Women sue Hastings Corporation

The mob had actually gathered to attack a WSPU open-air gathering in nearby Wellington Square, but the police advised them to postpone it. The mob were all worked up for a fight and thus were looking for a suitable alternative target.

After a while, the police came and told the women that it was safe to leave to club, although the mob was growing by the minute. As some left, they were attacked physically. About 300 men had by then assembled. Miss Marchant, a mistress at Silverhill Boys' School, was hit in the back and head, and her hat was ripped off, the pin tearing out her hair. More police were now present, trying to hold back the mob which had gathered by the archway at the station end of Havelock Road. The mob grew larger; some say there were as many as 3,000. There were skirmishes up and down the road as men attacked the escaping women, ripping their clothes and bruising them. Ladies leaving by motor car suffered smashed headlights and windows. One young woman, Miss Pelly, was almost dragged out of her car by the baying mob, but was saved by her mother and Miss Strickland. three women took refuge in Green's Hotel, 1 Havelock Rd. The crowd followed and attacked the hotel (pictured below the day after the attack), smashing its windows and glassware.

The landlord, Mr Wade, ordered the women to leave, fearing his hotel would be wrecked, but the women, under great pressure, promised to pay for any damage. Wade insisted on a written agreement, which was hastily drawn up. He later presented a bill for £12.5s 6d and was paid.

Led by NUWSS Hastings Branch Secretary Miss A. Kate Rance of 17 East Ascent, the women sued the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Hastings, under the Riot Damage Act, for recovery of the money paid to Mr Wade. Click here to read the press report of the court-case.

It was suggested that the men were incensed by the recent Levetleigh incident, in which an empty mansion recently vacated by the local MP was burnt down, and suffragettes were suspected. If that was the reason, the mob was ignorant of the finer points of the suffrage movement: the women they attacked were the constitutional suffragists, totally opposed to violence.

A NUWSS banner
Green's Hotel. The site now contains a modern office block.


from the Hastings & St Leonards Pictorial Advertiser 20 November 1913



At Hastings County Court on Tuesday, his Honour Judge Mackarness delivered judgement in the case arising out of Antis-Suffragists disturbances at Hastings on the 20th May.

The plaintiffs were Miss A. K. Rance, Madame Oosterveen, and Miss [sic] Homer-Pryce who were represented at the hearing by Mr. F. W. Morgan, solicitor, Hastings. The defendants were the Mayor and Corporation of Hastings. They were represented at the hearing by Mr. C.F Baker, barrister. instructed by Mr. Percy Idle (Assistant Town Clerk of Hastings).

Councillors H. N. Collins, T. Reed, and W. Felton-Smith were present in Court as were also many Suffragist ladies, including Miss Rance, Mrs. F. Strickland, Mrs. F. C. Tibbs, and Mrs. Bowerman Chibnall.

His Honour said, that that was an action brought against the Mayor and Corporation of Hastings by the ladies who were members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies founded over 40 years ago by John Stuart Mill, Charles Kingsley. and Mrs. Henry Fawcett.

The sum in dispute 12. 5s is small, but


was important. The ladies claimed to recover under the Riot (Damages) Act, 1888, money paid ito the landlord of Green's Hotel, Havelock-road, Hastings, in which they were compelled to take refuge from a mob on the night of the 20th of May. The mob attacked the hotel and broke the windows in the desire to get at the plaintiffs. The landlord was not prepared to offer them protection unless they signed an agreement. That agreement they signed, and now they claimed to recover the money from the Corporation. For the defence it was alleged that there was no 'riot' within the meaning of the Act; and, secondly, there was no consideration for the payment to the landlord, inasmuch as "there was a duty cast on him by common law to afford accommodation to those who were willing to pay for it.

He (the Judge) thought that that last-defence was founded on a misrepresentation of the duty of a landlord; he was bound to afford food and lodging unless there were reasonable grounds for refusal. If there were elements of danger a landlord was legally justified in demanding a pecuniary guarantee against the loss which the reception of the traveHers might bring upon him. His Honour then passed to the more substantial defence. The Act provided that where a house, shop or building had been injured or destroyed by any persons riotously and tumultuously assembled 'such compensation as hereinafter mentioned should be paid out of the Police Rate' to any person sustaining loss.

A house called Levetleigh had been burnt down and, rightly or wrongly, this was attributed to the women called Militant Suffragettes. On the evening of the 20th May the Militants had arranged to hold a meeting in 'Wellington-square which, on the advice of the Police, they decided to postpone. He had no doubt that a disturbance was deliberately arranged to break up the meeting. Not far from the square was Havelock-road, in which was situated the Club to which the plaintiffs belonged: a club dissociating itself ostentatiously from the Militant Suffragists. The meeting at the Club was addressesed by Mrs Strickland a member of the [Corporation] Education Committee. The subject was 'But westward look! The land is bright.' That was, hardly, he should think, a provocative subject, nor did it seem to suggest what to many people seemed dangerous, the desirability of allowing women citizens a voice in passing the laws they were obliged to obey. Notwithstanding, in view of the expected disturbance in Wellington-Square, Mrs. Strickland mentioned it to the Police. A constable went to the club. Mrs Strickland's arrangements were, he regretted, not adequate. It was known to the police that there was a deep feeling throughout the borough. They were warned by messages and anonymous letters that people were coming from all parts; the watchword of the crowd was "Remember Levetleigh". He had no doubt that the plaintiffs suffered loss by a riotous and tumultuous mob within the meaning of the Act and were entitled to recover compensation. He gave judgment for plaintiffs with costs on the higher scale on the ground that the matter was one of public interest and of importance to persons concerned for or against the enfranchisement of women citizens.

Ladies in Court cheered and there were cries of "Votes for Women." The Judge retained his impassive demeanour, and tiny demonstration was suppressed by cries of "Silence."

Mr. Percy Idle asked for leave to appeal. This was granted.

Mrs Homer Pryce was already in delicate health, and she died eight weeks after the court case. An announcement in the local paper suggested that the stress of the riot had contributed to her decline.

Return to Hastings Suffrage


Victorian women

Social class

Notable women

Hastings maps and photos

Suffragettes in Hastings

Elsie Bowerman


Marianne North

About the author