Jarrow March

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Jarrow Marchers en route to London

The Jarrow March (or Jarrow Crusade, from the wording on the march banners), was an October 1936 protest march against the unemployment and poverty suffered in North East England during the 1930s. The march, from Jarrow on the River Tyne to London, was organised by the Jarrow Town Council. It carried a petition to the government requesting the re-establishment of industry in the town, following the closure in 1934 of Palmers shipyard, previously the town's main employer. In all, 200 men marched, accompanied for part of the way by the town's MP, Ellen Wilkinson. The petition was received by the House of Commons but not debated, and the march produced few immediate results. Its participants returned to Jarrow believing that they had failed.

Jarrow's earliest claim to fame was as the home of the 8th-century saint Bede. In the early 19th century a coal industry developed, before the establishment of the shipyard in 1851. Over the following 80 years more than 1,000 ships were launched form the yard, before mismanagement combined with changed world trading conditions brought a decline which led to its closure. Its proposed replacement by a modern steelworks plant was successfully frustrated by opposition from the British Iron and Steel Federation, an employers' organisation with its own plans for the industry. The loss of the steelworks was the final factor that led to the organisation of the march.

Marches of the unemployed to London, termed "hunger marches", had taken place since the early 1920s, mainly organised by the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM), a communist-led body. To avoid any such political connection, the Jarrow march carried no party affiliation and was organised with the support of all sections of the town. It was blessed on departure by the Labour Party and TUC leadership continued their policy of standing aloof from unemployment marches, fearing association with the NUWM, the Jarrow marchers received sustenance and hospitality from local branches of all the main political parties during the march's 26-day duration, and on its reception in London.

Despite the initial sense of failure, in the following years the Jarrow March became symbolic of a decade which commentators described as the "Hungry Thirties". This perception helped to foster a change in social attitudes which led, within a decade, to the Beveridge Report, the election of the first majority Labour government in 1945, and the establishment of the Welfare State. Later historians, while acknowledging the march's significance, have challenged some of the myths and assumptions surrounding the march, in particular its iconic status as a metaphor for inter-war governmental callouness and working-class fortitude.

National background[edit]

UK unemployment between the wars[edit]

Unemployment in Britain, 1923–37
Year Total  %[1] SE
region %[2]
region %[2]
building %[3]
1923 11.7 9.2 12.2 43.6
1924 10.3 7.5 10.9 30.3
1925 11.3 5.9 15.0 33.5
1926 12.5 5.4 17.2 39.5
1927 9.7 5.0 13.7 29.7
1928 10.8 5.4 15.1 24.5
1929 10.4 5.6 13.7 25.3
1930 16.1 8.0 20.2 27.6
1931 21.3 12.0 27.4 51.9
1932 22.1 14.3 28.5 62.0
1933 19.9 11.5 26.0 61.7
1934 16.7 8.7 22.1 51.2
1935 15.5 8.1 20.7 44.4
1936 13.1 7.3 16.8 33.3
1937 10.6 6.7 11.1 24.4

In the period immediately after the end of the First World War, Britain's economy enjoyed a brief boom.[4] The abandonment of the gold standard during the war had reduced the international value of the pound, making exports cheaper. Businesses rushed to replenish stocks and re-establish peacetime conditions of trade. Prices rose rapidly, but wages rose faster.[5] Unemployment was negligible; in this optimistic climate the government passed the Unemployment Insurance Act 1920, which doubled the rate of benefit and greatly increased the number of workers entitled to receive it. There had been 2.5 million insured workers in 1911; the 1920 legislation increased this to 12 million, including nearly all workers in the main manufacturing industries.[6] The increased rate of benefit had been predicated on an assumption that unemployment would not rise above 4% of the insured workforce.[7]

The economic boom was unsustainable, and by April 1920 had given way to Britain's first post-war slump, which was characterised by the beginnings of mass unemployment.[8] Britain's subsequent adoption of generally deflationary policies, including a return to the gold standard in 1925,[9] had a continuing adverse effect on economic activity, so that the percentage of unemployed remained around or above 10% for the rest of the 1920s[1]—well above the general prewar levels.[10] During the world recession that began in 1929 the number out of work rose to more than 3 million—22% of the insured workforce.[1] After 1932, unemployment fell slowly, but as late as 1938 the total still stood at over 2 million.[11]

Unemployment was not spread evenly through the regions of the country, nor among its principal industries. For almost all the interwar period the percentage out of work in the south-east of England was significantly less than that for the north-east and north-west, while Scotland and Wales suffered even more.[2] The gradual decline of what had long been Britain's staple export industries—coal mining, shipbuilding, iron and steel and textiles—introduced a new element of long-term employment, beside the normal cyclical variations.[12]

Hunger marches[edit]

In 1921, in reaction to the rising unemployment of the early 1920s, the newly formed British Communist party set up the National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM).[13] From 1922, under its charismatic leader Wal Hannington, the NUWM organised regular marches, in which unemployed workers converged on London to confront parliament with their plight and demand solutions.[14] These became known as "hunger marches", reviving a name coined by the press in 1908, when a group of London's unemployed marched to Hyde Park.[15] Not everyone thought the marches justified; the Lord Mayor of Nottingham was "convinced that a lot of these people who are going about committing disturbances are people who don't like work."[16]

