Skip to content

Leicester suffragette lost to the history books

Meet the Leicester Pimpernel, Lilian Lenton. Born in 1891.

Surveillance photograph of Lilian Lenton.
Lilian Lenton © National Portrait Gallery (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

This fire starting suffragette may not be a household name, but she was one of the most notorious women to fight for the right to vote. Lenton initially trained as a dancer in Leicester, before joining the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1912 and later moved to London in 1913 to join the wider suffragette movement.

When she began her arson attacks in London, it was to show the government that it was “impossible to govern without the consent of the governed,” according to the Dangerous Women project. To drive the message home, Lenton scorched her name in the history books after burning several buildings to the ground. Her picture is immortalised in the National Portrait Gallery in London. It’s the same picture, now over 100 years old, that was taken covertly by police when she was on the run.

In an interview, Lenton said that those in power could not ignore her actions: “no one could ignore arson. Nor could they ignore young women who went about saying what I said – that whenever we saw an empty building we would burn it.” She even pledged to burn down two buildings a week.

After smashing a window at Whitehall in 1912 and serving two months in prison, Lenton – who occasionally went under the alias Ida Inkley – set her sights on something bigger.

This post is for members only


Already have an account? Log in