Alice Riley and Alfred Hawkins were like-minded left-wing radicals and first met at an early socialist meeting, marrying in 1883 and going on to have six children. Alfred fully supported his wife, both in her work within the trade union movement, but also later during her years as a suffragette.
Alfred’s support of the suffragette movement crystallised in 1909 when a young Home Secretary by the name of Winston Churchill came to Leicester to hold a public meeting. Alice and other local suffragettes were barred entry by the stewards and so Alfred elected to go in on their behalf. Judging his moment with care, Alfred heckled Churchill with the words “Why don’t they (the Government) secure the support of women of the country? How dare you stand on a democratic platform?”
Ejected from the meeting by the stewards Alfred met up with Alice and the other women and attempted to re-enter the meeting. The police were called, and all were arrested. The next day at the magistrate’s court all the women, as was WSPU policy, elected to go to prison rather than pay the fine whilst Alfred reluctantly paid the fine. Alfred needed to work and earn a living wage.
The following year Alfred again heckled Churchill on the issue of women’s rights at a Liberal Party meeting in St George’s Hall,Bradford. The stewards in ejecting Alfred from the meeting threw him down a flight of stairs and broke his leg.
The Men’s Political Union, a society formed by Alfred, Victor Duval and others in support of the women’s cause, formed a fighting fund in order to sue the Liberal Party and in 1911 before Lord Justice Avery and a special jury, Alfred was awarded a £100 damages for his injuries. To a working man this represented a large sum!