I am delighted to be the next stop on The Tin God blog tour today. For my stop I have fascinating guest post by the author. Hope you enjoy.
When Superintendent Tom Harper’s wife is threatened during an election campaign, the hunt for the attacker turns personal.
Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Harper is proud of his wife Annabelle. She’s one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian. But even as the campaign begins, Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home.
The threats escalate into outright violence when an explosion rips through the church hall where Annabelle is due to hold a meeting – with fatal consequences. The only piece of evidence Harper has is a scrap of paper left at the scene containing a fragment from an old folk song. But what is its significance?
As polling day approaches and the attacks increase in menace and intensity, Harper knows he’s in a race against time to uncover the culprit before more deaths follow. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal …
Leeds – along with Manchester – spearheaded the long struggle towards women’s rights in the 19th century. In fact, it all began here, in 1832, when Mary Smith petitioned Parliament for women to receive the vote, an idea which was laughed out of the House of Commons.
The huge 1866 Petition to Parliament included many signatures from Leeds, quite a few of them from working-class women, including a cleaner and a cow catcher’s wife.
By the 1870s, Leeds had its first woman on the School Board, Mrs. Catherine Buckton, and groups were established where women could gather and talk politics, a kind of early safe space.
Leeds had its own Women’s Suffrage Society, which would be relaunched in the 1890s, but by the 1880s, there was an integration of women, unions, and Socialism. One of the leading figures was Isabella Ford, a Quaker woman who worked with female garment workers unions in Leeds at the end of the ‘80s and was one of the figureheads on the new Suffrage Society. She’d been raised in a political family, and was involved in the formation of the brand-new Independent Labour Party in 1893. The formation took place in Bradford, although the original plan had been for it to happen in Leeds.
She was far from the only towering figure. Alice Cliff Scatcherd, based in Morley, just outside Leeds, was vitally important. Indeed, there was a network of women. After a change in the law in 1894, allowing all ratepayers of either sex a vote in many local elections, plus the chance to stand as Poor Law Guardians or for the School Board (a right that had been removed in the ‘70s), women had the chance to be more active on a local level. Several stood to be Guardians that year, and two of them won seats, one of them the wife of a coal miner.
What truly set the activism apart in Leeds was that it wasn’t always middle-class women taking the lead. There was massive working-class involvement, too. May Gawthorpe offers an ideal example. Born in the Hunslet area, by the time she was 13 she became a pupil teacher, and in 1904, aged 23, was a qualified teacher. By that time she already had a long history in radical politics and unionism, and was part of the generation that straddled the divide between the 19th century Suffragists and the 20th century Sufragettes, becoming an organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union, run by the Pankhursts. She was imprisoned, and then, in 1910, violently assaulted.
Leonora Cohen, another working-class Leeds woman (who lived to be 105, dying in the late 1970s, by which time she’d received the OBE and been a Justice of the Peace). She was another WSPU member, jailed initially for throwing a rock at the window of a government building, and then, in 1913 she smashed a case in the Jewel House of the Tower of London.
So Leeds was still there and active in the 20th century, as the country headed towards the Representation of the People Act in 1918, and some women received the Parliamentary franchise. But the city had laid the foundation on which that built. It was there, pushing, talking, organising and fighting – as it would be again in the 1970s, for the second wave of feminism.
There will be an exhibition about the Victorian women who built that foundation in Leeds that will run for the month of May at Leeds Central Library. Called The Vote Before The Vote, it’s curated by historian Vine Pemberton Joss, an expert on the subject – and the woman who gave me the idea for The Tin God.
I’m the author of the Richard Nottingham books, historical mysteries set in Leeds in the 1730s and featuring Richard Nottingham, the Constable of the city, and his deputy, John Sedgwick. The books are about more than murder. They’re about the people of Leeds and the way life was – which mean full of grinding poverty for all but the wealthy. They’re also about families, Nottingham and his and Sedgwick, and the way relationships grow and change, as well as the politics, when there was one law for the rich, and another, much more brutal, for everyone else.
Leeds in the 1890s is the settling for the Tom Harper series. The books are mysteries, but relationships are paramount, as well as politics – strike, racism against Jewish immigrats, the slow build of socialism and more.
I’ve also written about Leeds in the 1920s and ’40s (Lottie Armstrong) and the ’50s (Dan Markham). Different ideas, the same evolving place at the heart.