The 1922 marchers, having reached London, sought to present their case to the new prime minister, Andrew Bonar Law, who expressed sympathy with their plight, but refused to see them.[17] Throughout their stay in the capital the marchers faced press hostility; their leaders were denounced as "avowed Communists ... who have been identified with disturbances in their own localities".[18] The Labour Party and the TUC kept aloof, fearful of being tainted by association with the communist organisers.[14]

The second national march, in February 1929, protested against the Unemployment Insurance Act 1927, which introduced the controversial "NGSW" ("not genuinely seeking work") clause restricting the right to unemployment benefit.[19] Again the prime minister, now Stanley Baldwin, refused to meet the marchers, and again the Labour Party and the TUC kept their distance.[20] When the third march was organised, in May 1930, Labour was in power, under Ramsay Macdonald, after Baldwin's defeat in the 1929 general election. Labour in a few months had seen a sharp rise in unemployment, and had not found an effective policy.[21] Macdonald followed his predecessors by not receiving a deputation.[22]

"[The police's] forbearance and good humour in the face of continuous jeers and insults, and even physical violence, were extraordinary ...it was the wish of many spectators with whom I spoke that more use was made of their truncheons."

Onlooker's letter to The Times, 31 October 1932.[23]

The Labour government fell in 1931, and Macdonald became head of a Conservative-dominated National Government that imposed a means test on unemployment benefits.[24] Anger at the means test led to the fourth national hunger march, in October–November 1932.[25] The ensuing rallies and demonstrations across London saw considerable violence; clashes in Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Westminster led to numbers of arrests, including those of Hannington and his fellow-NUWM leader Sid Elias, both of whom were imprisoned.[26][27]

Two further national marches were held, in 1934 and 1936, by which time the national mood was changing. External factors such as the rise of fascism in Europe helped to unify the British left, and there were more supportive voices in parliament.[28] More broadly, the historian A.J.P. Taylor considered that the hunger marchers had "displayed the failure of capitalism in a way that mere figures or literary description could not. Middle-class people felt the call of conscience".[29] The 1936 march was received by a huge crowd in Hyde Park—according to the Daily Herald, "the mightiest demonstration London has ever seen"[30] The idea of marching as a means of expressing political or social grievances was by now an accepted and well established tactic.[31]

United Kingom in mid-1930s[edit]

By the middle 1930s the country had made a substantial economic recovery from the worst depression years of 1929–32. Unemployment was significantly down,[1] growth was averaging 4% esch year,[32] and many parts of the country were enjoying a substantial boom in housing and consumer goods.[33] By 1934 industrial production had regained its pre-depression levels;[34] the increasing prosperity was not, however, uniformly spread, and there were sharp contrasts between economic conditions in the south and those in the north-east, South Wales, Scotland and elsewhere, where the rate of recovery was much slower.[35]

Continuing unemployment was not the only cause of unrest in 1930s Britain. Alongside the rise of fascism in Europe and impeding civil was in Spain were the activities of Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists. Since its foundation in 1932 this organisation had attracted considerable support, often concentrated in working-class areas, with its high-profile rallies and provocative marches; concern over this group's activities led to the Public Order Act 1936.[36] Also in mid-1936, still beyond media scrutiny but a matter of rising concern in senior government circles, was the potentially explosive relationship between the new king, Edward VIII, and the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. In depressed working-class areas much hope had been invested in the king as an influential voice on their behalf, based on the empathy he had expressed as Prince of Wales.[37]

Local background: Jarrow[edit]

Town history[edit]

"Jarrow is unique among all the inhabited places of England in that at two distantly separated dates in its history it bcame identified with the ultimate light and some of the worst darkness known to the human spirit".

Ronald Blythe, Jarrow (1963)[38]

Jarrow, situated on the River Tyne in County Durham, entered British history in the eighth century, as the home of Bede, the early Christian scholar, who lived almost his whole life there at the monastery of St Paul.[39] The essayist Ronald Blythe writes that, from his cell, Bede provided a "chink in the darkness through which the divine light never ceased to stream [when] Britain and all northern Europe were temporarily blacked out by the barbarians".[38] After Bede, little changed in the remote outpost for a thousand years, save for Henry VIII's dissolution of the monastery in 1540.[39] Coal was discovered in the area in 1618, but was not mined on an industrial scale until the early 19th century. Then, between 1801 and 1821 the population of Jarrow more than doubled, to around 3,500, largely from the influx of mineworkers.[40] The advent of heavy industry did not immediately alter the rural character of the area; in 1820 the historian Robert Surtees wrote in his history of the county of Durham: The spot ... is well calculated to produce a general impression of solemn quiet. The church and mouldering monastic walls on the green hill, sloping to the bay, the long silvery expanse of water, the gentle ripple of the advancing tide ... Jarrow is 'a romancy spot,' where, as Anthony à Wood hath it, a man may admirably 'refresh himself with a melancholy walk'.[41]

The town's years as a coalfield were unhappy. Living conditions in many of the hastily-erected cottages were insanitary, lacking water and drainage; there was a serious outbreak of cholera in the winter of 1831–32.[40] Relations between employer and employee were poor; workers were held by the "bond" system whereby they were tied to a particular employer for a year, whether or not that employer could provide work elsewhere.[42] Working conditions in the mines were dangerous—there were explosions in 1826, 1828 and 1845, each with large loss of life.[43] Attempts by workers to organise themselves into a trade union were fiercely opposed by the employers; nevertheless, lengthy strikes took place in 1832 and 1844, each ended when hunger forced the miners back to work.[44] After the easier seams of coal were exhausted, the Jarrow pits became less profitable, and in 1851 the owners abandoned them altogether.[45]


