Blue plaque for suf­fragette in gallery where she slashed art Birm­ing­ham mu­seum to hon­our cam­paigner who fought for the vote

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Carl Jack­son Lo­cal Democ­racy Re­porter

ABLUE plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing the life of a Birm­ing­ham suf­fragette is to be erected at the city’s mu­seum and art gallery where she fa­mously at­tacked a paint­ing with a meat cleaver.

Bertha Ry­land caused £50 of dam­age and prompted a sixweek clo­sure of the gallery in 1914.

How­ever, due to the out­break of the First World War and de­lays to her trial caused by prison-in­flicted ill­ness, the Edg­bas­ton suf­fragette was never con­victed.

Now as part of the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the first women win­ning the right to vote, Ry­land will be recog­nised.

There had been a spate of suf­fragette at­tacks on art gal­leries and mu­se­ums in Bri­tain dur­ing 1913 and 1914. Most of them oc­curred in Lon­don but mu­seum chiefs in Birm­ing­ham were nev­er­the­less an­tic­i­pat­ing an at­tack of their own and had held in­tense dis­cus­sions around in­sur­ing the art­works.

They even had a de­tec­tive stand­ing guard at the en­trance and planned to close the gallery tem­po­rar­ily should news break of the pass­ing of Em­me­line Pankhurst, who led the women’s right to vote move­ment. But at about 1.20pm on June 9, 1914, Ry­land ar­rived at the mu­seum with the cleaver con­cealed within her jacket.

She walked up to a paint­ing of John Bens­ley Thorn­hill, known as Master Thorn­hill by the 18th cen­tury artist Ge­orge Rom­ney, and slashed it three times.

Ry­land left be­hind a note with her name and ad­dress which also con­tained the mes­sage ‘I at­tack this work of art de­lib­er­ately as a protest against the gov­ern­ment’s crim­i­nal in­jus­tice in deny­ing women the vote, and also against the gov­ern­ment’s bru­tal in­jus­tice in im­pris­on­ing, forcibly feed­ing, and drug­ging suf­frag­ist mil­i­tants, while al­low­ing Ul­ster mil­i­tants to go free’.

The dam­age caused pub­lic ou­trage and she was re­port­edly fol­lowed by a threat­en­ing crowd en route to the po­lice sta­tion.

As she was pre­sented be­fore mag­is­trates Ry­land re­fused to ac­knowl­edge pro­ceed­ings and yelled ‘ no sur­ren­der’ as she left court.

Af­ter she was com­mit­ted for trial she was held on re­mand at Win­son Green prison and went on hunger strike.

It was not the ac­tivist’s first time be­hind bars hav­ing spent a week in Hol­loway Prison in Novem­ber 1911 and then four months at Win­son Green af­ter tak­ing part in the win­dow-smash­ing cam­paign in Lon­don in March 1912.

Her Birm­ing­ham hunger strike led to her be­ing force fed which re­sulted in per­ma­nent kid­ney dam­age. Her ill­ness meant her trial for the gallery at­tack had to be post­poned af­ter a sur­geon at Queen’s Hospi­tal de­clared the hear­ing would cause her men­tal con­di­tion to de­te­ri­o­rate.

But af­ter the out­break of war in 1914 the charges were dropped. Ry­land lived un­til 1977. The blue plaque will be lo­cated on a wall in the Round Room next to the gallery’s show-piece art­works.

It will form part of the mu­seum’s Birm­ing­ham Women: 100 Years of Change project and be launched at an event tied in with the un­veil­ing of a Women, Power, Protest ex­hi­bi­tion.

It is also part of Birm­ing­ham Civic So­ci­ety’s cen­te­nary pro­gramme to in­crease the num­ber of plaques cel­e­brat­ing women. They have placed more than 80 plaques through­out the city recog­nis­ing sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures.

>Above, the pro­posed blue plaque and a 1913 march of the Birm­ing­ham Women’s Suf­frage So­ci­ety

> The Mu­seum and Art Gallery where Ry­land at­tacked a paint­ing

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