Walton Gaol force-feeding equipment on display

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Suffragette Force Feeding Apparatus. Image © National Justice Museum

Nothing quite brings home the horror of force-feeding than seeing the actual equipment; porcelain funnel, wooden mouth gag and long rubber tube, used to inflict torture on women. This set is even more disturbing to me as it was used at Walton Gaol, Liverpool.

When I first came across the items at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham, I knew we had to bring them home to be displayed here at the Museum of Liverpool. Thankfully, our request to loan them was kindly approved by their curator, Bev Baker. (The items have been away from Liverpool for many years in Nottingham, and previously in Rugby, at HM Prison Service Museum). The items were added to our existing display, ‘Taking Liberties: Women’s Suffrage in Liverpool’ in The People’s Republic gallery for a temporary display in 2018.

The Taking Liberties display already contains some fantastic suffrage objects from our collections which help reveal both the militant and non-militant campaign for the right to vote. The equipment made a chilling but also incredibly important addition to the display to remind us what women from different backgrounds endured for their (and our) basic right to vote. The items are hugely significant, not just to the history of this city, but to the history of the women’s suffrage movement and its continued fight for equality globally.

We don’t know exactly how many suffragettes were force-fed with this equipment, but a well-known case was that of Lady Constance Lytton, who, disguised as a working class woman, Jane Warton was force-fed eight times in January 1910. Local newspaper articles at the time reveal stories of solidarity, protest and desperation. From as early as 1909, it was reported that suffragists in Walton Gaol had been charged with committing damage to property whilst in custody. The women smashed the windows of the prison van while being conveyed to Walton and it is alleged that they broke the windows of their cells and caused other damage inside the Gaol. It was also reported that ‘In loud voices they have sung various songs associated with the Votes for Women cause. The songs intermingle with shouts, which could be heard over large portions of the prison’.

Walton Gaol main gate

Walton Gaol main gate © Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool Libraries

Public protests were organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) outside Walton Gaol in protest against the forced feeding of women. On 19 June 1914 a megaphone was used to shout words of much needed encouragement, and large crowds, including children were present.

W.S.P.U notice

WSPU notice Notice in the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Mercury 19 June, 1914.
Courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Suffragettes on hunger strike were force-fed in British prisons between 1909 up to the outbreak of the First World War. The items were on display at the Museum of Liverpool from 5 July 2018 until January 2019.