Archive for the ‘Whitehall’ Category

The Suffragette and Fascist Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery.

Thursday, July 25th, 2013
Mary Richardson at the National Gallery after her arrest, 1914.

Mary Richardson at the National Gallery after her arrest in March 1914.

 ”Everything that Valasquez does may be regarded as absolutely right.”  – John Ruskin

In June 1934 at an anti-fascist gathering at Trafalgar Square, a 52 year old Sylvia Pankhurst angrily denounced Blackshirt violence. It had been only three weeks since Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists had held their huge staged rally at Olympia for which the Daily Mail had offered free tickets to readers who sent in letters explaining ‘Why I like the Blackshirts’.

The B.U.F. rally had been designed to attract more recruits but also to impress the invited audience of politicians and journalists. Usually a stickler for punctuality, as most good fascists are, Mosley arrived on stage an hour late, but he quickly launched into a virulent anti-semitic speech shouting about ‘European ghettos pouring their dregs into this country.’

It wasn’t long before around 500 anti-fascists who had bought tickets for the meeting started shouting abuse. Mosley stopped speaking and the hecklers were picked out by roving spotlights and then ferociously attacked by black-shirted stewards. Female stewards had been trained to deal with the women hecklers by slapping instead of punching.

The British Union of Fascists' rally at Olympia on 7th June 1934.

The British Union of Fascists’ rally at Olympia on 7th June 1934.

The Daily Express, not afraid to show where its sympathies lay, wrote about ‘reds’ gatecrashing the rally and gushed:

Inside Olympia the most amazing meeting London has seen for two decades was taking place. As soon as Sir Oswald Mosley – a remarkable black-shirted figure, picked out by the glare of two dazzling search lights, started to speak he was howled down. In the audience that had rallied to his support were hundreds of women in evening dress. As fighting broke out in all parts of the hall many started to scream, left their seats, and made for the exits. Sir Oswald’s voice amplified through twenty-four loudspeakers could be heard crying for calm. “Keep your seats! Please keep your seats.” The women were reassured and sat down. Others, of bolder spirit, were standing on chairs watching the fighting through opera glasses and laughing with excitement.

Margaret Storm Jameson, of the Daily Telegraph, presumably was sitting somewhere else in the arena and had a different view:

A young woman carried past me by five Blackshirts, her clothes half torn off and her mouth and nose were closed by the large hand of one; her head was forced back by the pressure and she must have been in considerable pain. I mention her especially since I have seen a reference to the delicacy with which women interrupters were left to women Blackshirts. This is merely untrue.

The vicious ‘Biff Boy’ blackshirt violence at the B.U.F. rally shocked many and indeed during her passionate speech to the Trafalgar Square crowd Sylvia Pankhurst particularly criticised the brutality seen at Olympia. She also warned her audience about the treatment of women in Italy saying that Mussolini had said that the “chief business of women is to be pleasing to men.” At the end of her angry speech she demanded the arrest and detention of fascist sympathisers in Britain – one of whom, notably, was her erstwhile colleague and fellow member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Mary Richardson.

Mary Richardson, 1914.

Mary Richardson, 1914.

Black Friday: This was the first time that Suffragette protests were met with violent physical abuse, however it was generally supported by the British population, who at the time were relatively opposed to women's franchise. Two women died as a result of police violence, and around two hundred women were arrested.

Black Friday 18th November 1910: This was the first time that Suffragette protests were met with violent physical abuse, however it was generally supported by the British population, who at the time were relatively opposed to women’s franchise. Two women died as a result of police violence, and around two hundred women were arrested.

Herbert Henry Asquith in 1910 around the time of Black Friday.

Herbert Henry Asquith in 1910 around the time of Black Friday.

Twenty years previously Mary Richardson had campaigned, been arrested and imprisoned with Sylvia Pankhurst in the East End of London in 1913. She had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union after witnessing ‘Black Friday’ when the WSPU lobbied parliament and were physically attacked and even sexually abused by the police.

She was arrested nine times and served several sentences in Holloway prison for assaulting police, breaking windows and arson. She was, however, particularly notorious for slashing the ‘Rokeby Venus’ in the National Gallery in March 1914. In a particularly militant period of Suffragette activity in the months preceding WW1 it is Richardson’s vandalism of Velasquez’s famous painting that is still remembered today.

The Rokeby Venus by Velasquez.

The Rokeby Venus by Velasquez.

The Toilet of Venus or La Venus del Espejo, as it is more properly but rarely called, had been painted by the great Spanish artist Diego Velazquez sometime between 1647 and 1651. It is his only surviving female nude, which was an artistic direction not overly encouraged by the Inquisition in seventeenth century Spain. The painting came to England in 1813 when it was bought by John Morritt for £500 who hung it in his house at Rokeby Park in Yorkshire – hence the painting’s popular name and which it has retained ever since.

Morritt once wrote to his friend Sir Walter Scott of his “fine painting of Venus’ backside” which he hung high above his main fireplace, so that “the ladies may avert their downcast eyes without difficulty and connoisseurs steal a glance without drawing the said posterior into the company.”