Charles Palmer, founder of Jarrow's shipyard

After the ending of its mining activities, Jarrow began to develop as a shipbuilding town, following the establishment in 1851 of Palmers shipyard on the banks of the River Tyne. Charles Palmer was an entrepreneurial businessman who had made a fortune in the coal business, and turned to shipbuilding as a means of improving the distribution of coal from the north-east of England. The first ship from the Jarrow yard was the John Bowes, launched in 1852, an iron-built and steam-powered collier; many more such carriers followed. In 1856 the yard began building iron warships, and was soon supplying many of the world's navies. With its associated iron and steel works it became the largest shipbuilding centre in the country, employing thousands of men—Jarrow's population, at around 3,800 in 1850, had swelled to 35,000 by 1891.[46] Palmers was central to the town's economy, both for the numbers employed there and for the ancillary businesses that served the needs both of the yard and of the burgeoning population.[47]

Although the shipyard brought employment to Jarrow, it did little to improve the physical environment. Ellen Wilkinson, the town's historian and member of parliament from 1935 to 1947, quotes a newspaper source in 1858: "There is a prevailing blackness about the neighbourhood. The houses are black, the ships are black, the sky is black, and if you go there for an hour or two, reader, you will be black".[48] According to Wilkinson, Palmer "regarded it as no part of his duty to see that the conditions under which his workers had to live were either sanitary or tolerable".[49] John Bartholomew, in his 1887 Gazetteer of the British Isles, offered a more positive description of the town: "...one of the most interesting localities in the N. of England, chiefly through its having been the birthplace of the Venerable Bede (673-735), and the scene of his labours ... A monastery, of which the ruins are still to be seen, was founded here in 680. The church of St Paul, an edifice of great antiquity, was restored in 1866."[50]

In the 1890s, Britain held a near monopoly of the world's shipbuilding industry, with a share of around 80%.[51] This proportion fell during the early years of the 20th century to about 60%, as other countries increased their output.[52] Palmers remained busy, and during the years of the First World War built many of Britain's warships: the battleship HMS Resolution, the light cruiser HMS Dauntless (D45), and numerous smaller vessels were built in Jarrow.[53] In 1915 the yard was the target of a Zeppelin raid, in which 16 workers were killed.[54] During the brief postwar boom of 1919–20, orders remained plentiful and Palmers prospered. However, the firm's management made little provision for the changed conditions that developed in the 1920s when, as Wilkinson says, "every industrial country that had bought ships from Britain was now building for itself".[55] Palmers made over-optimistic assessments of future demand, and invested accordingly. Instead, orders fell; by the mid-1920s, Palmers was operating with heavy losses, and in common with other shipbuilding concerns was close to bankruptcy.[47][56] It was temporarily reprieved by a short-lived boom in 1929, when orders rose and the town briefly enjoyed the prospect of an economic recovery.[57]

Closure of Palmers[edit]

HMS Duchess, the last ship to be launched from Palmers shipyard, July 1932

On 24 July 1930 Palmers launched its thousandth ship, the tanker Peter Hurll,[58] but by this time the brief shipbuilding boom had been ended by the Great Depression, and there were no new orders on the firm's books.[59] Rumours of impending reorganisation and rationalisation in the industry added further anxiety, which deepened with the formation later that year of National Shipbuilders Security Ltd (NSS). This was a private company, creating to assist the ailing shipbuilding industry by acquiring obsolete yards and rendering them inoperative. In this way, production would be concentrated within a smaller number of profitable yards. To underpin the rationalisation, the dismantled yards were banned from any shipbuilding activity for at least 40 years.[60][61]

In 1931 work in Palmers was mainly confined to minor repairs. Unemployment in Jarrow doubled from the previous year, reaching 75% of the insured workforce. NSS was busy elsewhere in the country, and by the end of the year has closed three Scottish shipyards and eight in north-east England.[62] An order from the Admiralty for two destroyers kept Palmers working until mid-1932; the second of these ships, HMS Duchess, was the last ship launched from Palmers, on 19 July 1932.[63] By this time, Palmers was insolvent, but retained a faint hope of further naval contracts. When these had failed to materialise by June 1933, the firm's creditors appointed a receiver. Had new capital been found the yard might have been resurrected, since at this point its facilities were intact and its reputation high.[63] However, no such finance was found; by December 1933 rumours of NSS interest in the yard were appearing in the press.[64] In the House of Commons Walter Runciman, the President of the Board of Trade, told members: "There is nothing to be gained by giving Jarrow the impression that Palmers can be revived". He continued: "Would it not be very much better to make a clean sweep of that as a shipyard, and throw open to the world for sale what is one of the finest and most convenient sites anywhere in Europe?" Despite efforts by management and workers to find an alternative solution,[65] in the early summer of 1934 NSS acquired the yard, closed it and began to dismantle its plant.[66] Blythe wrote: "The only sound to compete with the unfamiliar noise of the marsh birds ... was the ring of the breakers' hammers."[67]

Ellen Wilkinson[edit]

Jarrow had once been represented in parliament by Charles Palmer, as a Liberal,[46] but the seat had more recently been held by Labour. In the 1931 general election, in the nationwide rout of Labour, it was won by the National Government' candidate, William Pearson,[68] a Conservative borough councillor and former mayor.[69] In 1932, when the mood in Jarrow was desperate—"a workhouse without walls" according to one commentator[70]—the local Labour Party selected Ellen Wilkinson as its parliamentary candidate for the next general election.[71] Wilkinson was then 40 years old, a graduate of Manchester University, a founder member of the British Communist Party, with a reputation as a firebrand.[72] She had been associated with Hannington and the NUWM in the early 1920s,[73] but had left the Communist Party in 1923 and had served as Labour MP for Middlesbrough East between 1924 and 1931.[72]

"Whenever this matter is raised, the Prime Minister says in the most charming way, "We will send a commission." If my constituents could live on commissions they would be the best fed people in the world."

