There is a blue plaque to Annie Kenney at Leesbrook Mill in Lees in Oldham where the working class suffragette started full-time work in 1892 as a weaver’s assistant. She later suffered a serious injury when one of her fingers was ripped off by a spinning bobbin.
Kenney became involved in trade union activities but she is best known for her involvement in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In October 1905, Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a politician meeting to ask Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey about their views on whether women should be allowed to vote.
When neither man replied and the women then got out a banner declaring ‘Votes for Women’ they were thrown out and arrested for obstruction. Kenney went to prison for 3 days. She was later in-volved in many other similar acts and suffered imprisonment on many occasions and during which time she was often force fed after participating in hunger strikes.
Kenney was unusual in that unlike many of the leading WSPU members she was working class and when the organisation decided to open a branch in the East End of London she agreed to leave the mill and work full-time for the WSPU.
When Christabel Pankhurst fled to France in 1912 to avoid arrest it was Kenney who was put in charge of the WSPU in London. After the WSPU began destroying the contents of pillar-boxes and attempted to burn down the houses of two government members opposed to women having the vote, Kenney was again arrested and sentenced to 18 months in gaol for ‘incitement to riot.’ She became the first suffragette released from prison under the provisions of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ that released women on hunger strike in order to prevent them becoming martyrs and then re-arrested them when they recovered.
Kenney escaped to France and when the First World War was declared in 1914 she returned home after the WSPU ended their campaign and backed the military conflict with Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst helping recruit men to the armed forces.
Kenney later lost interest in politics and she died on 9 July 1953 with her husband, James Taylor, claiming his wife had never properly recovered from her hunger strikes.
Rebel Road would like to thank Oldham’s Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep who is a technician at BAE systems in Middleton, Manchester, for information on the plaque to Annie Kenney.
“I am a life long socialist and my local area of Oldham has a great working class heritage that should be celebrated and brought to the attention of the current generation so they can be inspired to emulate the great people of the past,” said Alan.