Annie Barnes- ‘Tough Annie’- 1906

Annie BarnesLittle Annie, the eldest of 8 children, was 16 when her mother got seriously ill so she was tasked with bringing up her siblings. One day, walking near her family home and shop in Burdett Road,  she came across some  Suffragettes making speeches on a cart  and became an enthusiastic supporter. A big meeting was organised in the hall at the back of the Edinburgh Castle pub. Annie and hundreds of others turned up but the hall doors were shut: “Bluebottles” were out in force, some on horseback, stopping anyone getting in. Annie saw Rosa May Billinghurst, a posh disabled suffragette, parading in front of the Hall in a wheelchair. Rosa May patted one of the police horses. Her hand went under a stirrup. She yanked it hard. A mounted policeman was catapulted from his saddle to land head first in a horse trough. Cheers from the crowd. Annie was impressed. But Rosa May was attacked, arrested and her wheelchair damaged.

Annie volunteered to help the East London Federation of Suffragettes.  Sylvia Pankhurst showed her a bag of flour and a big padded cardboard box labelled ‘Crockery – with care – Commons Library.’  “You’re little,” said Sylvia, “Could you fit in there?” Annie squeezed into the box. “Great!”  said Sylvia, “So here’s our plan. We deliver you (in the box) to the Tradesman’s Entrance of The House of Commons. They’ll take it up to the Library.  Wait till everything’s silent. Climb out and hide. In the morning go to the Strangers Gallery. When the debate begins, drop the flour bag on Mr Asquith’s head. Then you’ll be arrested.”

“Oh no!” said Annie. “I’d love to but I can’t go to jail -I’ve got seven children to look after. Find someone else small.” (They did. Mr Asquith’s head was duly floured.)

“OK Annie, said Sylvia, “This one won’t lead to prison. We need these Votes for Women leaflets distributed.  If you hand them out on the street, you‘ll be arrested. Throw them from a tall building, you’ll be OK. Go to the Monument. Climb up the 133 steps.  Throw the leaflets out. Make your escape.” Annie did. But when she came down two policemen stood at the bottom.  “Caught red handed” said one. “You, up there – throwing leaflets.” “Not me, guv. I’m in the family way – couldn’t climb them stairs. A woman did go past me with two carrier bags. Maybe she’s still there. Go and see.” One officer went up. “I was just resting,” Annie told the other one. “Oh, get out,” he said.

Annie chalked suffragette slogans on pavements, distributed the Woman’s Dreadnought for ELFS, joined the Labour Party, worked with the Lansburys and Kier Hardy, was a Councillor for Mile End for many years and wrote her life story in “Tough Annie”.



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