A chance discovery of a forgotten sketch brings light to a forgotten quirk of UK parliamentary history.
It’s been a 100 years since the first women were given the right to vote in the UK, and a new exhibition in London’s Palace of Parliament highlights the lack of access women had not only to democracy, but the discourse of politics itself.
Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition is an immersive experience that recreates lost historical spaces of the Palace of Westminster such as The Ventilator (below), as depicted in a newly-discovered sketch by a young Lady Georgiana Chatterton.
Drawn in 1821 when future novelist and travel writer Chatterton was 15, the watercolour piece is a rare look at a loft space from were women, who were banned from the public galleries of Parliament at the time, were able to watch and listen to debates.
That the piece was found at all is a happy accident of good archiving and social media power, when researcher Simon Bickering stumbled across a sketch book at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The Ventilator piece came with minimal background info, but reminded Bickering of the House of Commons. One tweet and a photo led to confirmation from the Parliamentary Archive team, and three years later the Ventilator now stands again as part of the Voice & Vote show.
If the Ventilator seems like particularly restrictive location, visitors should be aware of the Ladies’ Gallery that eventually replaced the loft room following the 1834 fire that razed the original Palace. The area was closed off by brass grilles placed to stop MPs seeing the women, restricting women’s view as they sat in the hot and stuffy room which was given the less than salutary nickname of the Cage.
Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament will be on show from June 27th to October 6th 2018, and features a remarkable archive of objects and ephemera related to the tumultuous history between UK women and government.