Emily Davison famously stowed away in a crypt in the House of Commons on Census night 1911. Women were essentially trying to gain an address at the House of Commons by winning the vote, so having the Commons as one’s address on Census night had a certain ironic logic to it. Many other Suffragists, including the Suffragettes of Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) and the militant but non-violent Women’s Freedom League (WFL), boycotted the Census by hiding themselves away on Census night, crammed in together in their headquarters, their shops and so on. But Emily, always one to be different, not only appeared on the Census, but appeared on it twice! Her landlady took it upon herself to wrongly record Emily Davison as present at her address on Census night. For a century this was thought to be the only mention of Emily, but relatively recently researchers typed in the name Emily Davidson, with a ‘d’, into their computer and up popped Emily, address House of Commons! So Emily was successful in having her address recorded as the House of Commons after all! And I think she would have enjoyed the irony of the male House of Commons personnel not even being able to record her name on the Census correctly.
Emily’s stowing away on Census night was featured in the recent Clare Balding Channel 4 TV programme about Emily, and it is famously commemroated with a plaque put up by Tony Benn MP in the cupboard of the crypt where she was found. But she was actually caught and ejected quite quickly on the night. She enjoyed a far more successful stowing away in the Commons on another occasion. She managed to climb up into the Commons’ heating area and spent a hot, dry, dusty, not to mention precarious night up in the rafters of the area, occasionally sneaking down to take a sip of water from a little drinking tap in the corridor opposite her entry point into the rafters. It was only when a watchman spotted drops of water on the corridor floor that he thought he would investigate the rafters area opposite with his torch. He peered up to find a very white woman’s face staring at him out of the gloom! He almost dropped his torch in shock!
As a result of the Census boycott, any grandaughters or great grandaughters of women’s Suffragists, who are doing their ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ family ancestry, may find a gap in their research when it comes to 1911.