The painting at Rokeby Park.

The painting at Rokeby Park.

In 1906, the painting was acquired for the National Gallery by the newly created National Art Collections Fund and was described by The Times as ‘perhaps the finest painting of the nude in the world’. King Edward VII greatly admired the painting and provided £8,000 towards its purchase.

The Times, struggling to find an excuse to look at a naked woman, wrote of the painting:

a marvellously graceful female figure…quite nude…neither idealistic nor passionate, but absolutely natural, and absolutely pure; she is not Aphrodite but rather “the Goddess of Youth and Health, the embodiment of elastic strength and vitality – of the perfection of Womanhood at the moment when it passes from the bud in to the flower.

When Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery on 10 March 1914 with a meat cleaver hidden on her person, The Rokeby Venus was undoubtedly one of the most famous paintings in Britain.

Richardson had arrived at the gallery at about ten in morning and for about two hours she appeared to innocently wander around the building making occasional sketches of the paintings. No one noticed that she had also brought along a narrow butcher’s meat cleaver which was hidden from view up her sleeve held there by a chain of safety pins. She later wrote: “All I had to do was release the last one and take out my chopper and go..bang!”

As an ex-art student, she knew the gallery well and decided upon Velazquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’. Richardson would later say: “It was highly prized for its worth in cash…the fact that I disliked the painting would make it easier for me to do what was in my mind”. She had actually submitted the idea of damaging a painting to Christabel Pankhurst some weeks before to which Christabel, eventually, wrote back saying ‘carry out your plan’. The previous year three Suffragettes had been arrested and two imprisoned for smashing the protective glass of fourteen paintings at the Manchester Art Gallery and there had been added security in exhibition spaces and galleries around the country since.

Christabel Pankhurst, September 1913. She approved Richardson's plan to attack the Rokeby Venus.

Christabel Pankhurst, September 1913. She approved Richardson’s plan to attack the Rokeby Venus.

Two detectives and a gallery attendant were guarding the Rokeby Venus and a nervous and agitated Richardson almost gave up on her pre-meditated plan. At around midday one of the detectives went for lunch and the other sat down, crossed his legs and opened up a newspaper hiding the painting from his view. Richardson quietly released the cleaver from inside her sleeve and seized her chance. In an interview recorded in 1959 for the BBC, two years before she died, Richardson described what she did next:

I went and hit the painting. The first hit only broke the glass it was so thick, and then extraordinarily instead of seizing me, which he could have quite easily, because I was only a couple of yards from him. He connected the falling glass with the fanlight above our heads and walked round in a circle looking up at the fanlights which gave me time to get five lovely shots in…

The attendant rushed forward but could only slip up on the highly polished floor and he fell face first into the broken glass. Two tourists also threw their guidebooks at Richardson but eventually the detective sprang on her as she was ‘hammering away’ and snatched the cleaver from her hand. Richardson offered no resistance and as she was being taken down to the basement she quietly told the visitors she passed,

I am a suffragette. You can get another picture, but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs Pankhurst.


The damage caused by Mary Richardson's cleaver.

The damage caused by Mary Richardson’s cleaver.

Mary Richardson had been jolted into action that morning because she had been particularly angered at the news of Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest the night before at St Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow. Emmeline Pankhurst was at the time protected by a 25-strong bodyguard of women trained in the martial art of jujitsu. They were taught by a woman, just four feet eleven inches tall, called Edith Garrud.

Garrud had started working with the suffragettes a few years before in her own women-only training hall initially in Golden Square in Soho but later in the East End. She also taught her suffragette students how to use wooden Indian clubs which could be concealed in their dresses and used as a reply to the truncheons of the police. Garrud once said that a woman using jujitsu had ‘brought great burly cowards nearly twice their size to their feet and make them howl for mercy.’

Mrs Garrud demonstrating her Ju-Jitsu skills against a 'policeman'.

Mrs Garrud demonstrating her Ju-Jitsu skills against a ‘policeman’.

The Suffragette that knew Jujitsu. 1910.

The Suffragette that knew Jujitsu. 1910.

According to The Glasgow Herald there were ‘unparalleled scenes of disorder’ when the police tried to arrest Emmeline at St Andrew’s Hall. They had been waiting for Pankhurst who had entered the building early. When she started to speak the police attempted to storm the stage but were severely hampered not only by the barbed-wire hidden in the flower decorations but also Mrs Pankhurst’s trained bodyguards.

Emmeline Pankhurst addressing a Suffragette rally at Trafalgar Square.

Emmeline Pankhurst addressing a Suffragette rally at Trafalgar Square.

