On 24th November 1913, two suffragettes broke into Headingley Stadium, equipped with a box of matches, resin, cotton wool and inflammable liquid. Morley-born Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was visiting Leeds and the pair wanted to make a bold political statement by burning down one of the rugby grandstands.
They crept beneath the structure and placed a pile of resin and cotton wool beneath its timbers, which they soaked in inflammable liquid. The pair made their way to the other end of the stand and made the same preparations there.
One of the women struck a match and was on the point of lighting the resin and cotton wool, when they were disturbed by a PC Barlow. He asked whether they had started a fire elsewhere, to which one replied “No, you came a minute too soon.” When they were searched, the pair were found to be carrying postcards, one of which was addressed to PM Asquith and read “We are burning for Votes for Women! No Vote, No Sport, No Peace!”
Both women refused to give their names, so they were remanded in custody in Armley Jail known only as Woman A and Woman B. When they refused to be fingerprinted, the Governor ordered the guards to use force on them but still they resisted.
The prisoners immediately began a hunger strike triggering the so-called Cat and Mouse Act which required them to be released until they began eating again and were fit enough to be rearrested. The Act had replaced the previous practice of force feeding hunger strikers, which was potentially fatal.
When the women appeared in court a few days later, they were joined by arguably Leeds’s most famous suffrage campaigner, Leonora Cohen, together with one another (known only as Woman C) who were accused of smashing windows at Leeds Labour Exchange.
Women A and B recounted their rough treatment at the hands of the Governor and guards, and the magistrate ordered that a report of the alleged abuse be made to the Home Secretary and the Prison Visiting Committee. Meanwhile, the accused were required to stand trial early in the New Year.
After further investigation, Woman A was identified as Clara Giveen, originally from Ireland but living in Armley, and Woman B as Hilda Burkett from Leeds. Clara had three previous convictions for criminal damage and arson. Hilda had an apparently clean record.
While awaiting trial, Clara was allowed to travel to Birmingham under close supervision and entrusted to the Police force there. Despite this, she managed to escape and disappeared.
Hilda was staying at a friend’s house in Bradford, again under close surveillance, but when Police arrived at the house to return her to prison, she too had vanished. They discovered that she had left the house unnoticed when a large group of women arrived and then left, with the sole intention of confusing the hapless officers. They had no photograph of Hilda, just a description of her as “a young woman in her mid-20s with a fresh complexion.”
Neither woman appeared at their scheduled court date in 1914 and, as far as I can tell, the Headingley Two, as they have come to be known, evaded trial all together. If anyone knows differently, I’d love to hear from you!
Woman C (whose identity doesn’t appear to be have been established with any certainty) was allowed to travel to London, under Police supervision, but she too managed to escape!
To read more about suffragettes in Leeds, click here.