Ellen Wilkinson, House of Commons, 9 December 1935[74]

Wilkinson felt a deep bond of sympathy with the people of Jarrow and the loss of the shipyard which was the life-source of the town.[71] She was a fervent opponent of the means test, and in June 1933 condemned the government's policy in a speech to a Labour Women's rally in Durham.[75] Early in 1934 she led a deputation of Jarrow's unemployed to meet the prime minister, MacDonald, in his nearby Seaham constituency.[76] She records that at the end of the meeting MacDonald said to her: "Ellen, why don't you go out and preach socialism, which is the only remedy for all this?" This "priceless remark", she says, brought home the "reality and sham ... of that warm but so easy sympathy".[77] She became Jarrow's MP in the general election of November 1935, when she won the seat with a majority of 2,360.[78] In the opening debate of the new parliamentary session, on 9 December 1935, she pleaded on behalf of her new constituents: "[T]hese people have suffered so long and all their resources are being drained ... These are skilled fitters, men who have built destroyers and battleships and the finest passenger ships ... The years go on and nothing is done ... this is a desperately urgent matter and something should be done to get work to these areas which, Heaven knows, want work."[74]

Surrey Scheme[edit]

The gates of Sir John Jarvis's country home at Hascombe in Surrey

At the time of Jarrow's lowest fortunes, following the Palmers closure, a small hope of relief and some industrial resurrection was offered by the industrialist Sir John Jarvis, who held the ceremonial office of High Sheriff of Surrey,[79] and was prospective Conservative candidate for Guildford.[80] A wealthy businessman with philanthropic inclinations, Sir John visited Jarrow in September 1934.[81] At a luncheon meeting on 4 October 1934, Jarvis announced the "adoption" of Jarrow by the county of Surrey, and the establishment of a project, known as the Surrey Scheme, to bring relief to the distressed town. The main part of this relief would be in the form of projects that brought work to the town, including the re-establishment of industry on the now-vacated Palmers site. Jarvis mentioned ship-breaking, bottle manufacture and furniture making as possible commercial activities that could be brought to the town.[82] The prime minister, Macdonald, was sufficiently impressed to make a personal donation of £5.[83] In September 1936 Jarvis reported on the Scheme's progress. Sports and leisure facilities in Jarrow had been improved, and some small-scale industries had been established.[84] While acknowledging the generous principle behind the Surrey Scheme, Wilkinson's biographer describes it as ultimately superficial, offering little more than patchwork assistance.[85] Blythe observes: "This excellent man failed, as anyone must fail who tries to play the good squire to a town of nearly forty thousand people".[86]

Proposed steelworks[edit]

At the same time that the Surrey Scheme's palliative measures were being developed, a more substantial project to bring industry back to Jarrow was under consideration. An American entrepreneur, T. Vosper Salt, who was travelling in Britain during 1934, became aware of the impending sale and break-up of Palmers yard. He was convinced that the world demand for steel was about to rise, and thought that the Palmers site, with its ready-made docking and rail facilities, would be an ideal site for a new, modern steelworks. He engaged the leading consultant engineers, Henry Brasset and Co., to carry out a feasibility study, and took the preliminary steps of forming a business syndicate and investigating sources of finance.[87]

In January 1934, when Brassert's initial report was favourable, Salt began discussions with the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF), a steel producers' organisation formed that year as part of the National Government's rationalisation of the iron and steel industry. Its cooperation was essential if the Jarrow plan were to succeed. Wilkinson later described the Federation as "a group of men to whom national needs, even under the threat of approaching war, meant nothing more than the opportunity of wringing profits out of obsolete plant".[87] They were substantially assisted by the government, which provided a high tariff wall to protect them from more efficient foreign competition. They could also present a united front against new competition at home, through their control of pricing.[88] When the Brassert report was received by the BISF in March 1935, the Federation's chairman, Sir Andrew Duncan, at first reacted positively; his members from the north-east, rather less so. Only one of the large steel firms in the region, the Consett Iron Company, offered support for a Jarrow steelworks, and there was pressure on London's financial institutions to withhold capital from the scheme.[89] Reports of such tactics caused great anxiety among a public desperate for the new works to come about. In a reassuring speech shortly before the November 1935 general election, Baldwin, who had resumed as prime minister in June 1935, informed his listeners in Newcastle: "There is no truth in any of the reports that either the banks or any other authorities ... are making a dead set to prevent anything of the kind being done in the area".[90]

"And, if ... [the Jarrow steelworks] is not going to happen, does that mean that the Government, who have created a practical monopoly in the steel trade and have given the trade everything that it wants, are now going to say that Lord Furness is going to have the monopoly of that steel trade, and the firms he controls are going to have the orders? That is what we want to know, and it is about time that we knew it".