Emmeline in ‘My Own Story’ described what happened:

 The bodyguard and members of the audience vigorously repelled the attack, wielding clubs, batons, poles, planks, or anything they could seize, while the police laid about right and left with their batons, their violence being far the greater. Men and women were seen on all sides with blood streaming down their faces, and there were cries for a doctor. In the middle of the struggle, several revolver shots rang out, and the woman who was firing the revolver–which I should explain was loaded with blank cartridges only–was able to terrorise and keep at bay a whole body of police.I had been surrounded by members of the bodyguard, who hurried me towards the stairs from the platform. The police, however, overtook us, and in spite of the resistance of the bodyguard, they seized me and dragged me down the narrow stair at the back of the hall. There a cab was waiting. I was pushed violently into it, and thrown on the floor, the seats being occupied by as many constables as could crowd inside.

Mary Richardson would have also known that the day before Emmeline’s arrest, her daughter Sylvia Pankhurst had also been arrested. Sylvia had been travelling along the Strand on a ‘motor omnibus’ on her way to Trafalgar Square where she was to speak at a protest rally organised by the Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage.

The bus had stopped outside Charing Cross Station but when Sylvia stepped on to the pavement plain clothes policeman quickly surrounded her. Like her mother she was arrested under the so-called Cat and Mouse Act. The police bundled her into the back of a taxi cab and she was sent on her way back to Holloway prison.

Sylvia Pankhurst arrested at Trafalgar Square, 1913

Sylvia Pankhurst being arrested. Yet again.

Sylvia Pankhurst being arrested. Yet again.

The following day the Daily Express reported that the news of her arrest had caused ‘intense indignation in the crowd’ waiting at Trafalgar Square, they continued, ‘Miss Patterson (sic) who acted as chairman, led a detachment towards Whitehall, waving a flag and shouting “It is deeds, not words!”.

The next day Margaret Paterson, who had continually attempted to strike policemen with a short thick piece of rope loaded at the end with lead, was fined £2. Miss Paterson said to the judge, “It had taken ten men and eight horses to arrest me. You…drag people like Sylvia Pankhurst back again to prison. You have roused a fire in the East End and ten men and eight horses won’t be enough next time!’.

It was to the Cat and Mouse Act that Mary Richardson owed her temporary freedom when she had been released the previous November after a long bout of forced-feeding. After her release she declared, ‘The worst fight on record since the movement began is now raging in Holloway’. Richardson, one of the earliest suffragettes to be force-fed had written about her experience in a 1913 suffragette leaflet, where she described a tube a yard long that ran through the nasal passage down the throat into the stomach:

Forcible feeding is an immoral assault as well as a painful physical one, and to remain passive under it would give one the feeling of sin; the sin of concurrence. One’s whole nature is revolted: resistance is therefore inevitable.

The infamous ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ was the name given to the Prisoners, Temporary Discharge for Health Act passed by H.H. Asquith’s Liberal government exactly 100 years ago in 1913. It had been hurriedly enacted to counter the growing public disquiet over the tactic of force-feeding suffragettes who were determined to continue their hunger strikes whilst in gaol. The law’s intention was that suffragettes could hunger strike to the point of emaciation, be let out of prison to recover, and then recalled to serve the rest of their sentence.

The Act’s nickname compared the government cruelty of repeated releases and re-imprisonments of suffragettes to a cat playing around with a half-dead mouse. Not surprisingly the Cat and Mouse Act had the opposite of its intention and did little to deter the more militant campaigns of the suffragettes and if anything made the public more sympathetic to their cause.

Cat and Mouse poster.

Cat and Mouse poster.

The Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith had been an opponent of women’s suffrage since the 1880s and his government’s implementation of the Cat and Mouse Act caused the WSPU and the suffragettes to consider the Prime Minister with particular enmity. Even women in his social circle had been privately objecting to his attitude. Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine once complained of Asquith habitually peering down cleavages, while the socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell once protested that Asquith, ‘Would take a lady’s hand as she sat beside him on the sofa, and make her feel his erected instrument under his trousers’.

A few hours after Mary Richardson was apprehended in the National Gallery she was brought up before Bow Street Police magistrates court where she was charged with maliciously damaging the ‘Rokeby Venus’ to the amount of £40,000. Richardson told the magistrate that she was amazed that anyone was willing to preside over the farce of trying her as it was the tenth time she had been brought before a magistrate in one year. He could not make her serve her sentences, but could only again repeat the farce of releasing her or else killing her; ether way, hers was the victory. The unimpressed magistrate said that he would not allow bail and committed her for trial.

Immediately after Richardson’s ‘outrage’ the National Gallery closed to the public and remained so for two weeks. The Trustees of the gallery met that afternoon to consider what steps were needed to further protect their collection.  One of the trustees was Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India, who on his return to England had led the campaign against women’s suffrage in the House of Lords. In 1908 he had helped establish the Anti-Suffrage League of which he eventually became president.

12th March 1914. The National Gallery was closed for two weeks after the attack on the Rokeby Venus.

12th March 1914. The National Gallery was closed for two weeks after the attack on the Rokeby Venus.

15 Reasons 1

15 Reasons 1

Lord Curzon 15 reasons part 2 copy

 The press widely publicised the attack on the painting and The Times wrote:

One regretted that any person outside a lunatic asylum could conceive that such an act could advance any cause, political or otherwise.

