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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

The Women’s Hall events listings


Poetry reading and talk: Writ on Cold Slate - Sylvia Pankhurst’s Holloway Prison Poems, with Chris Searle
Thursday 12 July, 6:30 - 7:30pm
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.

Workshop: Suffragette Sources at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives
Saturday 21 July, 11:00am - 1:00pm, drop-in
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.

Workshop: East End History Club Suffragette Special
Saturday 21 July, 2:00 - 4:00pm, drop-in
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.


Walk: Battling Belles of Bow with Rachel Kolsky
Thursday 30 August, 6.30 – 8.30pm
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


Talk: Indian Suffragettes - Female Identities and Transnational Networks with Sumita Mukherjee
Thursday 13 September, 6.30 – 7.30pm

Dr Sumita Mukherjee looks at the activities of Indian campaigners for the female vote – in Asia, Europe, USA, Britain and other parts of the British Empire, and how they had an impact on campaigns in the Indian subcontinent.
In the context of her new book, she discusses the experiences of the Indian suffragettes who travelled around the world to lobby the British parliament, attend international women’s conferences, and conduct speaking tours to gather support for Indian women. Dr Mukherjee will demonstrate the ways in which the suffrage movement was a truly global enterprise, not solely confined to Britain or America, which involved and affected women from a range of diverse backgrounds.

book your tickets

Workshop: Was Your Ancestor a Suffragette? Family History Day
NEW DATE – Saturday 15 September, 10.00 – 1.30pm

Get help researching your ancestors and find out more about the women’s suffrage campaign in London’s East End at this free family history event. A variety of talks will take place throughout the morning – including one from special guest speaker Vicky Iglikowski, Principal Records Specialist (Diverse Histories) at The National Archives. Visitors will also have the chance to browse stalls and displays. Please bring your own laptops or tablets to access online family history resources. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided.

Workshop: East End History Club Suffragette Special
Saturday 15 September, 2.00 – 4.00pm

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.


Walk: Battling Belles of Bow with Rachel Kolsky
Saturday 6 October, 2.30 – 4.30pm

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

Teen talk: Sally Nicholls
Thursday 11 October, 4.30 - 5.30pm
To mark the United Nations International Day of the Girl we are delighted to welcome children's and YA author Sally Nicholls for a reading and Q&A session from her book Things a Bright Girl Can Do. This "utterly captivating" novel follows three courageous young women from the East End, Evelyn, May and Nell, in the fight for the vote, and is set just over a hundred years ago in and around the original Women’s Hall! This event is aimed at teenagers - you can book your place here. If you are part of a school group or youth club and would like to bring a group, please contact us on the details below. This event is presented in collaboration with the LSE Women's Library.

Talk: Women United Against Racism - a local story
Thursday 11 October, 6pm - 7pm 
An evening with Julie Begum, chair of Swadhinata Trust, who will be sharing the story of her inolvement in Women Against Racism, a coalition of women from diverse backgrounds who, as part of a wider anti-racist and anti-fascist campaign, managed to get the BNP out of Tower Hamlets during the 1990s. Also part of our Black History Month programme (for more on which, see below).

Talk: Christine Burns on the historic struggle for trans rights 
Thursday 18 October, 6.15 - 7.30pm
Christine Burns MBE has campaigned for trans civil rights for a quarter of a century and has involved with the trans community for more than 40 years. We are now delighted to welcome Christine to give a talk about the history of the fight for civil rights for transgender people in the UK. Christine was a leading figure in the pioneering trans rights organisation Press for Change, working on new employment legislation and the Gender Recognition Act. She will be selling and signing copies of her new book Trans Britain.

The Women's Hall Grand Finale
Saturday 20 October, 12.30 - 5pm

As the exhibition draws to an end at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives we want to give it a good send off. Free to drop in at any point to these happenings all taking place on the last day of opening- no booking required.

12.30-2.30pm  Our final service will be taken over by Dina Begum, author of Brick Lane Cookbook, who will share her tips on cooking with what you have. Dina will lead a cooking demonstration of one of her recipes, which will be included on the day's menu.

2.00-3.00pm The wonderful team from East End Speed Histories will bring suffragete stories from the East End to life in a series of fast-paced talks

3.00-5.00pm  Dip into our dressing up box and don the clothing of a suffragette, pose against our backdrop of banners and take a photo home to remember it forever! Our Suffragette Photo Booth will be fun for all the family.


First Saturday of every month, 1:00 - 1:30pm

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

Numbi Fest 2018

Welcome to Numbi Arts’ residency at the Women’s Hall, a takeover staged for our Repair and Rebellion 2018 Festival programme. Our residency at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library features the Numbi mobile museum, a project exploring the histories of East African diaspora women, our anti-imperialist and feminist resistances, and connection to London’s historic East End.

