LETTERS FROM JARROW (3) – Who Were the Marchers ?

‘We are fighting the Party of the Rich, the Party of the powerful, the Party of big business, the Party that controls the industries, the cartels and the Press. These are our enemies’….(Red Ellen Wilkinson, Jarrow MP 1935-47)

In 2016 I made a film to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow Crusade. (link below) The film highlights the importance of the Crusade within the town, and opened with a powerful speech by Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson.

‘As I marched down that road with those men, all of whom I knew well, as I marched with them hour after hour, just talking, that I began to understand something of what it meant, day after day after day, to get up and not know what you were going to do, never having a copper in your pocket’.

Who Were the Marchers featured interviews with relatives of the marchers and those involved with an education project which included Historian Matt Perry, author of Jarrow Cusade: Protest & Legend, and Red Ellen Wilkinson MP…

We might think that everyone in the North East of England knows about the Jarrow Crusade. Two hundred unemployed men marched 300 miles to London in October 1936 against the plight their town found itself in. It is rightly a source of local pride and a symbol of the fight of ordinary people for justice. We cannot assume that everyone does know about it’.  

The schools project also featured Jarrow playwright, Tom Kelly ‘It’s really important that the children today know something about what it meant to Jarrow to walk to London, and why. Through creative writing the children write what it would be like if your Dad was leaving for the Crusade and how you’d feel’.

Also working with the school children was Communities Librarian Catrin Galt ‘We’re looking at the 1911 Census to find out where the Crusaders lived and their family backgrounds. How many people lived in the house and how many rooms there were, so you build up a picture of who the marchers were and what Jarrow was like’.

The marchers relatives also contributed to the film, Iris Walls had two members of her family on the march… ‘They were doing it for a cause and very brave for doing so. They weren’t asking for anything free they wanted paid employment to feed their families’.

Joan Lewis added…‘My grandfather was on the march. We were all very proud, cos they went on this march just for the right to have a decent job. Yes, very proud of him and the 200 men that went’.

What did the march achieve ? This report was in The Shields Gazette, November 1936…

Laughter, cheers, sobs and screams of fainting women when the town welcomed home the 200 marchers. Miss Wilkinson near being trampled, men seized her hands, women smothered her with kisses, children hugged her.

‘This march has put Jarrow on the map, do not think this is the end. It is only the beginning.

The beginning of the fight for our right to work. This is a great night for Jarrow’.

Next day the Unemployment Assistance Board reduced the marchers payments because they had not been available for work.

Link to ‘Who Were the Marchers ?’ (11mins, 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIi3pAEECfs

Gary Alikivi  May 2020

LETTERS FROM JARROW (2) – Red Ellen & the ’36 Marchers

A significant event in Jarrow’s and my family and history research, was the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. This was the march to London to protest about mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the town.

Off the back of the 2009 documentary Little Ireland, Tom Kelly (Jarrow playwright) and I put together Jarrow Voices, a short film highlighting the involvement of Ellen Wilkinson MP and the Jarrow Crusade. The film also featured the story of William Jobling who lived in the town. (Link at the bottom of the page)

The film was premiered on 10th December 2009 at the Human Rights Day in Newcastle City Library, and in October 2011 screened at the Films for Justice in the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle. Here is the script that Tom prepared for the film.

START:

Jarrow Voices looks at two iconic events associated with the town, the gibbeting of William Jobling in 1832 and the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. Voices that need to be heard.

It was in June 1832, that Jarrow pitmen William Jobling and Ralph Armstrong, attacked South Shields magistrate Nicholas Fairles. Jobling was arrested on South Shields beach, tried and found guilty at Durham Assizes and sentenced to be hung and publically displayed upon a gibbet on Jarrow Slake.

Jobling being placed upon a seventeen foot high gibbet underlined the power of authority and sent a powerful message to the unions, their voice was virtually silenced.

Fairles, prior to his death, acknowledged that Jobling was with Armstrong but did not carry out the attack.

