Arbor print shop, Bow Bathsy, Bow Public Hall, Bryant & May matchbox factory, East London Federation of Suffragettes, Old Ford Road, Suffragette printing press, Suffragettes, Sylvia Pankhurst, Women's Hall
I was about to guide one of my Sylvia Pankhurst walks through Bow the other day, when I walked past the Arbor printing shop in Roman Road that for over a century had housed the printing press used by Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes. I had stopped to read the closing down sign in the window when Mr Arbor, the kindly old man who owned the shop, happened to come along. The Arbor family printing business had been there for 117 years. Mr Arbor told me his grandmother had been one of Sylvia’s suffragettes. She had told her husband that he must do all their suffragette printing for free. He was not happy about that but his wife was apparently a large woman whom you didn’t argue with! Mr Arbor also told me that once, during a confrontation with the police, she had held a bobby down in the Hertford Canal by use of a large pole! As there is no record of a policeman drowning in the canal, I can only assume she must have allowed him to escape at some point! The printing press which printed Suffragette material was one of two printing presses in Mr Arbor’s basement till last month. With the shop closing down, a printing museum in Norfolk was to have one, but the press used by the suffragettes was to go to the Bishopsgate Institute. But when the Institute’s van turned up, their driver had only come to check on the press’ weight. When he was told the press weighed a ton he informed Mr Arbor that he didn’t have the vehicle or equipment to deal with something that heavy. But with time running out before Mr Arbor had to vacate the premises, when the Norfolk museum turned up to take their press, Mr Arbor told then that they had better take the other press too, which they did.
Incidentally, Mr Arbor has been forced out primarily by a Tower Hamlets parking spy camera outside his shop. The local vicar recently parked outside his shop for a minute whilst she popped in to pick up some paper for her church, and she received a £65 parking charge for her trouble!
The Arbor shop is to be converted into apartments but apparently the lovely old shop signage may be retained in some way. With all three of Sylvia’s Bow HQs (the original one in a shop opposite Bow Church, the one in the Roman Road and the Women’s Hall in Old Ford Road), Sylvia’s Mothers Arms, and Bow Baths where Sylvia gave many of her great indoor speeches, all long gone, the Arbor printing shop is yet another piece of lost Suffragette history. But Sylvia’s world war one toy factory (in an ordinary terraced house), the Bow Public Hall where Sylvia delivered a great speech despite being weak from hunger and thirst strikes, and the police station and its cells where Sylvia was held on many an occasion are still there. The funeral parlour, which had its windows smashed by Sylvia’s supporters after her first speech in Bow, is no longer there, but the same funeral firm are still there having moved just a few yards along the street into, ironically, the ‘old’ Victorian police station. The ‘new’ police station that held Sylvia is Edwardian. The spot in what was Bow’s main square, where Sylvia famously gave her first great galvanising speech, is now a block of flats, but the rest of the square is still there. And just behind still remain a couple of important buildings left from the days of the Lester sisters, who were suffragette sympathisers, including the hall where Gandhi stayed with them when he visited London.
And the dreaded Bryant & May matchbox factory, or ‘phossy jaw’ infamy is still there. The epitome of the unjust society that Sylvia was trying to change.