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Plaque to honour martial arts suffragette to be unveiled in London

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Deborah Cowan
WVoN co-editor

It’s not very often that the words ‘suffragette’ and ‘jujitsu’ come together in the same sentence.  At least not anymore.

But go back a hundred years and you may come across the legendary Edith Garrud.

Not only was she one of the world’s first female martial arts instructors, Garrud also trained the 30-strong suffragette defence force of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

This elite circle, or ‘Bodyguard’, were charged with the protection of the inner sanctum of the suffragette movement – including Emmeline Pankhurst – from police violence and arrest.

This Saturday, Islington Council in north London will commemorate this remarkable woman, when it unveils a People’s Plaque at her former residence in Islington.

Catherine West, leader of Islington Council said:

‘Edith Garrud’s pioneering career and the Suffragettes’ victory on votes for women have contributed to making our society fairer and more inclusive.

‘It’s historic contributions like hers that have stamped their mark on our borough and inspired residents to vote in their thousands for their Islington’s People’s Plaques heroes.’

Born in Bath, Garrud married at 23 and, with her husband William Garrud, discovered the world of jujitsu in the heart of Soho.

They trained first with Edward William Barton-Wright, founder of the martial art Bartitsu and the first European teacher of jujitsu.

They then met Japanese master Sadakazu Uyenishi, and on his return to Japan, the husband and wife team took over his school, with Edith taking the women and children’s classes.

She and her husband gave public displays and exhibitions of jujitsu throughout London and Edith also starred in an early martial arts film called ‘Jui-Jitsu’ in 1907.

She was a strong proponent of women being able to defend themselves.  In an article for Health & Strength in 1910, she wrote :

‘Woman is exposed to many perils nowadays, because so many who call themselves men are not worthy of that exalted title, and it is her duty to learn how to defend herself, because ju-jutsu has over and over again been proved to be the most effective means, in moments of emergency, for repelling the attack of a ruffian.’

But it was her work with the suffragettes that made her famous.

She began working with the WSPU in 1908, eventually training them at her women-only dojo, which was actually a rented room at the Palladium Academy dance school.

The elite ‘Bodyguard’ became proficient in the art of Jujitsu and eventually became known as the ‘Jujitsuffragettes’.

Tony Wolf, a martial arts expert and author of a book about Garrud said:

‘Members [of the bodyguard] had to be athletic and willing to face injury and arrest. She trained them in jujutsu at secret locations throughout London, and also taught them how to use wooden Indian clubs, which were concealed in their dresses and used as weapons against the truncheons of the police.’

Staff at Holloway Prison, where many suffragettes were held, also got to know her well, as she would scale the outside wall of the prison, waving the WSPU flag and singing protest songs.

Garrud herself was a diminutive figure at just 4ft 11.  She saw this as inconsequential, and explained in an article how her students had “brought great burly cowards nearly twice their size to their feet and made them howl for mercy”.

Garrud died in 1971 at the grand old age of 99.  A people’s hero indeed.

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