Historic 'suffrage shop' could be revived in Sheffield for landmark anniversary

Chrissy Meleady outside the shop that was once used by suffragettes. Picture: Andrew Roe
Chrissy Meleady outside the shop that was once used by suffragettes. Picture: Andrew Roe

A historic 'suffrage shop' where women campaigned for the right to vote could be revived 100 years after a landmark law was introduced.

City charity Early Years Equality wants to take over a unit on Chapel Walk once occupied by the Women's Social and Political Union, the society founded by Emmeline Pankhurst with the aim of extending the vote to in all national elections.

Working with girls and young women aged 13 and upwards, the equality group wants to hold talks and events, sell merchandise and set up a small café for a full year - mirroring the activities that happened at 26-28 Chapel Walk from 1908 to advance the suffragette movement until the Representation of the People Act came into force in 1918.

Negotiations are under way to secure the lease on the shop and funds are being sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund, other charities and donors to secure the necessary £25,000.

In addition, an online crowdfunding appeal to put up a commemorative plaque at the site has reached almost half of its £700 target.

Campaigner Chrissy Meleady, who is helping to lead the shop project, said Sheffield was 'very prolific' in calling for women's suffrage. The city could lay claim to the campaign starting here, she explained, as a resolution demanding the vote was passed by the Sheffield Female Political Association in 1851 and presented to the House of Lords.

"That's why it's so important that Sheffield has a profile and pays due regard to it as something to be proud of and celebrate," she said.

Activism in Sheffield had a militant edge. Emmeline sent her daughter, Adela, as a local organiser for the Sheffield WSPU, and in the same year the shop was opened Pankhurst Jr tried to enter and disrupt the Cutlers' Feast, disguised as a kitchen maid.

"It was one of the very first suffrage shops, they had several across the UK," said Chrissy. "They sold merchandise with the suffragette emblem on, produced posters and campaign material from there, and held educational classes."

But the place's story is not immediately apparent. The numbers of the shops on Chapel Walk have changed over time, meaning 26-28 is actually numbered 30. "The numbers bury the history of it," said Chrissy.

The city council in Manchester, where Emmeline was born and the Pankhurst Centre museum operates, has given permission to use certain images and logos on items that would be sold from the relaunched shop, she said. "We're hoping to see whether it's possible to sell teas and coffees, to have it exactly as it was, as they had a little cafe as well," Chrissy added. "The kids are talking about people dressing up in suffragette costumes."

Chrissy said she hoped the year-long lease could be finalised as soon as possible. The unit was last used by CandyCo, a business selling confectionery from around the world. The initiative is being supported by the Sheffield Co-operative Development Group, a business advice agency, as the Women's Co-operative Guild pushed for equal rights in tandem with the suffragettes.

The 1918 Act enabled women over 30 to vote. It was not until 1928 that women were given equal status with men and the voting age was reduced to 21.