Isabella, Jobling’s wife, could see her husband clearly from their cottage near Jarrow Slake. Sadly she had no memory of her husband when she died in Harton Workhouse in 1891.

William Jobling was displayed on a gibbet that became known as ‘Jobling’s Post.’ He hung for three weeks until his friends stole the body. To this day we don’t know where his body lies.

The gibbet remained on Jarrow Slake until 1856 when it was taken down during the development of Tyne Dock. Today you can find the gibbet in South Shields Museum.

Jobling worked at Jarrow’s Alfred Colliery which closed in 1852. In that same year Palmers shipyard was opened by Charles Mark Palmer and his brother George. Palmers became one of the greatest shipyards in Europe. However when Palmers closed in 1933 the town’s fate was sealed. Jarrow was reliant on Palmers for work and almost 80% of the town became unemployed.

Jarrow’s Council decided to organise a Crusade and walk to London to make the government aware of the town’s plight. On Monday October 5th 1936 two hundred men left Jarrow and walked into immortality.

The Jarrow ‘March,’ as it’s known in the town, had leaders with Irish and Scottish connections: Symonds, Scullion, Hanlon and Riley. A trawl through the list of marchers underlines this: Connolly, Flynn, Flannery, Joyce, and my uncle Johnny, reflecting the immigration into the town.

Sadly none of the original marchers are alive today but one direct connection we do have are the letters written between Con Shields and his late father who was one of the cook’s on the march. The letters are one of the most heart- warming stories of the March and the late Con Shields re-tells his tale with passion and enthusiasm.

Matt Perry, writer and historian in his book, ‘The Jarrow Crusade: Protest and Legend’ gives a clear account of the Crusade and its impact at the time and to this day. He also looks at Ellen Wilkinson’s contribution to the crusade and her life and times.

The name we associate more than any other with the Crusade is that of the town’s MP, Ellen Wilkinson. ‘Fiery’, ‘firebrand’, ‘Wee Ellen’, all have been used to describe one of the twentieth century’s most charismatic female politicians.

Sometimes it seems that the past never leaves Jarrow but what I do know is that we need to remember two Jarrow voices: William Jobling and the Jarrow Crusade.

END

In the next ‘Letters from Jarrow’ post we look at the background of the people involved in the march and how it is still important to the town today.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAc4jiF4ReI

Gary Alikivi  May 2020

LETTERS FROM JARROW (1) – The IRA on Tyneside

 

Recently I completed a DNA ancestry test which came back 88% Irish, a bigger percentage than I thought but not a surprise as in 2008 I had already researched my family tree using census’, birth, marriage, death records, and visiting the country a few times searching the family and local history archive.  My Irish family came to Tyneside in the North East of England in the late 1880’s, and settled here – a long way from Galway and Derry.

Amongst old certificates, photo’s and letters, my Grandfather wrote down his memories describing where he used to live and play as a kid in Jarrow at the time of the First World War. He also talked about his mother and that the family were members of Sinn Fein and the IRA.

‘My mother’s family originated in Galway in the west of Ireland. She came from a big family, her brothers, uncles and cousins were all fishermen. I remember my mother as being a very hard working woman. She worked as a Stoker in the chemical works over the bridge in East Jarrow.  She worked there all through the 1914-18 war.

She was a very kind woman, strict but fair, and was very religious. The family were also involved with the IRA and Sinn Fein’.

These last remarks were very interesting because when researching my family history I came across Donmouth, a North East local history website by Patrick Brennan (link at the bottom of the page). In one of the sections he covers the IRA in Jarrow which I have condensed here.

After being cruelly treated by England over the centuries – for example the Great Famine 1845-50 – Irish people were looking to create an Independent Irish Republic.

Politically there was a massive growth in support for Sinn Fein who established a new assembly in Dublin and on the first day proposed a Declaration of Independence. The British Government wouldn’t support this and Sinn Fein would settle for nothing less. Battle lines had been drawn.