Our takeover will host the following workshops and talks:

Film Workshop and Screening
Thursday 2 August
, 5:00 - 7:30pm
Ever wanted to document your family’s story and history? Then this is the workshop for you! During this workshop, participants will learn how to write, direct and shoot mini films with their smartphones. Open to young Somali people, this workshop will also focus on the documentation of local Somali family histories, with the option of archiving these films.
Budding historian Salma Bihi has worked with Numbi Arts as a participant on Coming Here, Being Here: Archiving British Somali presence in the East End of London project to produce a film about her own family and
their roots in Tower Hamlets. She strives to tell stories through the medium of photography and hopes to expand her film-making skills.
Facilitator: Salma Bihi

Zine Making
Saturday 4 August and Saturday 18 August, 12:00 - 3:00pm
Zines are self-published publications with a history rooted in DIY cultures. Join Numbi for two collaborative zine making sessions which will result in the publication of a digital Numbi Zine at the end of our residency. We invite you to explore your influences and take part in contributing to the zine through a range of artistic mediums. The theme we wish to reflect on is repair and rebellion. Asma Kabadeh is a resident researcher at Numbi Arts and a recent masters graduate from the University of London. Her work includes archiving British Somali stories, oral storytelling and podcasting. Her research interests include migration, diasporas, Somalinimo and its exclusion and gender and sexuality.
Facilitator: Asma Kabadeh

A Performative Lecture, from Somalinimo to (digital) Babylon
Thursday 9 August, 5:00 - 7:30pm

This experimental radio show and workshop is an invitation to trace, question and discuss the myths, historiography and complexities that surround Somali popular cultural archive and the ways the self is narrated,
constructed within the Diaspora. In what ways are people creating alternative, multi-vocal propositions of Somali cultural and political identities through visual culture? How does one speak back to a collective trauma in dialogue with strangers, relatives and friends? The workshop departs from this set of questions and aims to facilitate a live radio show that explores themes such as self-self-determination, archiving, futurism, the everyday and its poetics.
Amal Alhaag is an Amsterdam based independent curator and research at the Research Center for Material Culture at the Tropenmuseum. Together with artist Maria Guggenbichler she ran the Side Room; a centre for intersectional art and theory in Amsterdam.
Facilitator: Amal Alhaag

Engaging the Archive
Thursday 16 August 12:00 - 3:00pm
Numbi Archive is an ongoing, decade long living archive. Engaging the Archive invites the public to explore the Numbi Mobile Archive and participate in an arts-based exploration of items in the collection. This will be followed by a group discussion reflecting on the role of archiving in our communities, who can we harvest from a living archive and what agency archives hold.
This event will be facilitated by Deqa Abshir, a Somali-Kenyan artist and educator based in Nairobi. Deqa is currently a master’s student in Expressive Arts Therapy at the European Graduate School. Her
multifaceted approach to facilitation will create the space for some interesting discussions around the larger topic of memory.
Facilitator: Deqa Abshir

Heritage Walking Tour: Hidden Women
Saturday 18 August, 10:00am - 12:00pm 

This walk will take audiences through and around locations that have been the site of innovative, revolutionary and important actions by women from a wide range of backgrounds, which have subsequently been forgotten or erased. The walk will culminate with lunch at the Cost Price cafe. Alana Jelinek is Tower Hamlets artist and writer who writes about the role and value of art in society at the University of Hertfordshire.
Facilitator: Alana Jelinek

Studio Pop Up and Photo Scanning Session
Thursday 23 August, 5:00 - 7:30pm

This workshop is a drop-in portraiture session inspired by Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keïta. It will explore and question the Black image in the West, whilst also creating a dialogue through stories, images of self, places and text that form up identity. We encourage participants to both bring old family photos to be archived, objects, forms of technology, cultural/native clothing, documents and be willing to have their photograph taken by our resident photographer. The portraiture studio will be set up in the space for a session directed by Anisa Nuh-Ali.
Anisa Nuh-Ali is a conceptual artist, she interrogates and explores the intersections of race, religion and gender. Nuh-Ali’s work examines and also comments on sport; black athleticism, culture, aesthetics and politics. She primarily works within the fields of installations - creating sculptural ready-mades, printmaking, painting, photography, film, artists’ books, moving image and experimental sound. Her practice heavily involves research and archiving. Nuh-Ali has a BA in Fine Art and divides her time between Sheffield and London.
Facilitator: Anisa Nuh-Ali

Dreaming Safe Spaces
Thursday 23 August, 6:00 - 7:30pm

This workshop will be exploring dream spaces as sites of resistance through creative engagement. Participants will be guided through meditative exercises as a way to connect to memory of safe, and captivating sounds and imagery, this will be followed by a creative exercises using art materials to capture the essence of the dreaming exercises. The workshop will conclude with a brief reflection and the participants will have the opportunity to include their creative work in the Numbi archive. Charity Mwaniki is a Numbi resident artist. She studies Architecture and is interested in creative art that is community engaging.
Facilitator: Charity Mwaniki

Social, spatial and environmental relations
Tuesday 28 August, 7:00 - 9:00pm
(Different Location, TBA)
As we begin our design process for Numbi Village in Gambia for 2020 Project this workshop brings an opportunity to explore some of our key ideas to our Numbi audience. The project will be designed as prototype for exploring affordable methods of construction, which can improve the quality of life for both local partners and us. The outcome will form part of our continuing group interests on health living, sustainability and sustainable communities.
Abiel is a student from the London School of Architecture LSA. He enjoys working at the edge of interesting disciplines including design, social sciences, and activism. For the last year, Abiel has worked with Numbi architects who take interest in the way social, ecological and economic currents are reflected in physical and visual environments, and the role that design has.
Facilitator: Abiel Hagos

Kathleen Wrasama: Black British Women Activists Talk
Thursday 30 August, 5:00 - 7:30pm

The names and stories of black women are conspicuously absent from the history of East London. Kathleen Wrasama,, is one of the few the archive can provide. Taken by church missionaries from Ethiopia as a child before the First World War, she found a home in East London as a part of the Somali sailors' community. Join us as we explore the life of
Kathleen and the black women the archives are unable/unwilling to speak about.
Facilitator: Hudda Khaireh