Ellen Wilkinson, House of Commons, 2 March 1936[91]

After the election and the return of the National Government, little happened to support Balwin's optimistic words. In the House of Commons on 2 March 1936, Wilkinson spoke in frustration of the "atmosphere of mystery" that surrounded the scheme: "Publicly one sees tremendous optimism ... but when you see people privately there is a great deal of humming and ha'ing, and they are not quite sure".[91] She received no satisfactory assurance from the government, while the BISF members engaged in long deliberations. While they understood the need for increasing steel production, their concern to avoid unwelcome competition was greater; their position was that this should be achieved by expanding capacity in existing facilities, rather than by building new plant.[92] Duncan, in a reversal of his earlier attitude, now opposed the provision of finance which, he felt, might create a precedent that other distressed areas could exploit. The BISF opposition ensured that the scheme was watered down to the extent that it became unviable.[93]

Salt and his syndicate withdrew, and the scheme was dead, "strangled at birth" according to Wilkinson.[94] In a series of exhanges in the Commons with Runciman on 30 June, she requested in vain that the matter be reconsidered by an independent body rather than being decided by the BISF.[95] Runciman did, however, agree to meet a deputation from Jarrow.[96] One of the government's own negotiators who had been involved in the project since its early stages, wrote in The Times: "A system which permits the adjudication on a proposal of national importance ... to be left in the hands of parties whose financial interests may run counter to that project, is not conducive to the enterprising development of the steel industry".[97]

When, later in the summer, Runciman met the Jarrow deputation, he offered them nothing. In Wilkinson's words, the deputation met "a figure of ice. Icily correct, icily polite, apparently completely indifferent to the woes of others."[98] His insistence that "Jarrow must work out its own salvation",[99] was described by Blythe as "the last straw in official cruelty";[100] to Wilkinson, the phrase "kindled the town", and inspired it to action.[101]



Jarrow Town Hall, photographed in 2007, with a statue of Sir Charles Palmer. The statue has since been re-sited.[102]

In the aftermath of the loss of the steelworks, during a rally of the town's unemployed in July 1936, David Riley, the chairman of the town council, said "If I had my way I would organise the unemployed of the whole country ... and march them on London so they would all arrive at the same time. The government would then be forced to listen, or turn the military on us".[103] The idea of a march was then taken up with enthusiasm by the mayor Billy Thompson, the local MP Ellen Wilkinson and by other groups. It was decided that the march should be a local affair, with no political connotation but carrying the imprimatur of the town, limited to 200 fit men whose arrival in London would be timed to coincide with the State opening of the new parliamentary session, on 3 November. A petition from the town would be presented to parliament.[104]

The council established four subcommittees, to deal respectively with finance, health, publicity and "road and food". Riley was appointed chief organiser and marshal.[105] All the local political parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal, gave their support, as did the town's churches and the business community.[103] Relays of medical students from the Inter-Hospital Socialist Society agreed to accompany the march as medical attendants.[106] A fund was begun, with an initial target of £800, to meet the costs of the march;[104] ultimately, nearly double that amount would be raised.[107] Public meetings would be held at each overnight stop, to publicise the plight of Jarrow and of other areas like it. One marcher explained: "We were more or less missionaries of the distressed areas, let alone Jarrow".[108]

The intended timetable for the march was sent to the Ministry of Labour in London.[109] On Monday 5 October the 200 marchers, selected from over 1,200 volunteers, attended an ecumenical dedication service in Christ Church, Jarrow, where the blessing was given by the Right Rev. James Gordon, the Bishop of Jarrow.[110] This apparent endorsement by a senior cleric gained considerable press attention, but earned a sharp response from Parker's superior, Hensley Henson, Bishop of Durham. Henson, a severe critic of socialism and trade unionism, described the march as "revolutionary mob pressure",[104] and regretted his colleague's association with "these fatuous demonstrations, which are mainly designed in the interest, not of the Unemployed, but of the Labour party".[111]

As Jarrow's representatives prepared to leave, six regional contingents of the Sixth National Hunger March, totalling around 1,400, were taking the road to London, where they were due to arrive a week after the Jarrow marchers.[112][113] A cohort of blind veterans, organised by the National League of the Blind and Disabled, was also on the march, demanding better allowances for the country's 67,000 blind persons.[114]

On the road[edit]

Route of Jarrow March, October 1936
Stage Date (1936)[115] From[115] To[115] Distance[115]
1 5 October Jarrow Chester-le-Street 12 miles (19 km)
2 6 October Chester-le-Street Ferryhill 12 miles (19 km)
3 7 October Ferryhill Darlington 12 miles (19 km)
4 8 October Darlington Northallerton 16 miles (26 km)
5 9 October Northallerton Ripon 17 miles (27 km)
10 October Rest day -
11 October Rest day -
6 12 October Ripon Harrogate 11 miles (18 km)
7 13 October Harrogate Leeds 15 miles (24 km)
8 14 October Leeds Wakefield 9 miles (14 km)
9 15 October Wakefield Barnsley 10 miles (16 km)
10 16 October Barnsley Sheffield 13 miles (21 km)
11 17 October Sheffield Chesterfield 12 miles (19 km)
18 October Rest day -
12 19 October Chesterfield Mansfield 12 miles (19 km)
13 20 October Mansfield Nottingham 14 miles (23 km)
14 21 October Nottingham Loughborough 15 miles (24 km)
15 22 October Loughborough Leicester 11 miles (18 km)
16 23 October Leicester Market Harborough 14 miles (23 km)
17 24 October Market Harborough Northampton 17 miles (27 km)
25 October Rest day -
18 26 October Northampton Bedford 21 miles (34 km)
27 October Rest day -
19 28 October Bedford Luton 19 miles (31 km)
20 29 October Luton St Albams 10 miles (16 km)
21 30 October St Albans Edgware 11 miles (18 km)
22 31 October Edgware London Marble Arch 8 miles (13 km)
Total 291 miles (468 km)