Even the New York Times commented on the story the next day:

The British Government is getting precisely the sort of treatment it deserves at the hands of the harridans who are called militants for its foolish tolerance of their criminal behaviour. Why should women who commit assaults and destroy property be treated differently from common malefactors.

Richardson received six months for the damage she caused and later said: ‘the judge nearly wept when I was tried because he could only give me six months.’ In fact Richardson, after starting a hunger strike, only served a few weeks before she was released again.

Mary Richardson, 10th February 1914. A month before she slashed Velasquez' Rokeby Venus.

Mary Richardson, 10th February 1914. A month before she slashed Velasquez’ Rokeby Venus.

At the outbreak of WW1 Emmeline Pankhurst suspended the activities of the WSPU and instructed suffragettes to get behind the Government and its war effort. Sylvia, opposed to the war, was horrified to see her mother and sister Christabel become such enthusiastic supporters of military conscription.

Mary Richardson published a novel called Matilda and Marcus during the war and also two volumes of poetry. In the twenties and thirties she stood several times as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour party most successfully in Acton in November 1922 when she received over 26% of the vote although losing to the Conservatives.

She joined the British Union of Fascists in late 1933 declaring in the light of her previous political experience, ‘I feel certain that women will play a large part in establishing Fascism in this country’.

Fascist training at the Women's BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

Fascist training at the Women’s BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

Her initial post was assistant to Lady Makgill – the officer in charge of the Women’s Section whose headquarters were then based at 233 Regent Street (now the Lacoste shop next to the Apple Store) but which moved in January 1934 to 12 Lower Grosvenor Place adjacent to the grounds of Buckingham Palace. The women’s section of the Blackshirts had initially been set up by Mosley’s first wife Lady Cynthia who was known as ‘Cimmie’ and was the daughter of the anti-woman’s suffrage campaigner Lord Curzon.

Cynthia had married Oswald Mosley, then a Tory MP, in 1920, and nine months later gave birth much to the consternation of Margot Asquith, wife of former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, who told her:

You look very pale. You must not have another child for a long time. Herbert always withdrew in time. Such a noble man.

In 1929 Cynthia was elected Labour MP for Stoke on Trent as was her husband but for the constituency of Smethwick. Two years later, Oswald, unhappy with the direction of the Labour Party formed the New Party in 1931 and subsequently the British Union of Fascists the year after that. Cynthia supported her husband in his political activities until she died in 1933 after an operation for Peritonitis following acute appendicitis. This unconditional support for her husband was generous on her part for during their marriage Oswald had an affair with both Cynthia’s younger sister and step-mother.

The women MPs of the Labour Party in 1929. Cynthia Mosley is on the far left.

The women MPs of the Labour Party in 1929. Cynthia Mosley is on the far left.

The women’s HQ was seen as crucial for nurturing female interest and recruitment levels in the BUF. The female blackshirts were encouraged to train in jujitsu and The Blackshirt newspaper reported in 1934 that it was particularly popular in London, saying ‘the ladies especially showing remarkable aptitude in this splendid form of defence so suitable to members of the “weaker sex”’.

The new main BUF headquarters, however, was practically out of bounds to women. It was called ‘Black House’ situated on the King’s Road near Sloane Square. The Fascist HQ Bulletin in 1933 stated, under the heading ‘Lady Members’, that “ladies are no longer allowed access to NHQ premises, except to attend mixed classes and concerts and at such times as may be from time to time authorised.’ Despite this ‘lady members’ made up 20-25% of the BUF membership – extremely high for a political party of the time.

Black House on the King's Road, almost opposite Peter Jones, 1934.

Black House on the King’s Road, almost opposite Peter Jones, 1934.

It seems odd that an ex-suffragette, and such a militant one at that, would have put up with these rules, but in April 1934 Richardson became the Chief organiser of the Women’s Section.  A young female BUF member remembered Richardson at the time:

The moving spirit of this [women’s HQ] was an ex-suffragette of great character. She was a fiery speaker particularly at street corner meetings and used to plaster her hair down with Grip-fix so that it would not blow about on these occasions.



Women 'black-shirts'  from Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists on parade give the fascist salute. Their uniform is a black shirt and tie, beret and slightly flared grey skirts.

Women ‘black-shirts’ giving the fascist salute. Their uniform is a black shirt and tie, beret and slightly flared grey skirts.

Three female blackshirts. c. 1934.

Three female blackshirts. c. 1934.

Richardson had replaced Lady Makgill who had resigned after being suspended for embezzlement which must have been embarrassing to her husband who had co-founded the January Club an organisation whose aim was to attract members of the Establishment to the B.U.F. cause. Mosley, however, was aware of the value of his women members. He later wrote:

My movement has been largely built up by the fanaticism of women; they hold ideals with tremendous passion. Without women I could not have got a quarter of the way.” Even the Blackshirt newspaper, stated: “Women have won the vote, but not their rightful influence in politics. Only when women represent Woman will womankind attain its rightful influence.

