Oxford Castle & Prison has been home to many prisoners over the centuries among them, Helen Craggs a teacher who was to become a Suffragette seeking women’s suffrage. Read about here story here.
Suffragette, pharmacist and teacher
Oxford Prison has held many prisoners over the centuries and unfortunately many of them did not deserve to be here. Helen Craggs was born in Westminster in 1888 and was one of 8 siblings. She was educated at Roedean and wished to study medicine but her father refused the idea. She instead became a teacher, and later became a Suffragette supporting the cause of women’s suffrage as a political activist.
As an active Suffragette Helen had to adopt a false name Helen Millar to protect her family and her teaching position while she protested tirelessly and courageously for votes for women.
Helen like many Suffragettes suffered for their cause enduring obscene abuse from male bystanders at protests, being thrown down a stone staircase for interrupting a speech delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George and was imprisoned for smashing windows, a common and accepted form of political protest in those days. During her stay in Holloway prison she, like many Suffragettes, went on hunger strike.
Helen Craggs is linked to Oxford Prison due to one of her more extreme acts of political agitation. She was caught carrying materials for causing arson near the home of Lewis Harcourt, a Liberal MP and an alleged predator. When she appeared in the Bullingdon Petty Sessions court the next day Helen Craggs proudly wore the Suffragette colours of white, green and Purple and admitted her intent to burn down Harcourt’s home.
Helen was sentenced to 9 months hard labour at Oxford Prison and would have been kept in B-Wing – Oxford’s women’s prison. She was later moved to Holloway Prison and again went on Hunger strike.
Prison authorities often force-fed suffragettes on hunger strike, this involved the prisoner being restrained by prison warders and medical staff while a rubber tube was forced into their mouth or nose. Liquid foods such as mixtures of milk and eggs were poured down the tube into the stomach. Force feeding was a torturous process and suffragettes could often suffer broken teeth, bleeding, vomiting and even choking as the liquid food could be poured into the lungs by mistake.
Helen Craggs was forced fed five times in 2 days. She suffered internal and external bruising for 11 days before she was finally released due to her poor health.
A great many Suffragettes like Helen Craggs suffered and even gave up their lives for the cause of women’s suffrage and they helped to change British society in a profound way. On the 21st November 1918 the Qualification of Women act allowed women to be elected to parliament and in 1928 the Representation of the People Act gave women in Wales Scotland and England the vote on equal terms as men. As for Helen Craggs herself, later in life, despite her father’s earlier refusal to allow her to study medicine she trained as a midwife and later as a pharmacist.