Jarrow to Ripon[edit]

The marchers left Jarrow at 10.30 am on Monday, 5th October, cheered on by most of the town and bearing banners announcing themselves as the "Jarrow Crusade".[116][117] By the following weekend they had traveeled 69 miles to reach the cathedral city of Ripon, where they were greated by the Bishop of Ripon and a delegation of local churches.[118]

Wilkinson had left the march at Chester-le-Street, the first overnight stop, to attend the Labour Party's annual conference which was taking place in Edinburgh.[119] The conference was not supportive of the march—one delegate criticised Wilkinson for "sending hungry and ill-clad men on a march to London".[120] In fact, in many cases the food available to the men was better than that which they could obtain at home; a much-reported story tells of a marcher who posted home the fillings of his ham sandwiches, saying that his family had not eaten meat for weeks.[121] Reports of the Labour conferences's negative attitude were received with dismay by the marchers; Riley considered that they had been "stabbed in the back".[122] They also heard that the Ministry of Labour's Unemployment Assistance Board had determined that the men should not receive benefits while on the march, being unavailable for work should jobs arise.[123]

Ripon to Chesterfield[edit]

After a weekend's rest, the march resumed with the relatively short stretch from Ripon to Harrogate. In this solidly Conservative, prosperous town the marchers were greeted warmly by the civic authorities and were fed by the Rotary Club.They were given sleeping quarters by the Territorial Army,[106][124] a change form the school and church halls, and occasional workhouse accommodation, that was provided at most overnight stops.[121] It was becoming noticeable that often, more warmth towards the marchers was coming from local Conservatives than from Labour, whose local parties were constrained by the attitude of the party's national leadership.[125] Conservative support was important to the maintenance of the march's non-partisan ethos, a factor that led Riley to refuse a donation of £20 from a communist group. Riley dismissed this offer as an attempt to "gatecrash" the march, adding: "We are determined at all costs to preserve the non-political character of this Crusade".[126]

At Harrogate Wilkinson rejoined the march,[124] and remained with it through the week as the column wound its way through southern Yorkshire towards Chesterfield in Derbyshire. The march was attracting wider publicity; in London the government worried that King Edward might exceed his constitutional limits and agree to receive the marchers.[127] They issued a statement that emphasised the constitutional means for expressing grievances, and condemmned marches for causing "unnecessary hardship for those taking part in them"[128]—"crocodile tears", according to Wilkinson.[129] The Bishop of Sheffield demonstrated his support by appearing on the platform at the march's public meeting in Sheffield's Methodist Hall, earning him a comment from Henson in Durham about his "strong belief in slogans and platitudes".[130] Henson was delighted, and the marchers correspondingly dismayed, when the Bishop of Jarrow, in a letter to The Times, denied that his blessing on the march was an indicator of his support for the venture. Indeed, he agreed with the government and his superior that such marches should be discouraged.[131] Wilkinson was forgiving of the bishop's volte-face, knowing, she later said, "the difficulties he had to face".[132] In reaching Chesterfield on 17 October, the marchers had travelled 70 miles during the week, and were at athe pproximate half-way point in their journey.[115]

Chesterfield to Northampton[edit]

The Church of St Mark, Leicester, photographed in 2013

The third week of the march covered the greatest distance of the four weeks—83 miles.[115] At Mansfield, the Labour-controlled council defied the national leadership's guidelines and gave the marchers a warm welcome.[133] After spending the weekend in Glasgow, Wilkinson briefly rejoined the march in Mansfield before leaving again for an engagement in Dewsbury.[134] The march received a cordial welcome from Nottingham's Conservative mayor and councillors, although the city corporation could not provide a hall for a public meeting. The city's manufacturers made generous gifts of clothing and underwear to the marchers.[135] At Leicester, the Co-operative Society's bootmakers worked through the night without pay, repairing the marchers' boots; Wilkinson visited them at 2 o'clock in the morning to find them working with "gay enthusiasm".[136] According to some accounts the marchers presented the vicar of the Church of St Mark, Leicester, with a wooden cross,[137] although Matt Perry, in his history of the Jarrow March, indicates that the cross was donated in 1934 by the fifth hunger march.[138]

From Leicester the march moved on to Market Harborough. This was one of the most prosperous, and least welcoming, of all the overnight stops. No member of the local council greeted or visited the marchers, and they were forced to spend the night on the stone floor of an unfinished building (the local press later denied that this was so).[139] On Saturday 24 October the marchers reached Northampton, arriving at the same time as the blind group. Wilkinson left to supervise arrangements in London, and would not rejoin her comrades until the final day, a week hence.[140]

Impact and aftermath[edit]

The marchers arrived in London on 31 October, almost a month after leaving. The total number of signatures on the petition was 12,000, and it was handed into Parliament by Wilkinson. The Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin, refused to see any of the marchers' representatives, claiming it would set a dangerous precedent.[141] The marchers generally received sympathy, though no proposal was made to help Jarrow, despite the petition being accepted in the House of Commons — with a single-sentence announcement, after which the House of Commons went back to their previous business. The march was also discussed at Prime Minister's Questions in the British House of Commons on 5 November 1936.[142]