It was a woman who, ten years previously in 1923, created the first fascist organisation in Britain. It may well have been the first time a woman had started and led any political party in this country. She was called Rotha Lintorn-Orman and she started the British Fascisti in response to what she thought was a growing threat from the Labour party. The B.F was actually the predominant fascist organisation in Britain until Oswald Mosley created his party in 1932.

Rotha Beryl Lintorn-Orman by Bassano. The photograph is from 1916, seven years before she started the UK's first fascist party.

Rotha Beryl Lintorn-Orman by Bassano. The photograph is from 1916, seven years before she started the UK’s first fascist party.

On 10 November 1924 the Fascisti held a rally consisting of almost 10,000 people in Trafalgar Square most of whom, it was reported, were wearing black and silver British Fascisti badges. The Manchester Guardian reported that there was ‘a large contingent of women’. It was a man, however, the monocled Brigadier-General Blakeney, that told a cheering crowd waving black and white fascist banners and Union Jacks, that there “was a great danger that aliens should be allowed to settle in this land, over crowding the towns and taking employment from the workers.” The rally finally marched down Whitehall where several large black and white wreaths bearing the legend “British Fascists for King and country,” were left next to the four year old Cenotaph.

The British Fascisti ultimately lost members to the Imperial Fascist League and then the BUF. Lintorn-Orman, stubbornly, would have nothing to do with the latter as she considered Oswald Mosley to be a near-communist. Lintorn-Orman’s mother, who was actually the first-ever female Scout Leader, had been pay-rolling the organisation from the beginning, eventually stopping the funding amid lurid newspaper gossip about her daughter that involved alcohol and drug fuelled orgies. Rotha Lintorn-Orman died in March 1935 and her British Fascisti organisation wound up four months later. The Official Receiver reported that:

Throughout the company’s history its accounts seemed to have been kept in a lax, casual manner, and though formed to organise Fascism in the country the company appeared to have been incapable of organising itself.

In 1934, the BUF, however, now with Richardson in charge of the Women’s section, seemed organised, efficient and most of all popular. The Daily Mail on May 18 reported – ‘The recent development of the Women’s Section has been particularly remarkable’ and a few days later the Sunday Dispatch wrote:‘The women’s sections are adding – Beauty. The women and girls of Britain are flocking to the movement. Many of them are strikingly beautiful.’

November 1933:  Mrs Swire a leading figure in the women's section of the British Union of Fascists wears the new uniform of grey skirt with black shirt talks to a member of the HQ staff in London who wear all black. Mosley was afraid the women members might jokily be called the 'black skirts'.

November 1933: Mrs Swire a leading figure in the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists wears the new uniform of grey skirt with black shirt talks to a member of the HQ staff in London who wear all black. Mosley was afraid the women members might jokily be called the ‘black skirts’.

9th September 1934:  Sir Oswald Mosley acknowledging fascist salutes from female members of the British Union of Fascists at an evening demonstration in Hyde Park.

9th September 1934: Sir Oswald Mosley acknowledging fascist salutes from female members of the British Union of Fascists at an evening demonstration in Hyde Park.

Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail and the Sunday Dispatch, had for several months been promoting the BUF’s cause in his newspapers. He wrote a now infamous article headlined ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ in which he suggested that:

Britain’s survival as a great power will depend on the existence of a well-organised party of the Right ready to take over responsibility for national affairs with the same direct purpose and energy of method as Mussolini and Hitler have displayed.

Sylvia Pankhurst c. 1934

Sylvia Pankhurst c. 1934

After Sylvia Pankhurst’s speech in Trafalgar Square in June 1934 Mary Richardson responded quickly to the criticism and in the June 29 issue of Blackshirt reminded her of their shared memories of working together in Bow and being confined in Holloway at the same time. Richardson wrote:

How can she forget so easily and conveniently that the Suffragette movement, when she stood in the vanguard, was proud of its use of “force and bludgeons,” of dog whips, truncheons (carried and used by Mrs. Pankhurst’s bodyguard), stones in their multitude, and bricks and the hammers? Does she remember how for years her reply to her accusers was: “We are attacked, we must hit back!” “Paid hooligans break up our meetings; we are right to retaliate!”

Richardson continued:

I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the outrage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service, and the ability to serve which I had known in the Suffragette movement. When later I discovered that Blackshirts were attacked for no visible cause or reason. I admired them the more when they hit back, and hit hard.

Mary Richardson left the BUF sometime in 1935. For what particular reason is not exactly known (her autobiography published in 1953 doesn’t mention her political activity in the BUF at all) however Lady Mosley, Oswald’s mother, described Richardson as being full of ‘dishonest inefficiency’. In 1935 Richardson spoke at a meeting of the Welwyn War Resisters – an anti-war group. The Welwyn Times on 19th December 1935 reported that she had told the meeting that she joined the B.U.F. believing that it opposed class distinction and stood for ‘equality of opportunity and pay for men and women’. She had found, however, that the organisation was riddled with hypocrisy and had been expelled in February for ‘attempting to organise a protest’.

