The Suffragette That Was A Jiu-Jitsu Master

By London Historians Last edited 16 months ago
The Suffragette That Was A Jiu-Jitsu Master
Photo: Open Plaques

Just off Islington's Caledonian Road, in Thornhill Square you will find a green plaque commemorating Edith Garrud (1872-1971) — a woman known as the Jujitsu Suffragette. Edith and her husband were physical training instructors, a fairly unusual job for a woman in the 1890s. In 1899 they were introduced to Jujitsu by Edward Barton Wright, who had travelled extensively in Japan. Edith excelled at this and was appointed chief instructor at the Jiu-Jitsu school in the West End.

In 1907 Pathe films were looking for new subjects for action for narrative films and a jiu-jitsu action movie was perfect. Edith starred in Jiu-Jitsu Brings Down the Footpads, which involved a purse thief being chased across various London locations, before Edith delivers her own brand of street justice.

When the suffragettes began their campaign of window breaking they started using the Jujitsu school as a place to rendezvous, with Edith offering an alibi, their hammers hidden away under exercise mats. Violence against suffragette rallies was becoming more common so Edith felt she could help by teaching them self defence.

She trained an elite suffragette group called The Bodyguard in secret locations across London. When the police tried to arrest the Pankhursts, The Bodyguard were there. Edith was only 4 ft 11 but seen to have thrown a 13 stone policeman over her shoulder. A Punch cartoon showed a group of policemen cowering away from her.

After the success of the votes for women campaign, Edith carried on as a martial arts instructor and lived in Thornhill Square Islington until she died aged 99. She remained defiant during the Blitz saying she wasn't afraid of bombs and would just go about her business during air raids, waving her fist at Hitler's planes.

When Islington Council decided to honour her with one of its green plaques, it was unveiled by Edith's great granddaughter, who is a boxer. I think Edith would be pleased her fighting spirit continues.

This article originally appeared on London Historians. You can become a London Historians member here. It was written by Rob Smith who is a guide with Footprints of London.

Last Updated 05 February 2021