It was not until two years after the Jarrow March, in 1938, that a ship breaking yard and engineering works were established in Jarrow. The next year a steelworks was established. However the depression continued in Jarrow until after the beginning of World War II in September 1939, when industrial production increased due to the nation's need for re-armament.[143]

The Jarrow March is fondly remembered by those on the left in British politics as a landmark in the history of labour movement, even though the Labour Party of the day opposed it, and the Trades Union Congress circularised Trades Councils advising them not to help the marchers.[144]

The last surviving member of the march, who went the whole distance, Cornelius Whalen, died on 14 September 2003, at 93.[145] Con Shiels, who took part in the final leg of the march, died aged 96 on 26 December 2012. His father, Con Shiels Snr., became the march's cook and his letters sent en-route are the only ones to survive.[146]

Popular culture[edit]

In 2008, Go North East made a tribute bus called the Crusader 27/27A as an honour.

The march is the subject of the songs "Marshall Riley's Army" by [[Lindisfarne ( witon]], featured on their 1978 album Back and Fourth, and "Jarrow Song" from the album Between Today and Yesterday by Alan Price.

In the TV adaptation of Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie the Jarrow March is part of the backstory.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Pearce and Stewart, p. 354
  2. ^ a b c Garside, p. 10
  3. ^ Garside, p. 13
  4. ^ Skidelsky, p. 15
  5. ^ Taylor, pp. 188–89
  6. ^ Skidelsky, p. 36
  7. ^ Taylor, p. 198
  8. ^ Garside, p. 8
  9. ^ Pearce and Stewart, pp. 355–56
  10. ^ Floud et al., pp. 244–45
  11. ^ Garside, p. 5
  12. ^ Garside, p. 11
  13. ^ Kingsford, pp. 19–22
  14. ^ a b Pearce and Stewart, p. 359
  15. ^ James Vernon, p. 56
  16. ^ Quoted in Kingsford, p.130
  17. ^ "March of the Workless: Whitehall Visit Forbidden". The Times. 22 November 1922. p. 10.  (subscription required)
  18. ^ "Communist Organizers". The Times. 22 November 1922. p. 10.  (subscription required)
  19. ^ Kingsford, pp. 88–89
  20. ^ Kingsford, p. 107
  21. ^ Kingsford, pp. 109, 112
  22. ^ Kingsford, p. 126
  23. ^ "To the Editor of The Times". The Times. 31 October 1932. p. 15.  (subscription required)
  24. ^ Pearce and Stewart, pp. 403–06 and 357–58
  25. ^ Kingsford pp. 134–38
  26. ^ Kingsford, pp. 154–61
  27. ^ "Organization of Marchers: Alleged Control from Moscow". The Times. 5 November 2015. p. 7.  (subscription required)
  28. ^ Kingsford, p. 167
  29. ^ Taylor, p. 433
  30. ^ The Daily Herald, 9 November 1936, reported in Kingsford, p. 215
  31. ^ Perry, p. 12
  32. ^ "How housebuilding helped the economy recover: Britain in the 1930s". The Guardian Housing Network. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  33. ^ Pearce and Stewart, pp. 364–65
  34. ^ Trefgarne, George (2012). Metroboom: Lessons from Britain’s recovery in the 1930s. London: Centre for Policy Studies. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-906996-56-7. 
  35. ^ Gardiner, p. 448
  36. ^ Taylor, p. 462
  37. ^ Perry, p. 13
  38. ^ a b Blythe, pp. 186–87
  39. ^ a b Wilkinson, pp. 11–12
  40. ^ a b Wilkinson. pp. 13–16
  41. ^ Surtees, Robert (1820). The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham (Volume 2). London: Chester Ward. p. 66. 
  42. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 20–21
  43. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 27–28 and 55
  44. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 29–35 and 51–55
  45. ^ Wilkinson, p. 57
  46. ^ a b Linsley, Stafford. "Palmer, Sir Charles Mark". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online edition. Retrieved 15 March 2015.  (subscription required)
  47. ^ a b Ritchie, p. 15
  48. ^ Newcastle Chronicle, June 1858, quoted in Wilkinson, p. 72
  49. ^ Wilkinson, p. 73
  50. ^ "Jarrow, County Durham". GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  51. ^ Smales, p. 259
  52. ^ Lorenz, p. 3
  53. ^ Wilkinson, p. 130
  54. ^ Blower, Janis (16 March 2011). "The night a Zeppelin brought death to Jarrow". The Shields Gazette. 
  55. ^ Wilkinson, p. 133
  56. ^ Wilkinson. pp. 137–39
  57. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 141–42
  58. ^ "Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Co". Grace's Guide: British Industrial History. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  59. ^ Wilkinson, p. 153
  60. ^ Betty Vernon, p. 140
  61. ^ Wilkinson, p. 149
  62. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 153–55
  63. ^ a b Wilkinson, pp. 157–58
  64. ^ "Palmers Jarrow Shipyard". The Manchester Guardian. 12 December 1933. p. 9. 
  65. ^ "Future of Palmers Shipyard". The Manchester Guardian. 29 December 1933. p. 4. 
  66. ^ Wilkinson, p. 161
  67. ^ Blythe, p. 188
  68. ^ "Complete Results of the General Election". The Manchester Guardian. 28 October 1931. p. 9.  (subscription required)