On November 7th 1961 Mary Richardson died at her flat at 46 St James’ Road in Hastings of heart failure and bronchitis aged seventy eight. She was still remembered as the woman who had cut up the Rokeby Venus forty seven years before and most of the papers reporting on her death still used Richardson’s nickname the press used in 1914 – ‘Slasher Mary’.

If you look closely you can still see the marks caused by Mary Richardson’s meat cleaver, although the National Gallery make no mention of her vandalism on the card next to the painting. Christabel Pankhurst once said:

that ‘the Rokeby Venus’ has because of Miss Richardson’s act, acquired a new and human and historic interest. For ever more, this picture will be a sign and a memorial of women’s determination to be free.


To this day you can still see people having a close look at the painting to see if the damage is still visible. It is. Mary Richardson throughout her life used to visit the painting ‘to cheer herself up’.


The Cenotaph, Alfred Rosenberg, Ada Emma Deane and the Ghost Hunter Harry Price

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

The Madame Tussaud’s wax work of Hitler being taken to Marylebone Magistrates’ court as evidence used towards the conviction of three men and a woman. 1933.

At Madame Tussauds on the Marylebone Road a pot of red paint was poured over a wax effigy of a man who had just been made Chancellor of Germany three months previously. A hand-drawn notice was hung around the neck and it read: “Hitler, the Mass Murderer”. Three men and a woman, not overly hasty in trying to escape, were soon arrested and remanded in custody.

The next day, on 14 April 1933, at the Marylebone Magistrates court, Mrs Bradley who was one of the protestors, was charged with assaulting and obstructing the police. She told the court that the paint-throwing was intended as a protest against “Herr Rosenberg’s representation of a murderous Government”. She was eventually discharged but not before supporters in the court had started shouting in unison, “down with Hitler, down with Hitler”.

“Herr Rosenberg” or Dr Alfred Rosenberg, to give him his full name, was editor-in-chief of the Nazi daily newspaper Volkischer Beobachter. He had inspired the paint-throwers’ wrath by laying a wreath at the base of the Whitehall Cenotaph after which he had stepped back, raised his right arm and given a Nazi salute.

Rosenberg was described by Reuters at the time as ‘one of the Nazi “Big Five,”’ and acting on Hitler’s behest, and as his unofficial Foreign Secretary, he was visiting the capital ostensibly to discuss the deadlock of the Disarmament Conference. In reality the visit was more about gauging British opinion of the new German National Socialist regime.

Alfred Rosenberg and Hitler

Rosenberg’s wreath was made of lilies and laurel leaves and was draped with a band in the German imperial colours and which included a black swastika but it wasn’t in position long before it was grabbed that evening by James Sears – a war veteran and a prospective Parliamentary candidate for southwest St Pancras. Sears promptly ran the two hundred yards down Derby Gate and threw it into the Thames. The river police did manage to retrieve what was left of the wreath but it was thought to be too damaged to be of any worth and it was, seemingly without much thought, rather casually thrown away. Sears was later charged with theft but fined only a paltry two pounds.

The next morning the Daily Telegraph reported that a female singer at Covent Garden burst into laughter on hearing of the fate of the Nazi wreath. The singer wasn’t named by the paper but it was probably Lotte Lehmann who had a Jewish husband and was appearing in Sir Thomas Beecham’s Rosenkavalier at the time. Her reaction, however, infuriated some of her more Nazi-sympathising German colleagues.

In Berlin the British Ambassador Sir Horace Rumbold, an astute and perceptive critic of the National Socialists, was brought before an incensed Hitler. Why, asked the German Chancellor, had the English court imposed such a pathetic and lenient sentence on the desecrator of his wreath? The ambassador, one presumes rather bravely, informed him that there had been an unmistakeable change in British public opinion about Germany based on concepts of freedom and consideration for other races. Not entirely surprisingly Sir Horace was asked to resign a few weeks later.

Sir Horace Rumbold


Dr Alfred Rosenberg wasn’t the only person to give a fascist salute at the Cenotaph. On the 10th September 1934: A party of 280 Italian tourists who laid a wreath on the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London gave the Fascist salute after doing so. The Italian Football team would do the same a month later.

20th January 1936: Bearing a swastika flag, German ex-servicemen marching to the Cenotaph in London to lay a wreath. They were guests of British ex-servicemen. George V died the same day.

The Cenotaph had originally been built in 1919 for the first anniversary of the Armistice and was intended just as a temporary monument and initially been built of wood and plaster.  It was such a success with the public, who piled wreath after wreath of flowers around the monument that the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens was asked to rebuild it in Portland stone for the following year.

All religious imagery was avoided and it was simply inscribed with the words “The Glorious Dead”. It was once calculated that if the British dead from World War One had marched by the Cenotaph four abreast it would have taken them three and a half days to march by.

Footage of the funeral of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey.

