This is my first day working in the archives. Mari has arranged for me to go through all the Serjeant at Arms reports to get a sense of the mood in Parliament during the period that the suffragettes were making their protests.
I navigate my way to the back to the reading room feeling a little hot and flustered. It wasn’t simple getting in and the lift buttons are temperamental. I had to get a security staff member to get me up here, but the upshot was I bonded with the lady on duty and she gave me a really good security necklace that has a extendable cord, so I don’t have to crouch down to touch various security devices with my pass. I know it’s a small thing but it’s already made my day.
Back to the serious business, four boxes are waiting for me. I take a deep breath, sit down and open it up carefully.
As I start reading through the handwritten and typed letters, I’m immediately drawn back in time – the feeling that I’m seeing the actual reports in the place where the events happened is pretty powerful. I quickly get the impression that the Serjeant at Arms’ men were struggling with something obviously quite new to them. They were just not expecting women to make any type of ‘real’ protest, vocal or physical. Letters go back and forth describing the protests in a factual manner. They seem at a loss at how to manage the suffragettes. It all feels quite detached from what was happening throughout the country and the high emotions of the time.
I start to make a record of where and when the suffragette protests took place, to see if there was a pattern of movement and times of days when events happened. I’m trying to understand how the general public interacted with Parliament at the time. All the protests seemed to happen in the afternoon and evening. Looking at the ballot cards, the timings of when the house sat controlled the times of when the public were allowed to enter the building.
Come back on Saturday 6 August 2016, when Mary finds suffragette arrest sheets in the Parliamentary Archives…