A Volunteer force, known as ‘Black and Tans’ landed in Dublin. The IRA operated a guerrilla campaign attacking small groups of Black and Tans and murdering informers. Reprisals on an innocent Irish population, involved out of control Tans on an orgy of looting and arson.

(If you are interested in this time of history why not check out the 2006 film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ by Ken Loach, or ‘Michael Collins’ starring Liam Neeson released in 1996).

By 1919 the Irish Self Determination League (ISDL) was formed, the purpose was to raise funds for Sinn Fein but some members decided to take direct action. Mainland Britain had its first arson attack in Liverpool Docks, days later, a large explosion and fire near London Bridge.

On Tyneside, many men and women of Irish birth gave support to the Irish republican cause through membership of the ISDL or Irish Volunteers – better known as the IRA.

Since the 1880’s Jarrow had an active political organisation in the Irish National League, and held an important role in the ISDL. They held political meetings, fund raisers and ceilidhs in Lockharts Cocoa Rooms and the Co Op Guild Hall in Jarrow. 

More direct action was called for resulting in more volunteers being recruited and by the end of 1920 six companies with a total of 160 men had been established:

A Company – Jarrow. B Company – Hebburn. C Company – Newcastle.

D Company – Wallsend. E Company – Bedlington. F – Company – Consett.

Within a few month a further four companies were set up: Stockton, Chester-le-Street, Thornley and Sunderland bringing the total to 480 men.

Arms, guns and explosives were either stolen from Army Drill Halls or obtained from foreign sailors. In Jarrow, babies prams were used as cover to transport weapons to and from an arms dump in St Pauls Road in East Jarrow.

March 1921 saw the first incendiary attack at a Newcastle warehouse and oil refinery, plus a timber yard at Tyne Dock. Largely unsuccessful, the second attack was more ambitious, 38 fires at 20 different farms were co-ordinated to be lit at 8pm throughout Durham and Northumberland. This demonstrated the extent of the I.R.A throughout the region. (Reports from the Evening Chronicle 1921).

A number of operations were planned and executed around Tyneside. Farm fires and attacks on oil works in Kenton, Wallsend, South Shields, and an aircraft shed in Gosforth was destroyed.

Also the daring attack in Jarrow – a gas main blown up on the old Don Bridge. This story was featured in my documentary ‘Little Ireland’ (link at the bottom of the page).

Report from the Evening Chronicle 23rd May 1921.

THE SINN FEIN OUTRAGES: GAS MAIN BLOWN UP

At 11.15pm on Saturday night there was a heavy explosion at the west end of the town, and it was discovered that a hole 18 inches by 18 had been made in the lower of two gas mains carried across the Don bridge at East Jarrow. The gas company’s workmen were soon on the spot, and the main was temporarily repaired.

‘They were just trying to make a point, that’s all they were trying to do. Not harm anybody, just trying to make a point that they wanted home rule for Ireland’.

(Con Sheils speaking in the film ‘Little Ireland’ 2009).

The IRA on Tyneside were severely damaged when two of their top men were arrested in connection with the theft of explosives from a colliery in Blyth on the Northumberland coast. They were sentenced to prison but released in 1922 as part of Truce arrangements made a year earlier.

But more trouble was on the horizon with pit strikes, extreme poverty and mass unemployment meant the Irish had another fight on their hands – by 1936 Jarrow was about to march onto London.

For further information:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/08/22/little-ireland-documentary-on-irish-immigration-into-jarrow-uk/

http://www.donmouth.co.uk/

 Gary Alikivi   May 2020 

HUMANITY & COURAGE – South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg (1893–1965)

 

The previous post was a snapshot of the life of Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Another photographer featured on the blog is South Shields Historian Amy Flagg (links below).

This post highlights the photograph’s Amy produced during the Second World War. She took some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera.

IMG_0979

Page from inside the pamphlet.

