London’s 1000th official blue plaque was unveiled last week, in a location just off Strand in central London. The latest addition to the London blue plaques scheme marks the former London headquarters of the suffragist organisation, the Women’s Freedom League (WFL).
One of the few parts of Robert Adam’s Adelphi development to survive, this three-storey building on Robert Street near Charing Cross station was the WFL’s bustling base of operations for its longest and most active period.
The Women’s Freedom League was formed in 1907 following disagreements within the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by Emmeline Pankhurst. The WFL’s aim – to secure total emancipation for women – was underlined by their 1908 motto, coined at their Robert Street headquarters: ‘Dare to be Free’.
While working from this building, the WFL advocated the non-payment of taxes and leading the way in the 1911 census boycott. At the opening of Parliament in January 1908, members tried to present a petition to the King, reviving a traditional way to voice grievances. Later in 1908, three members protested in the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons by chaining themselves to the metal grille which protected the MPs in the Chamber.
They also brought an innovative approach to protest. When in 1909 women’s suffrage was again omitted from the King’s speech, an airship was hired to distribute WFL pamphlets outlining the right to petition the government.
The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for over 150 years, and now there are a thousand of them to look out for. The scheme is now looked after by English Heritage.