“The amazing exploits of the militant suffragists culminated on Wednesday morning in a dastardly attempt to wreck St Paul’s Cathedral by means of a bomb which had been placed in the chancel. The attempt was frustrated only by a happy chance”. Grantham Journal, 10th May 1913
On 8th May 1913 – around a month after the discovery of a bomb next to the Bank of England in the City of London – the would-be bombers returned to the City of London. An explosive device was found near the Bishop’s Throne in the chancel of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was wrapped in brown paper, and pages from The Suffragette, the militant newspaper of the women’s campaign for votes. It would seem the culprits were clear.
Its discovery was due to a Mr Harrison who, when cleaning the area, became aware of a quiet ticking sound. On investigation, he found the brown paper parcel which he picked up and took to the Dean’s Verger. It was placed in a bucket of water and was then taken to one of the City of London Police officers stationed outside the Cathedral. The clergy were informed that there might well be further devices within the Cathedral, but they took the decision to carry on with the planned service – the anniversary service of the Church Army, at which the Bishop of London was to preach – that was about to start.
The device was transported to the City Police’s Bridewell Police Station where it was later examined by Major Cooper-Key RE of HM Inspectorate of Explosives. Major Cooper-Key stated that the device had been timed to explode at midnight of the previous day, but that failure to detonate was probably due to a poor contact. Had the bomb exploded as planned it would have caused extensive damage to the Bishop’s Throne and part of the choir, and possibly started a significant fire.
The bomb itself had been built into a Keen’s Genuine Imperial mustard tin. Inside this was another which contained the explosive filling, the key constituent of which was potassium nitrate. A simple on-off switch on top of the tin was the arming system. The lid of the tin was held tightly on by a strap so as to afford the greatest resistance to an explosion.
At a time when the Suffragettes were using explosive devices regularly to further their cause, press coverage of this, and other similar incidents, occupied columns of several newspapers and magazines: The Burning Question -Suffragette bomb attacks
The Keen’s mustard tin, with the arming switch still in situ, has survived and is on display in the City of London Police Museum.
London: Bombed, Blitzed and Blown up, Ian Jones MBE
The Bystander magazine, 14th May 1913
Various contemporary newspaper reports