This morning I work in the archives – it’s full today and we all sit silently side by side working away at our own projects. I seem to have the biggest trolley of books to go through, it means nothing, but it makes me feel valid being here.
The reading room is old fashioned and high ceilinged. It’s dominated by a large polished wooden table with places allocated for up to eight people. On each side of the room are shelves full of ordered journals and at the end is a large window with views out across Victoria Tower Gardens and the Thames. It’s windy because we are so high up; the sound of the wind constantly draws your thoughts back to the outside.
The library atmosphere is still, everyone quietly studying – no one talks apart from the occasional whispered question to the archivist who sits at the front of the room. I’m curious to know my fellow researchers’ projects; are they political, academic, or studying old property boundaries? I will never know.
This afternoon I spend time with Mari and Melanie at the Museum of London. Here I meet Beverley Cook the curator. She gives us a personal tour of the public collection; the display has lots of wonderful, thought provoking artefacts on display. One piece that we all were particularly interested to see was the waist shackles that a suffragette used to chain herself to the statue of Viscount Falkland in St Stephen’s Hall in 1908.
Beverley explains that the suffragettes used belts like this one to chain themselves to railings. It took the police a long time to release them from the chain’s padlocks. This meant the women had more time to make long protest speeches. Belts like these had been originally made to restrain mentally ill patients. This one was probably adapted by a blacksmith who would have added the shackles.
Seeing the shackles made me wonder how driven these women must have been. The bravery to enter Parliament with the knowledge that they were going to make a protest, and having to disguise this weighty band and chain under their clothes.
Beverley takes us through the archives. Such interesting spaces and so varied. I find I’m just as keen on the housing of the artefacts as in the objects themselves.
We enter a large concrete space with rooms leading off, full of modern cabinets with drawers bursting with badges and suffrage objects. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff. We enter the poster section where one stands out for me: The Haunted House. It sums up how I feel at the moment about the Palace of Westminster – A women pondering in the shadows.
I make an appointment to go back and look at the archives more closely once I have spent a little more time talking to historians and experts. I can hone my choice of what to study.