Upminster suffragette fights for right to vote

Henria Williams

Henria Williams - Credit: Archant

As the star-studded film Suffragette is released this week, Hayley Anderson takes a look at the impact of women taking a stand in Havering and how the lives of future generations changed as a result of their battle.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were filled with protests, rallies and speeches as women across the world fought for their right to vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, tragically killed by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, were figureheads of the suffragette movement that secured a change in law giving some women the right to vote in 1918, but they were far from alone in fighting the battle.

Henria Williams, of Ockendon Road, Upminster, chaired a rally in her home on November 28 1908. It was attended by famous faces from the movement, including Violet Tillard, the organising secretary for the Women’s Freedom League who was the evening’s main speaker.

The Upminster suffragette was also one of hundreds of protestors who demonstrated on Black Friday in 1910 after Prime Minister Asquith indicated there would be no more time for the reading of a bill that would have granted 1,000,000 British women the right to vote.

Henria’s recollection of Black Friday was noted in Treatment of the Women’s Deputations by the Police, published in 1911.

She said: “One policeman after knocking me about for a considerable time, finally took hold of me with his great strong hand like iron just over my heart.

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“He hurt me so much that at first I had not the voice power to tell him what he was doing.

“But I knew that unless I made a strong effort to do so he would kill me.

“So collecting all the power of my being, I commanded him to take his hand off my heart.

“Although I had no limbs broken, still my arms, sides, and ankles were sore for days afterwards.

“But that was not so bad as the inward shaking and exhaustion I felt.”

More than 100 women were arrested for protesting and the Prime Minister’s car was vandalised in the aftermath.

Upminster historian, Tony Benton, said: “Black Friday was an important step to women getting the vote because the violent way in which they were treated by the police was in the public eye.

“It still took a long time for the Bill to be passed but it was a sign that it all could change.”

Born in Shropshire in 1867, Henria Helen Leach Williams grew up in Cheshire where she became a governess and a school mistress.

It was in about 1905 that she moved to The Cottage in Upminster and became a recognisable figure in the area, known for wearing a symbol of the suffragette movement on her clothing.

Tony said: “She was a minor figure in the suffragette movement but a real local personality that people became familiar with.”

Henria took part in a series of major suffragette protests and was arrested in 1909 but later released without charge.

But, the affects of Black Friday were enduring for Henria. Two months later she was found by a police officer in the early hours of the morning dead in her home with pills for treating angina in her handbag.

Tony said: “She did have two heart attacks in the 18 months before she died so she was in poor health but I think that shows her dedication to the cause.

“She knew that it would have an impact on her wellbeing but she knew it was important to carry on.”