When researching a documentary about Amy (Westoe Rose, 2016) I came across detailed records that she had made of German air raids that revealed the amount of suffering the town endured. The Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Officer gave permission to produce Humanity & Courage, pamphlets featuring some photographs that Flagg had taken of war damage to her town.

IMG_0760

Detailed record of air raids over South Shields.

More images are available on the South Tyneside Library website

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Included here is a picture story from The Shields Gazette showing her friend and Librarian Rose Mary Farrell standing next to a display of Amy’s photographs. They were shown in an exhibition at South Shields Library. The report is dated August 1968, three years after Amy died.

IMG_0693

Links to previous Amy Flagg posts:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/19/westoe-rose-making-the-documentary-about-historian-and-photographer-amy-flagg/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/07/11/westoe-rose-the-story-of-amy-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/21/history-lives-amy-c-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/28/amy-flagg-holborn-the-mill-dam-valley/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020

 

THE KING, THE QUEEN & THE PUNK

1977 saw three big events happen in the small seaside town of South Shields in the North East of England. The boxer Muhammad Ali had his wedding blessed, the Queen visited on her Royal Silver Jubilee and three lads from a working class housing estate formed a punk band, the Angelic Upstarts – where else would you see these in a film together ?

Usually there’s a story behind why I made the film, how did I come across these events and put them together ? The answer is I can’t remember. Just before this I made Designs for Life, a documentary about tattoo’s – did I come across the story then ? Usually there’s a spark and I write a few notes on planning the film – but the only thing I remember is I didn’t work too much on it, some projects take a lot of digging around, numerous scripts are written, but on this one each contact lead to another making the process easier. Maybe I’ll remember more by the next post.

This blog features stories and soundbites from contributors to the documentary made in 2013. The short film was narrated by Alistair Robinson, music from The Panic Report and the Dipsomaniacs, with excellent photographs by South Shields photographer Freddie Mudditt (Fietscher Fotos) and Derek Cajiao.

Start.

Narration: 1977 was an extraordinary year of royalty and revolution. It was the storm that followed the calm. We’d had the long hot summer of ’76 and the high water mark of disco and glam rock.

Trevor Cajiao: The glam thing happened when I was 12/13 year old and I loved all that stuff Slade, Sweet and Mud.

Neil Newton: I remember Wizzard coming on and the bloke with the big hair his face all painted and being mesmerized by that.

Narration: Many 1970’s teenagers were enjoying their first live gigs from such established and diverse acts as Chuck Berry and Black Sabbath.

Richard Barber: My first gig was February 1977 I went to see Black Sabbath at Newcastle City Hall on the Technical Ecstasy tour. We were second row from the back and as soon as Ozzy came on he went ‘Everyone go fuckin’ wild’ and everyone piled down the front. One kid had a big wooden cross and that just got chucked somewhere.

Trevor Cajiao: When I heard rock n roll that’s what I realised that I wanted to get into. I saw Chuck Berry at the City Hall in 1976, it was fantastic, blew me away.

Narration: 1977 was a sad time for fans of Marc Bolan and Elvis Presley. Both stars died young.

Colin Smoult: The death of Elvis was a big impact on everybody, even if you were into Elvis or not because he was such an iconic figure.

Neil Newton: My mam was a big fan of Elvis I remember the day he died it didn’t really have much of an impact on us cos I wasn’t particularly a fan – but he had some canny tunes.

Narration: In the North East we saw a visit from the American president Jimmy Carter and in the same year the Queen came to South Shields on Friday 15th July as part of her Silver Jubilee. The very next day a King came to town.

Derek Cajiao: I’d been given a camera for my birthday I hadn’t had much experience using the camera but I went down to take some photographs and I managed to catch Ali as he passed the fairground and the Sea Hotel. I got some great shots of him on the bus and it was fairly apparent he was playing the crowd, pointing at people, threatening to jump out of the bus and chin somebody, really working the crowd.