July 1919. The temporary Cenotaph being erected in Whitehall

Sir Edwin Lutyen’s temporary Cenotaph in 1919

Three quarters of a million British soldiers were killed during WW1 with one and a half million men seriously injured. Almost a third of all the boys and young men aged between 14 and 24 at the beginning of the war would end up being killed. It is entirely unsurprising that after the war there was an almost tangible sense of a ‘lost generation’ hanging over the country.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose son Kingsley had been injured at the battle of Somme and like so many of his contemporaries had died in 1918 of pneumonia, wrote in 1926:  “The deaths occurring in almost every family in the land brought a sudden and concentrated interest in the life after death. People not only asked the question, ‘If a man dies shall he live again?’ but they eagerly sought to know if communication was possible with the dear ones they had lost. They sought for ‘the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still’.

In 1922 on 11 November a sixty year old woman called Ada Emma Deane, with the help of her nineteen year old daughter Violet, set up a camera on top of a wall near the corner of Richmond Terrace with Whitehall. From this position she took two photographs of the large crowd around the cenotaph. The first picture was taken just before the annual silence commemorating the Armistice while the second photograph was taken with a long exposure during the entire two minutes. When the photographs were developed one showed a mass of light over some of the audience while the other purported to show a ‘river of faces’ and an ‘aerial procession of men’ floating over the bowed heads of the crowd.

The Armistice ceremony by Ada Deane

The Cenotaph Armistice ceremony in 1922 by Ada Emma Deane

The images were commercially printed together and distributed amongst spiritualists and other believers of spirit photography of which there were many so soon after the war. Spirit photography had been around for almost as long as photography itself. The long exposures in the early days of photography often produced accidental ghostly images as people came in and out of shot. But so soon after the First World War it was as popular as ever before.

Ada Emma Deane lived at 151 Balls Pond Road in Islington and was already fifty-eight years old in 1920 when she bought an old worn-out quarter-plate camera for nine pence. Her husband had left her a few years previously and she had brought up three children on her own by working as a servant and charwoman.

When the children had grown she took up other interests including breeding pedigree dogs, but also spiritualism. After visiting a local seance in Islington a medium had predicted that Deane would become a psychic photographer and, lo and behold, in June 1920 she produced her first ‘psychic’ picture. Her reputation soon spread amongst the spiritualist community and she became one of Britain’s busiest photographic mediums.

Ada Deane in 1922 with ‘ghostly’ image.

However a final plate was taken by Fred Barlow on his own half plate camera using his own photographic plate of his wife, Ada’s daughter Violet, Ada and Fred himself. He arranged the group, took the picture and developed the plate and upon seeing the negative image he saw Ada Deane’s drapped spirit guide “Bessie” appear above her whilst above her daughter Violet Deane her spirit guide “Stella” also appeared.

According to the Society of Psychical Research, which had been formed by a group of Cambridge Dons in 1882 to scientifically investigate the miry world of telepathy, hypnotism and the survival of the soul, Deane would eventually hold over 2000 sessions. At about the same time as Ada Deane her rather odd photography career, a forty year old man called Harry Price joined the Society. Incidentally the SPR still exists to this day and has included members such as Carl Jung, WB Yeats, Charles Dodgson and Alistair Sim.

Price had married a relatively wealthy heiress called Constance Mary Knight twelve years previously in 1908 and had decided to use his newfound independent means to become a psychic investigator. He was an amateur but adept conjuror and photographer and used this expertise to quickly become the Society’s leading expert at exposing duplicitous and fraudulent mediums – especially “spirit” photographers.

Harry Price

Harry Price and Constance in 1908

The most famous of these was a former docker called William Hope, described, not without snobbery by the Illustrated London News at the time, as ‘a niggardly, coarse-mouthed man’. Hope had been producing ‘spirit’ photographs since 1905 and would have been Ada Deane’s major influence. In 1922 Hope extraordinarily agreed to be tested by Price under the auspices of the SPR.

Hope wrote to Harry Price requesting him to bring a half-dozen packet of ¼ inch plates for the experiment – “Imperial or Wellington Wards are considered preferable”. He added, however, that he would have to use his own camera.

Imperial Ordinary Plates

Imperial Plates

Imperial Plates

Price quickly visited the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd in Cricklewood and discussed with them a way of devising an incontrovertible test for Hope. Price wrote to the SPR:

“We have decided as the best method that the plates shall be exposed to the X-Rays, with a leaden figure of lion rampant (the trade mark of the Imperial Co) intervening…Any plate developed will reveal a quarter of design, besides any photograph or ‘extra’ that may be on the plate. This will show us absolutely whether the plates have been substituted.”

On the 24th February 1922 Price, bringing with him his x-rayed Imperial plates, visited William Hope. After a verse of ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ and a long improvised prayer by the photographer, Price was taken to the dark-room. Here Price surreptitiously marked the plate-holder he had been given with a pin-pricking instrument on his thumb. He also noticed that Hope, while away from the safe-light and presumably thinking he couldn’t be seen, had slipped the plate-holder into his breast pocket and then seemingly taken it out again.

