WSPU Hunger Strike Medal #2011-0110
Sterling silver circular medal with loop, bar and ribbon in green, white and purple stripes.
Charlotte Blacklock was born in Brighton in the United Kingdom in 1856. After her father’s death in 1876 Charlotte continued living in the family home with her mother and sister until her mother’s death in 1892. Her brother, Philip, rejoined the household in 1891 after divorcing his wife. At that time Charlotte probably worked as a governess. Sometime after her mother’s death Charlotte set up house with her brother in Brighton and in 1901 she was described as a ‘masseuse’. By 1908 she had moved to London, was living in Beaufort Street, Chelsea and had become an active suffragette and a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In March 1909, in the WSPU journal Votes for Women, Charlotte appealed for funds from WSPU supporters to open a WSPU shop in Chelsea. It was one of the first and Charlotte appears to have been one of its main organisers, providing the shop with goods such as children’s smocks and spring flowers to sell. (The above is from notes provided by vendor)
In March 1912, Charlotte moved from passive to active militancy in the cause of women’s suffrage. On 1 March she took part in a mass window smashing protest in the heart of London, during which dozens of WSPU members used hammers to smash the windows of shops in Piccadilly, Haymarket, Oxford and Bond Streets, and several other locations. During the same event WSPU founder Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested for breaking windows at the Prime Minister’s home (10 Downing Street) and the Colonial Office. Over 60 women were arrested after the event and Charlotte Blacklock was amongst them. Of the wilful damage Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Christabel said ‘It is a protest against the Government’s refusal to legislate in regard to the question of woman suffrage … We are persuaded that the Government will not do anything until they are forced. As they do not yield to the justice of our demand we have been practically forced into adopting these tactics.’ (The Times, 2 March 1912)
Charlotte was committed for trial on 6 March and was eventually sentenced to four months prison for her part in the window smashing raid. Because Holloway prison was so full, she and 25 other suffragettes were taken to Winson Green Prison in Birmingham, where she went on hunger strike. When suffragettes first adopted this tactic in 1909 prison authorities would release the women, not wanting them to become martyrs. By 1912, however, they were forcibly feeding the women; a brutal and dangerous practice that left many women scarred and killed others. Emmeline Pankhurst was force fed many times and later wrote of it: ’Holloway became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office.’ (E. Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement, 1931, pp. 251-2)
Despite having to be force fed, Charlotte Blacklock served the full term of her sentence and received her hunger strike medal after her release. Little is known about Charlotte after this time, although by 1918 she had left London and was living at Ditchling in Sussex, close to her cousin Amy Sawyer, who painted her portrait. The portrait is also in the collection of the Museum of Australian Democracy.