The third book of my Edwardian Cosy Mystery Series brings my heroine, Flora Maguire into contact with the Women’s Suffrage Movement. I thought I already knew something about the ‘Votes For Women’ cause, but I learned a great deal more.
By the late 19th Century, it was still not acceptable for a lady to dine alone in public, a taboo which most men were happy to perpetuate. The fact that public conveniences were unheard of also contrived to keep ladies at home. The first ‘convenience’ run by the Ladies Lavatory Company opened near Oxford Circus in 1884.
When William Whitely opened his Whitely's department store in Bayswater in 1870, he applied for a licence to open a restaurant inside the store – and was refused on the grounds of its ‘potential for immoral assignations’.
Restaurants like the Holborn, the Criterion, and the Gaiety welcomed ladies, provided they were accompanied by a male escort, but only in designated dining areas. Simpsons of Piccadilly wouldn’t allow women into its ground floor dining room until 1984.
In the late 1800’s, the innovation of tea shops, manned by waitresses not waiters was at last considered suitable for ladies to meet, and eat in public. To facilitate their customers, tea rooms started to appear in the larger hotels and department stores, where ladies could rest, take tea, and write letters.
By 1879, London contained 100 tea shops, some of which provided light luncheons, including vegetarian meals. At a time when nursing wasn’t considered a suitable occupation for a woman, working in a tea room was highly respectable, somewhere for middle-class women fallen on hard times to work in order to retain their independence.
Lyons opened in Piccadilly in 1894, and the first of their famous Corner Houses in 1909. The smarter venues like Slaters, Fullers, and The Criterion Restaurant Room at Piccadilly Circus grew increasingly popular.
Members of the Women’s Suffrage Movement began using these establishments for afternoon tea and lunch; a trend the proprietors latched onto quickly. Alan’s Tea Rooms in Oxford Street welcomed Suffragists, as did the Cadena Cafes chain of coffee shops, The Tea Cup Inn, Kingsway, and the Gardenia, a vegetarian Restaurant in Catherine Street, Covent Garden some of whom advertised in the suffragist newspaper ‘Votes For Women’.
|Advertisement in 'Votes For Women' June 1909|
The Gardenia, opened in 1908 by Thomas Smith close to the Women’s Freedom League headquarters located in Robert Street, south of the Strand, while the WSPU headquarters were to the east of Aldwych in Clement’s Inn. Vegetarian restaurants were particularly popular among suffragettes, as many were aligned to the anti-vivisectionist campaign.
The Teacup Inn opened in 1910 in a ground floor shop and basement in Portugal Street off Kingsway, and by 1912, the WSPU occupied Lincoln’s Inn House in nearby Kingsway. Managed and staffed by women, the owners, Mrs Alice Mary Hansell and Miss Marion Shallard, advertised the cafe in ‘Votes For Women’ as "Dainty luncheons and Afternoon teas at moderate charges. Home cookery. Vegeterian dishes and sandwiches. Entirely staffed and managed by women."
Molinari’s Restaurant at 25 Frith Street, Soho, advertised in The Suffragette magazine, offering to donate 5% of their takings to the cause for customers who wore suffragist badges. In the 1920s the proprietor, Angelo Molinari, was suspected of running a brothel in an upstairs room.
The Criterion Restaurant built in 1874 at Piccadilly Circus, where it still remains, adjoins the theatre. In its Edwardian heyday The Actresses’ Franchise League held its meetings here, convenient to the theatre district.
Eustace Miles Restaurant opened at Chandos Place, Covent Garden in May 1906. A health guru, he ran his establishment with his wife, Hallie as a ‘Food Reform’ restaurant. Ellen Terry’s daughter, Edith Craig, who lived nearby in Bedford Street, sold Votes for Women from a pitch outside the restaurant.
In March 1907, the WSPU chose the Eustace Miles for a breakfast celebrating the release from Holloway of the prisoners arrested as part of the deputation from the first Women’s Parliament. They hired a room for suffragist meetings and by those giving women-related talks. The restaurant flourished during the First World War when meatless cookery became a necessity and the restaurant stayed in business for over 30 years. Especial thanks to online articles of Jane Pettigrew and Elizabeth Crawford for this post and for lots of fascinating information about the suffrage movement and tea rooms, do visit these websites.