The Horfield Five: Suffragettes in Bristol

Prisoners at HMP Bristol (Horfield Prison) have been exploring suffrage and women’s rights by engaging directly with historical artefacts and documents from 1909, when five suffragettes were imprisoned in Bristol. Working in collaboration with feminist Bristol based street artist Rozalita, they have created a mural on the wall leading to the prison wing in which the Suffragettes were held.

Emma Lilwall

Resident Artist and Lecturer, Weston College

Theresa Garnett was an active Suffragette who was involved in a number of protests in London and Liverpool. This included chaining themselves to a statue in the Houses of Parliament and gate crashing a reception at the Foreign Office to celebrate King Edward VII’s birthday. However, her most notorious action took place at Temple Meads Railway Station in Bristol in November 1909, when she assaulted Winston Churchill with a whip, calling out:

“Take that in the name of the insulted women of England!”

She was arrested for assault but was found guilty of disturbing the peace. A contemporary report stated that she had not actually hit Churchill. Her sentence was a month’s imprisonment in Horfield Prison. She was later awarded the ‘Hunger Strike Medal for Valour’ by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

Four other Suffragettes were imprisoned for their protest actions during Churchill’s visit to Bristol in November 1909. Nurse Ellen Pitman sent a message to Churchill on a brick, through the plate glass window of the Post Office on Small Street. Vera Wentworth broke windows at the Liberal Club in Bristol. Mary Sophia Allen broke windows at the Board of Trade Office in Bristol, alongside Jessie Lawes. Churchill had been invited by Bristol North MP and Cabinet Minister Augustine Birrell to speak at a meeting at Colston Hall. This, too, was disrupted by Bristol Suffragettes.

A Blue Plaque at HMP Bristol to suffragette Theresa Garnett was unveiled in October 2021. Bristol Civic Society facilitated the installation of the Blue Plaque on the old prison gate. It’s believed to be the first Blue Plaque to be placed on a working prison.

The Horfield Five is a collaborative project between HMP Bristol, Weston College, Bristol Civic Society and Bristol Museums. The project has been led by Emma Lilwall, resident artist and lecturer for Weston College.

As part of the Suffragette Education Project prisoners have explored the stories of the Suffragettes who were imprisoned at Horfield, and connected Theresa Garnett’s story with present-day women’s rights issues. They have looked at the history of mural art and particularly street art in Bristol. Working in collaboration with feminist Bristol based street artist Rozalita, they have created a mural on the wall leading to the prison wing in which the Suffragettes were held. There have also been creative writing workshops, a T-Shirt design competition, a presentation from author Lucienne Boyce (author of The Bristol Suffragettes), and display material has been brought into the prison from Bristol Library Service.