  69. ^ "Pearson, William George". Who's Who online edition. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 March 2015.  (subscription required)
  70. ^ Betty Vernon, p. 138
  71. ^ a b Bartley, pp. 62–63
  72. ^ a b Harrison, Brian. "Wilkinson, Ellen Cicely". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online edition. Retrieved 3 October 2014.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  73. ^ Betty Vernon, p. 63
  74. ^ a b "Debate on the Address". Hansard 307: col. 619. 9 December 1935. 
  75. ^ "Durham Labour Rally". The Manchester Guardian. 12 June 1933. p. 16.  (subscription required)
  76. ^ Bartley, p. 83
  77. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 195–96
  78. ^ Betty Vernon, p. 240
  79. ^ "Politics at Guildford". The Times. 26 February 1934. p. 16.  (subscription required)
  80. ^ "News in Brief". The Times. 9 March 1934. p. 19.  (subscription required)
  81. ^ "The High Sheriff of Surrey and Distressed Areas". The Times. 8 September 1934. p. 14.  (subscription required)
  82. ^ "New Hope for Jarrow". The Times. 5 October 1934. p. 14.  (subscription required)
  83. ^ "Sir John Jarvis snd Jsrrow". The Manchester Guardian. 24 October 1934. p. 13.  (subscription required)
  84. ^ "The Situation in Jarrow: Two Year' Progress". The Times. 2 October 1936. p. 13.  (subscription required)
  85. ^ Betty Vernon, p. 148
  86. ^ Blythe, p. 189
  87. ^ a b Wilkinson, pp. 172–73
  88. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 174–76
  89. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 180–81
  90. ^ Quoted in Wilkinson, p. 180
  91. ^ a b "Special Areas". Hansard 309: col. 1101. 2 March 1936. 
  92. ^ Wilkinson, p. 162
  93. ^ Parker, Selwyn (2010). "Liquidate Everything". The Great Crash (ebook). London: Hatchette Digital. ISBN 978-0-7481-2231-8. 
  94. ^ Wilkinson, p. 186
  95. ^ "Iron and Steelworks, Jarrow". Hansard 314: col. 205–07. 30 June 1936. 
  96. ^ "Proposed Iron and Steelworks, Jarrow". Hansard 314: col. 1012–13. 7 July 1936. 
  97. ^ "Steelworks at Jarrow: History of the Scheme". The Times. 6 July 1936. p. 10.  (subscription required)
  98. ^ Wilkinson, p. 197
  99. ^ Betty Vernon.p. 140
  100. ^ Blythe, p. 190
  101. ^ Wilkinson, p. 198
  102. ^ "Statue To Sir Charles Mark Palmer, East Of Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel Entrance". South Tyneside Council. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  103. ^ a b Pickard, pp. 21–22
  104. ^ a b c Wilkinson, pp. 198–202
  105. ^ Pickard, p. 14
  106. ^ a b Blythe, p. 194
  107. ^ Perry, pp. 45–46
  108. ^ Pickard. p. 89
  109. ^ "Route of Jarrow Marchers". The National Archives. Retrieved 24 March 2015.  The itinerary delivered to the Ministry of Labour differed slightly from the route actually taken in the early stages of the march.
  110. ^ Perry, pp. 21–23
  111. ^ Henson's diary entry, 8 October 1936, quoted in Perry, p. 72
  112. ^ Kingsford, p. 211
  113. ^ Perry, pp. 12, 30
  114. ^ Perry, pp. 12, 57
  115. ^ a b c d e f Perry, pp. 21, 31, 34, 39, 45, 53, 58, 63, 70, 76, 64, 87, 89, 92, 98, 100, 104, 111, 121, 126, 130, 134, 140
  116. ^ Pickard, p. 91
  117. ^ "Jarrow Unemployed: March to London Begins Today". The Times. 5 October 1936. p. 14.  (subscription required)
  118. ^ Perry, pp. 46–48
  119. ^ Perry, p. 27
  120. ^ Wilkinson, p. 204
  121. ^ a b Collette, Christine (3 March 2011). "The Jarrow Crusade". BBC History. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  122. ^ Perry, p. 45
  123. ^ Blythe, p. 199
  124. ^ a b Perry, p. 55
  125. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 205–06
  126. ^ Perry, pp. 84–85
  127. ^ Perry, p. 67
  128. ^ "Cabinet Papers: March of the Unemployed on London". The National Archive. 14 October 1936. Retrieved 29 March 1936. 
  129. ^ Perry, p. 70
  130. ^ Perry, p. 78
  131. ^ Jarrow (Bishop of), Geoffrey (17 October 1936). "Jarrow Marchers: The Province of the Clergy". The Times. p. 8.  (subscription required)
  132. ^ Wilkinson, p. 201
  133. ^ Perry, p. 90
  134. ^ Perry, p. 92
  135. ^ Perry, pp. 93–94
  136. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 206–07
  137. ^ "Interview 963 (summary), Leicester Oral History Archive Collection". East Midlands Oral History Archive. 7 November 1986. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  138. ^ Perry, p. 102
  139. ^ Perry, p. 111
  140. ^ Perry, pp. 113–14
  141. ^ British House of Commons Adjournment Debate, 11 November 1936, Hansard, vol. 317, cc 957-1011
  142. ^ Hansard, vol. 317, cc 234-5
  143. ^ Delap p.146
  144. ^ Ellen Wilkinson — "The Town That Was Murdered
  145. ^ 'Farewell to last Jarrow marcher', BBC News, 19 September 2003.
  146. ^ Mark Tallentire, 'Last Jarrow March survivor dies, aged 96', The Northern Echo, 2 January 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2013.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]