Day 7: Where are all the women?

07.03.18 |

Have you ever wondered where the names of London’s streets come from? Many of them give recognition to historical figures, but disappointingly few of these are women.


Doughty Street Chambers – and the #DoughtyStWomen - are proud to be based in Bloomsbury, with its rich history of inspirational women leaders from politics, law, journalism, and art. Within a few hundred metres of our chambers are buildings where the suffragettes built their campaigns, as well as the former home of the first woman barrister in England and Wales. Helena Normanton QC lived and worked a block north, on Mecklenburgh Square. 


Yet the streets we walk every day are named instead for men: many of them wealthy landowners or benefactors whose public contribution stemmed principally from their wealth.  Of the women honoured on our street signs now, many are profiled not in their own right but simply as the wives of historically high-profile men.


To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, and the centenary of women’s suffrage,  #DoughtyStWomen are reimagining our streets renamed.  For eight days between 1 March and International Women’s Day on 8 March we are focussing on one of our local Bloomsbury streets, honouring eight of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement who had connections in the area and who are too often forgotten.


Share these stories, follow us on social media and help us honour Bloomsbury’s inspirational feminist history.


#DoughtyStWomen #IWD2018


Day 1: 1 March 2018


Doughty Street became Lyons Street – read about Jane Lyons here


Day 2: 2 March 2018


Guilford Street became Lawson Street – read about Marie Lawson here.


Day 3: 3 March 2018


Roger Street became Kerr Street. Read about Harriet Kerr here


Day 4: 4 March 2018


Gray’s Inn Road became Singh Street. Read about Sophia Duleep Singh here


Day 5: 5 March 2018


Lamb’s Conduit Street became Haslam Street. Read more about Dr Kate Haslam here


Day 6: 6 March 2018


John Street became Kenney Street. Read more about Annie Kenney here


Day 7: 7 March 2018


Today, Theobald’s Road becomes Richardson Street.


Theobald’s Road was named after Theobald’s House, where the Stuart monarchs had their hunting grounds.


Today, we reimagine it as Richardson Street, after suffragette and activist Mary Richardson.


Mary Raleigh Richardson (1882/3 – 1961) was one of the most militant of the suffragettes.  According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, she grew up in Belleville, Ontario, and came to Britain when she was sixteen, studying art and travelling to Paris and Italy. She lived in Bloomsbury and whilst there undertook freelance journalism work. On 18 November 1910 she witnessed the events of ‘Black Friday’, when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by Emmeline Pankhurst, lobbed Parliament and were brutally attacked by the police. This spurred her into joining the WSPU and she quickly became involved in militant activities. She later described the moment when she witnessed police brutality against protestors and decided to join the WSPU as like being enlisted “in a holy crusade.”


Mary Richardson was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned. She was arrested nine times and served several sentences in Holloway Prison for assaulting police officers, breaking windows (including at the Home Office and Holloway Prison) and for arson. She was one of the first two women to be force fed, under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ in 1913, having been arrested at the scene of an arson attack. She suffered extensive bruising and poor health as a result, and described this experience as “torture.”  


In October 1914 Mary was released from Holloway after a long period of forcible feeding and she found shelter at Jane Lyons’ boarding house at 48 and 49 Doughty Street, now the Charles Dickens Museum. This was the address from which she set out on the morning of 10 March 1914, when she went the National Gallery and famously attacked the Diego Velazquez painting, The Toilet of Venus (known as the Rokeby Venus) with a butcher’s hammer she had purchased on Theobald’s Road. The painting was one of the most expensive in the gallery (according to Lucinda Hawksley, March Women March) and it depicted Venus, the goddess of love. The act was said to be a protest to draw attention to the plight of Emmeline Pankhurst, who remained in Holloway on hunger strike (although see Elizabeth Crawford’s analysis on that point, here). Mary wrote a brief statement explaining her actions to the WSPU, and it was immediately printed in The Times:


“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women…”


Mary Richardson’s actions led to immediate fame – or infamy. She was described as “‘Slasher’ Mary Richardson” by much of the press. An example of the coverage is this cover from the Daily Mirror the following day. She was sentenced to 18 months with hard labour, and many museums closed their doors to unaccompanied women.

We have learned of the link between Doughty Street and Mary Richardson’s notorious attack at the National Gallery from a blog by researcher and writer Elizabeth Crawford: ‘What Links Charles Dickens, the Rokeby Venus and the Number 38 Bus?’ (which you can read here).


Later in life, Mary became involved in politics, joining the Labour Party in 1919 and unsuccessfully standing for Parliament in 1922, 1926, 1931 and 1934. She briefly joined the British Union of Fascists in 1934 but left them in 1935 and took no further part in politics.


Mary Richardson died on 7 November 1961. A number of years before her death, she explained why and how she slashed the Rokeby Venus in a piece aired on BBC’s Woman’s Hour on 12 September 1957, which you can hear here.  She also described this incident in her 1953 autobiography, Laugh a Defiance.


Today, we acknowledge Mary Richardson and her local connection.



CAPTION: #DoughtyStWomen Mary Westcott and Keina Yoshida stand, fittingly, outside the police station on Theobald’s Road, where Mary Richardson purchased the butcher’s hammer she used when she set out from Doughty Street on 10 March 1914

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