On 13 November 1909, Winston Churchill (President of the Board of Trade, as he then was) alighted from a train at Bristol Temple Meads station, where he and his wife were met by several local dignatories.
Despite a heavy security presence, a woman burst through the cordon, brandishing a horse-whip. “Take that, you brute!” she yelled as she brought the whip down hard on Churchill’s hat and across his face.
The pair wrestled perilously close to the platform edge before Churchill grabbed hold of the whip and the woman was seized by detectives. Churchill calmly rolled up the whip and placed it in his pocket.
His assailant was Theresa Garnett, a 21-year old suffragette from Leeds. She had already acquired a reputation for militancy, with previous convictions for chaining herself to a statue in the Houses of Parliament and for assaulting a prison warder.
Churchill did not press charges for the assault on his person but she was imprisoned for one month for disturbing the peace. After being sentenced, Garnett said “the men who insult all the women of the nation deserve horse-whipping. If ever I should meet any Cabinet Minister I hope to do better than I did on Saturday“.
Whilst in Horfield Prison, she set fire to her cell and had to be force fed after going on hunger strike.
She worked as a nurse in France during the Great War and continued to be a committed advocate of women’s rights until her death in 1966.
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