Black African women, Black Caribbean ones, Indian, British Celtic, and Indian Oceanic types.

Now, let me introduce you to Dr Joyce Blackwell. She wrote about the ways that Black women aka women of Color were not recorded as being that in the annals of WILPF archives. 2014 here we are.

There was a trip to Tilbury Docks last week and that was the place where in 1915 Peace Suffragettes left Britain to get to The Hague to voice their protest for peace during WW1.

I have learnt loads and watched as a colleague on the workshop, a woman from Up Your Street who says openly that women should cook for their husbands, ordered a book about Isabella Ford from Kensington library and went on to read it on the Piccadilly Line today.

I learnt what WILPF stood for. I learnt that LSE didn’t want me to join their library.

I felt I wasn’t really welcome as a participant at Tilbury and that anyway I would have to get an outfit for the event by the week before the Tilbury film shoot which “would be very physically demanding”.  Costume? Where? Money? What? I learnt after the event that there was a costumier for the Project. Who knew?

The women of colour were not invited.

Today the photos from the event were published online. The photographs by Anna Watson are beautiful. The participants in the shoot are white white women. The project is white white women.

Oh,  missed opportunity!

On the day of the shoot, I busied myself supporting MUSEfest, a women’s festival about women and mothers who make waves in music and who inspire others through music. I had joined up with younger feminists. I was supporting actively a charity which currently promotes an international charter for safe childbirth for every mother globally. The African and Asian women who had two weeks ago dipped into the territory of “these dangerous women” made food for the musicians. They don’t talk about the experience at Clapham Film Unit workshop . They cannot identify with the Tilbury women of 1915 because there is no-one in the manuscripts or in the pictures past and present who look like them.

The Tilbury actors  have not had the opportunity either to engage with and consider the herstories of women with different heritages who, back in the day, flew the orange flag for the same causes; peace and freedom.

If the project were to engage the community then my community has not been engaged.

A day of wars.

St Pauls’ Crypt was most sedate today, not full of thronging crowds for a while and it had a lovely golden glow. Huge plane tree leaves had settled on the stone steps leading down to the Wren Suite where Up Your Streeters had been booked in for a talk about how St Paul’s was protected during The Blitz. There were artefacts too. I had to leave to show my face at the London School of Economics Library in Portugal Street Holborn area. All I smelt was corn on the cob as I  avoided stoooodents with their disposables full of corn and whatever can be spiced and sold. It was dinner time.

I needed to get to the Library to show willing for a last minute worry-laden group booking with the Clapham Film Unit. I went on ahead whilst the other women could grab a black taxi to get to the course in time after they’d enjoyed St Paul’s talk. Which they did.

Today’s learning was promised to be all about the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom aka WILPF , said like that, and that learning would be conducted through research through The Women’s Library archives from 1915. It’s a pertinent project because all the glory days of WW1 and all the media coverage of carnage are commemorated this year but peace missions are certainly not.

What a bunch we were today made up of CND supporters, oral herstorians, women with years of experience of Feminist ideologies and actions, those with knowledge of banners, badges and ribbon colours, and recently trained East London Docks’ researchers

mrs barton

The process involves choosing a WILPF member from back in the day and finding out more. We,  Jill Public, research, hand in our work then stand back as someone produces a documentary showing us dressed to heal, spouting militant and sensible herstorical  speeches. Then we get a trip to Tilbury Docks. Yay!.lse ang and rad

Homework done.

“My husband Alfred whom I married in 1894 was just twelve when he went to work in a public library where he was born in Bedfordshire. His father, my father-in-law, was a foundry worker. I was born Stockton. My parents and family called me Nellie. Alf was my brother Herbert’s best friend.  I went along to Socialist League meetings at Preston Gates in Manchester which were quasi-anarchist meetings I was always with my brother and Alf so was chaperoned if you like. Alfred worked as  a clerk and my brother was an odd-job man. Later he was an industrial insurance agent running a draper’s shop too. Bert went to prison because of his fight for free speech.

                    Alf and I moved to Sheffield in 1897. I was only 25 then. By that time I was calling myself an Anarchist-Communist like Bert and Alf liked to be known. They were two brave men everyone said. George Cores, an anarchist organiser in London said I was “charming”.
                   I was born in 1872 just after the first women’s suffrage committee was formed and I married when I was 22. Alfred died when he was about 65 in 1933 and I emigrated to New Zealand. I can’t remember if I went from Tilbury Dock or not.
                At the ripe old age of 48 I was the first woman to be elected to Sheffield Council. At the same time Nancy Astor was the first woman to get into Parliament. I stood as Labour candidate for Attercliffe in the 1920 council elections in Sheffield. Of course Attercliffe was where women’s suffrage was already aired. We women activists because that’s what we were, called ourselves “sisters” or “Beloved sisters”.
                   I had been the secretary of the Brightside and Carbrook’s Hillsborough branch. That was a branch of the Sheffield Cooperative Movement. I was in The Women’s Cooperative Guild. Now that started in 1885 three years mind before even men had the vote. I rose up to become a director of the Sheffield Co-op.
               On the 4th August 1914, I was at the second anti-war for peace rally in Kingsway Hall, London and as president of the Women’s Cooperative Movement I addressed the audience. It was 100% a successful meeting. Keir Hardie got it all underway. Other speakers were Lawrence, Fawcett, Cadbury and others. I stood for peace and for working women, co-operation and the Labour Movement. There were plenty of us working women about. They billed me as “A worker for the workers”. I was honoured to be called that.
                                                                                                          researched by Gillian Lawrence. Nov 2014
References:- Sarah Irving in
                    S.Tumis        The British Women’s Peace Movement in Late Edwardian and Victorian Society.
David Stockton (England) – 2014 at Amazon reviews
I bought this as Eleanor Barton was my Great Aunt. Gillian Scott has gone to a lot of trouble to trace the history of the WCG and explains many things that are forgotten now about the women’s movement and womens issues. The WCG starts is 1885 before the MEN had the vote(1888 for half the men and they could only vote for the sons of lords in parliament.) She explains the problems that after the WOMEN got the vote it was necessary to aline with parliamentary politics and not only be a women’s movement. Very good book and if G. Scott is reading this thank you very much for writing it. It must have taken a couple of years work.”