When they returned to the studio and Hope had developed the print Price noticed the pinpricks had disappeared and the Imperial logo had failed to appear. Although a strange ghostly female apparition had.

Harry Price with ghostly apparition by William Hope

Later that day Price developed his unused plates and saw the remaining parts of the Imperial logo. He also noticed that the glass of the plate Hope had developed was made of thinner glass although Imperial had confirmed with him that the original plates were all made from the same piece. This was, at last, unassailable proof that Hope was a charlatan and a cheat.

The reverse of the photograph reads: ‘Why is the child always pushing to the front?’ and ‘Do we get messages from the higher spirits?’; perhaps questions the women wanted answering. One of the sitters, at Hope’s request, has signed the plate for authentication.

A photograph of a group gathered at a seance, taken by William Hope (1863-1933) in about 1920. The information accompanying the spirit album states that the table is levitating. In reality, the image of a ghostly arm has been superimposed over the table using a double exposure.

Harry Price published the findings in the SPR’s Journal in May and also printed the exposure in a sixpenny pamphlet called Cold Light on Spiritualistic Phenomena. The result was a worldwide sensation and it made Harry Price a national celebrity.

Ada Emma Deane was not discouraged by the exposé of William Hope and continued with her supernatural photography. Within two years, however, she had a downfall of her own. This time without the help of the now famous psychic investigator Harry Price.

In 1924 Ada Deane again photographed the Cenotaph ceremony during the two minutes of silence. At the request of her spiritual guides she had been ‘storing up power’ by refusing any other sittings for the preceding three weeks.

By now Ada Deane’s annual cenotaph photographs were eagerly awaited and the Daily Sketch had to outbid its rival Daily Graphic for the right to reproduce her latest picture.

Ada Deane’s Armistice picture 1924

At first the newspaper simply asked of the faces: “Whose are they?”, but two days later  the newspaper answered its own question with a front page headline:


The Daily Sketch

The newspaper had noticed that the faces in the crowd that Deane had ‘photographed’ were not brave fallen soldiers but were actually cut-out pictures of footballers and boxers that were all very much alive. The newspaper wrote:

The exposure of truth in regard to alleged spirit photography, which deeply interests and affects multitudes of people, would not have been possible if the Daily Sketch had not, at the risk of some obloquy to itself, submitted the pictures to the rigorous searchlight of publicity, and thereby set at rest the minds of thousands who at various times have been tempted to believe in ‘spirit’ photography.

The Daily Sketch quickly challenged Deane to produce some ‘spirit’ photographs using the newspaper’s own equipment. They even offered £1000 to charity if she managed to produce them under fair and scientific conditions. Not entirely surprisingly she emphatically refused.

One of the sportsmen in the picture was Sengalese-born ‘Battling’ Siki who was briefly Light Heavyweight champion when he knocked out Georges Carpentier in 1922. He died in 1925 in New York in mysterious circumstances having been shot in the back twice.

After the Daily Sketch’s exposure of her fraudulent activities Ada Deane rarely publicly produced her spirit photographs again. She later wrote:

It was a sorry day for me when I discovered this photographic power. My life has lost all its ease and serenity. Before I was respected and happy in my work, though poor; and today I am poor and look back on twelve years of worry and trouble and am a cock-shy for any newspaper penny-a-liner… I admit that many of the results obtained through me (in a way I have not the least inkling of) have every appearance of having been produced by trickery but I do no more understand how or why than you do.

Ada Deane had a relatively long wait before she had the chance to prove spirit photography once and for all and appear in someone else’s photograph (a chance, as far as we know, she hasn’t taken) and died at the age of 93 in Barnet in 1956.

Harry Price, who always enjoyed his celebrity status a little too much to be of any real importance in proper scientific research on the supernatural, nonetheless set up his own National Laboratory of Psychical Research at 16 Queensberry Place in South Kensington (the building is now occupied by the College of Psychic Studies) in 1925. It’s aim, Price wrote, ‘was to investigate in a dispassionate manner and by purely scientific means every phase of psychic or alleged psychic phenomena.”

College of Psychic Studies today at 16 Queensberry Place, South Kensington.

In 1938 its equipment and library was transferred to the University of London where it still resides. Ten years later, Price died of a massive heart attack while sitting at his desk in his house in Pulborough.

William Hope, even after Harry Price had seemingly proved him nothing but a fraudster, retained some loyal followers including author and spiritualist-believer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle even wrote a book called ‘The Case for Spirit Photography’ where he went to great lengths to argue the case for Ada Deane and William Hope.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Ada Deane

Alfred Rosenberg (his name incidentally is originally Estonian) was captured by Allied troops after the war. He was tried at Nuremberg and found guilty of the not insignificant crime of “conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity”. Rosenberg was the only condemned man at Nuremberg, who when asked at the gallows if he had any last statement to make, replied with only one word: “Nein”. His body was cremated and the ashes, much like his wreath sixteen years previously, were deposited in a nearby river.

A dead Dr Alfred Rosenberg following his hanging for war crimes