Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery Outrage

From the Manchester Guardian, April 4 1913

Just before nine o’clock in the evening of Thursday April 3, 1913, when Manchester Art Gallery was due to close and few people were about, an attendant heard ‘crackings of glass’ coming from one of the Galleries.

Two attendants ran into the Gallery and found three women, Lilian Forrester, Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta, running round, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable pictures in the collections. It had been well planned. Nowhere else in the Gallery were hung so many famous pictures, so close together.

The Gallery doors were shut by the doorkeeper and the three women were caught . The Chief Constable and a superintendent took the women to the Town Hall for questioning.

They were charged under the Malicious Damage Act, 1861, and released on bail until the next morning when they appeared before the Stipendiary Magistrate.

Which paintings were damaged?

The suffragettes attacked 13 paintings including some of the most famous works in the collection by Pre-Raphaelite and late Victorian artists. The women’s intention was to break the protective glass only. However, the broken glass caused more serious damage to 4 of the paintings and the Gallery had to organise for repairs and restoration to be carried out. All of the paintings had to be re-glazed.

The Last Watch of Hero and Captive Andromache by Lord Frederic Leighton
The Syrinx by Arthur Hacker
Sybilla Delphica by Edward Burne-Jones
Paola and Francesca by George Frederick Watts
The Last of the Garrison by Briton Riviere
Birnam Woods by John Everett Millais
The Prayer and Portrait of The Hon J L Motley by George Frederick Watts
A Flood by John Everett Millais
When Apples were Golden by John Melhuish Strudwick
The Shadow of Death by William Holman Hunt
Astarte Syriaca by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Why did it Happen?

The day before, on 2 April 1913, the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude for “inciting persons unknown” to burn down buildings. In protest at this harsh sentence, suffragettes across the country took action. As well as the incident in the Gallery, women in Manchester poured ink into 11 post boxes, which damaged 250 letters.

Mrs Pankhurst had founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, 10 years before, to campaign for votes for women. Her slogan was ‘Deeds Not Words’. Despite a long, militant campaign, by January 1913 she felt that militancy was becoming an increasing moral and political duty, and she called on women:

It is a duty that every woman will owe to her conscience and self-respect, to other women who are less fortunate than she is herself, and to all those who are to come after her. Take your share in manifesting in a practical manner, your indignation at the betrayal of our cause.

Suffragettes and art galleries

There is to me something hateful, sinister, sickening in this heaping up of art treasures, this sentimentalising over the beautiful, while the desecration and ruin of bodies of women and little children by lust, disease, and poverty are looked upon with indifference.

Ethel Smyth

Following the Manchester Art Gallery incident, Suffragettes continued to attack paintings during 1914, selecting valuable artworks for maximum publicity, including the Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery and Clausen’s Primavera at the Royal Academy. Sometimes they targeted political images, such portraits of George V and of the Duke of Wellington.

Museums and Galleries across the country had to have extra security measures. Sticks, umbrellas, bags and parcels could not be brought in; the number of warders, cleaners and attendants was increased; plain clothes detectives mingled with visitors. Proposals to admit women by ticket or ban them from entry altogether were rejected. Museum staff were advised that when detaining a woman, she should be seized by the wrists, and that precautions should be taken against pepper being thrown into the warder’s eyes, allowing the suffragette to effect her escape.

The Trial – 22nd April 1913

The Accused

Annie Briggs, 48, a housekeeper; Lillian Forrester, 33, married (her occupation was not given); Evelyn Manesta, 25, a governess.

The Charge

“unlawfully and maliciously damaging” thirteen pictures in the gallery.

The Evidence

The cost of repairing the glass was £85 and repairing two of the canvasses was £25.
The three women did not deny the charges and made speeches to the jury.

I am not guilty of the charges brought against me. I gave my comrades my fullest support but in no way aided them. Our women take their course on their own deliberate responsibility. This is not a personal but a world question… Women have to protest against things which are intolerable to them.

Annie Briggs

I do not stand here as a malicious person but as a patriot…a political offender…. I appeal to the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. We have already been punished by appearing before the courts three times and going through the present ordeal…. I have a degree in history and my knowledge of history has spurred me to this fight for women’s freedom.

Lilian Forrester

I am a political offender.

Evelyn Manesta

The Sentence

The jury acquitted Annie and convicted Lilian and Evelyn. Lilian was sentenced to three months imprisonment and Evelyn to one month.

If the law would allow I would send you round the world in a sailing ship as the best thing for you.

The Judge

Surveillance and doctored photographs

The Home Office funded prison officials to secretly photograph the suffragettes as they walked about the prison’s exercise yard. After the women’s release, copies of their photographs were given to the agents assigned to follow and keep tabs on them, and to the guards stationed at places the suffragettes had already attacked or seemed likely to attack in the future. Each suffragette had a police file containing photographs, physical descriptions, and surveillance reports.

A Policeman’s arm restraining Evelyn Manesta round her neck was removed from original photograph when the picture was used.

Final Victory

The First World War had a major impact on the fight for the vote. As men left their jobs and went overseas to fight, suffragettes volunteered to take their place. Women’s experiences during the war raised their self-image and sense of individual identity; their skilled and dangerous work during the war was a significant factor in finally winning the vote.

1918 – The Representation of the People Act gave the vote to women aged over 30 if they, or their husband, are homeowners
1918 – The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act allowed women to stand for Parliament
1918 – Women vote in a general election for the first time on 14 December with 8.5 million women eligible
1928 – The Equal Franchise Act passed giving women equal voting rights with men. All women aged over 21 can vote in elections. Fifteen million women are eligible
1929 – On 30 May women aged between 21 and 29 vote for the first time

Further resources

Curator Hannah Williamson talks about the Suffragette action.

Interview with Elizabeth Dean (1978)
Felicity Goodey visits “A right to vote” exhibition in Manchester, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, and interviews ninety-two year-old Elizabeth Dean. From the BBC NW Collection 1966-1986 held at the North West Film Archive, Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Suffragette Attack on Manchester Art Gallery, April 1913
Manchester’s Radical History.


Interior View of the Art Gallery, Henry Edward Tidmarsh, c 1894, Suffragettes Annie Briggs, Lillian Forrester and Evelyn Manestra, 1913 courtesy of Manchester Archives
Hammer brooch, © Museum of London
Interior of Manchester Art Gallery, courtesy Manchester Archives
Last Watch of Hero, Frederic, Lord Leighton (detail)
Sibylla Delphica, Sir Edward Coley Burne-jones (detail)
Suffragettes, 1909. From Carried Away, Peoples History Museum. © People’s History Museum
Evelyn Manesta by Criminal Record Office, silver print mounted onto identification sheet, 1914
2 3/4 in. x 1 1/2 in. (73 mm x 37 mm), acquired Criminal Record Office, 1914, Photographs Collection, NPG x45558 © National Portrait Gallery

One response to “Manchester Art Gallery Outrage”

  1. carol morris says:

    hello I am a history student and wondered if you had any primary documents with regard to the manchester art gallery fire and information on how it was reported in the papers for example?

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