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The Women's Hall

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives

277 Bancroft Road, London E1 4DQ
opening hours

30 May - 20 October 2018

The Women’s Hall at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives is the first major exhibition about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS).

The free exhibition and accompanying events run until 20 October 2018 and explore the ELFS campaign for the vote, their split from the WSPU and their wartime projects, which included a co-operative toy factory, a health clinic, and a nursery in a former pub. Visitors will learn about little known local working class suffragettes like Melvina Walker and Daisy Parsons, and the venues in Bow and Poplar which were taken over by the ELFS for use in their projects.

Thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition hall at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives will be transformed into a unique space evoking the headquarters of the ELFS, a former Baptist mission hall on Old Ford Road in Bow which the suffragettes named ‘The Women’s Hall’. The building no longer stands.

The exhibition includes a recreation of the ELFS Cost Price Restaurant, which will serve refreshments for visitors on a free or 'pay-what-you-can' basis using redistributed food on dates to be confirmed. There will also be a donation point for the local food bank.

Objects and archive materials on display include a rare ‘Ealontoys’ teddy bear made in the toy factory started by the ELFS just behind Roman Road; and the handwritten diary of suffragette Gertrude Setchfield which describes her trips to the East End in 1914 to attend ELFS rallies, on loan from the LSE Women’s Library.

A free public programme of talks, creative workshops, film screenings and guided walks will accompany the exhibition, and a learning resource will be developed for Tower Hamlets teachers to use to explore local suffrage stories.

Local Somali cultural organisation Numbi Arts will also stage a takeover of the space in August, presenting Repair and Rebellion - a strand of free events linked to Numbi’s new mobile museum exploring histories of women of the East African diaspora, their links with London’s East End, and anti-imperialism - a cause to which Sylvia Pankhurst was dedicated.

cafe‘Cost Price Restaurant'

In partnership with Fare Share, who are fighting hunger by tackling food waste in the UK, and in the spirit of the original East End suffragettes, we are hosting a ‘pay what you can’ café within the exhibition space, run by our dedicated band of Women’s Hall volunteers. A weekly delivery of unwanted supermarket food is turned into delicious dishes: usually sandwiches, salads, soups and smoothies.  You can eat for free or make a donation at the reception desk.  

Café opening times
Wednesday    12.30 - 2.30pm
Thursday        12.30 – 2.30pm  and   5.30 – 7pm
Saturdays (1st and 3rd of the month)   12.30 – 2.30pm

Group bookings of more than 8: please reserve a place in advance by contacting
Please let staff know of any allergies prior to ordering.

Events programme

Film: Sylvia Pankhurst, Everything is Possible - Screening followed by Q&A with Ceri Dingle (Director)
Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible is a feature length documentary which, in essay form, traces the context, campaigns and political impact of inspiring suffragette and revolutionary Sylvia Pankhurst. The film includes exclusive testimony from Sylvia’s son Richard Pankhurst and his wife Rita as well as interviews with key writers, suffrage historians, archivists and academics. Rare archive footage, photographs, excerpts from security files held on her and illuminating suffrage memorabilia are interwoven to bring alive the life and times of a heroine deserving of far greater recognition.
Saturday 16 June, 2:00 - 4:00pm

Workshop: Sew an ELFS Posy with Sarah Richards
Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes were known to use their creativity to highlight their campaigns. Come along to our free drop-in workshop at The Women’s Hall led by Sarah Richards ( and learn how to make a posy in ELFS colours using upcycled fabrics. No sewing experience necessary and all materials provided.
Thursday 28 June, 6:00 - 7:30, drop-in

Talk: From East End Suffragettes to World Revolutionaries: The Radical Lives of May O’Callaghan and the Cohen sisters, with Maurice Casey
In 1916, a Scotland Yard detective informed his superiors that three members of the East London Federation of Suffragettes had moved into a flat together: May O’Callaghan, an Irish intellectual, Nellie Cohen, Sylvia Pankhurst’s secretary and the daughter of Jewish refugees from Poland, and her sister Rose. The detective had unwittingly documented the beginning of a friendship that reflected the vibrant world of the East End, where an Irish and Jewish migrant community came together to fight for the causes of the day; votes for all, revolutionary socialism and an end to the war then raging across Europe. These three women maintained a remarkable friendship across decades and places, from the tumult of East London during the suffrage struggle, through the experimental society of revolutionary Moscow and beyond. Using documents from attics and archives in the US, UK and Russia, this talk reveals the untold story of these women and their shared journey through personal and political revolutions.
Thursday 5 July, 6:30 - 7:30pm

Walk: Battling Belles of Bow with Rachel Kolsky
Led by Sylvia Pankhurst who chose east London as the starting point for her campaign for women’s suffrage, East End women were key to the success of the Suffragette movement. Seeing the plight of the working women and mothers, she also established a nursery, a series of restaurants and a toy factory in Bow. Join Rachel Kolsky, prizewinning tour guide and author of Women’s London and follow in Sylvia’s footsteps. Rachel’s book Women’s London will be available for sale on the day at the special price of £10.00.
Booking essential - please email
Saturday 7 July, 2:30 - 4:30

Poetry reading and talk: Writ on Cold Slate - Sylvia Pankhurst’s Holloway Prison Poems, with Chris Searle
Join poet and author Chris Searle to discover another side of Sylvia Pankhurst: her poems. Chris will read from Writ on Cold Slate, a document of life inside Holloway prison during the period of suffragette militancy, and place them within the wider struggles she was involved in.
Thursday 12 July, 6:30 - 7:30pm

Workshop: Suffragette Sources at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives
Discover some of the suffragette sources from the collections at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. Read the real Woman’s Dreadnought, see our first edition copy of The Suffragette signed by its author Sylvia Pankhurst, and browse our unique collection of pamphlets, news cuttings and photographs. With an introduction from Robert Jones, Heritage Officer (Library), and then a chance to explore the material.
Saturday 21 July, 11:00am - 1:00pm, drop-in

Workshop: East End History Club Suffragette Special
A special edition of our regular East End History Club, exploring women’s lives in Tower Hamlets throughout the twentieth century. These sessions are ideal for those who are curious about local history and want to find out more. There’s no need to book, just drop in. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided.
Saturday 21 July, 2:00 - 4:00, drop-in

Guided tours of the exhibition
First Saturday of every month, 1:00 - 1:30pm

We are also offering booked tours for community groups. If you would like to book one, please email