Pat Robinson: (Her husband Sepp Robinson was Mayor). We were on the top of the bus and at one point it rained so at one of the pubs we passed I said to my husband go and get a bottle of whisky, we passed it round cos we were so cold and wet, at least it warmed us through for a few minutes. Muhammad Ali’s wedding was blessed and we all went to the mosque and these incredibly beautiful people arrived, they were both stunning and dressed in white. Afterwards we went to Gosforth Park for a fantastic lunch and right through the two days when the cameras were on Ali turned on the big lip but when he wasn’t doing that he was a sensitive, pleasant, attentive man. He was absolutely charming.

Narration: But away from the glamour and celebrity a sense of frustration was taking hold. The soundtrack was one of anger, the future seemed bleak and the music was reflecting that.

Colin Smoult: I think the music change in 1977 was down to the blandness being presented in the charts, novelty singles, very middle of the road stuff. Bands appearing on Top of the Pops that were no better than a cabaret act. There was no wonder that the punk revolution came along.

Neil Newton: When punk came along I was much more aware of it because it was so direct.

Trevor Cajiao: A lot of people were saying the whole punk thing was like the rock n roll of the ‘50s as it was a rebellious type of thing but as a kid I didn’t understand that because I was just using my ears and The Clash don’t sound like the Johnny Burnett Trio, but in hindsight what they were getting at was the actual energy, the guitar music, rebelling against stuff.

Narration: In South Shields three friends from the Brockley Whins Estate started a punk band The Angelic Upstarts and little did they know where it would lead them.

Mensi: The nucleus of the band really was me, Decca and Mond.

Mond: We had known each other since we were kids, we used to hang around the shops at Brockley Whins.

Decca: They said here Decca we’re forming a band and you’re gonna be the drummer.

Mond: We found you can hire the Bolingbroke Hall and we used to get about 300 people in.

Decca: I think that’s when we started to take it serious, we all got our heads together. I mean Mensi was a prolific song writer.

Mensi: I just write about what’s happening around us.

Decca: He came out with Murder of Liddle Towers, the song that made us famous. Next you know you’re on Top of the Pops and the rest is history.

Narration: The end of the 1970’s saw people looking forward to a new decade. Would we ever see a year like 1977 again.

Closing music & credits.

 DVD’s of The King, The Queen & The Punk (25 mins 2013) are available, along with other South Tyneside documentaries, to buy from The Word and South Shields Museum or watch the edited version on the Alikivi You Tube channel.

Gary Alikivi   February 2020.

 

 

LADY IN RED – with author Paula Bartley talking about Ellen Wilkinson MP (1891-1947)

March 8th 2016 three of my short films were screened at an event celebrating International Women’s Day at The Customs House in South Shields. They featured Dame Rosemary Cramp (Bedes World, Jarrow), Eileen O’Shaughnessy (‘Wildflower’ first film made about George Orwell’s South Shields born wife, ) and Ellen Wilkinson MP (Jarrow Crusade). When the event was being put together I found a newly released book about Ellen’s political life, the author was Paula Bartley who I contacted and asked if she would like to come up to The Customs House and talk about her book….The talk I enjoyed most was in South Shields. It was as if I had come home. People knew about Ellen, they knew why she was important, they loved her as much as I did.

In research did you find anything surprising about Ellen ? I found out that Ellen had enjoyed a relationship with a communist spy, a man called Otto Katz. He was a Soviet agent who used at least 21 aliases. If these photos below are all of the same man – two of them are of Arnold Deutsch – then he was very dangerous indeed. Arnold Deutsch, who was also known as Otto, recruited Kim Philby, Britain’s most notorious spy.  Certainly Katz – whoever he was – was a handsome man and willing to use his looks and natural magnetism to further his political cause. He even managed to charm Hollywood: Otto Katz and his wife Ilse were immortalized as Victor Lazlo and Ilse Lazlo in the film Casablanca.

M15 thought Katz the most important communist agent outside Russia and put him under surveillance. You can see a report of it below – it’s of Otto Katz staying overnight with Ellen. It says ‘he went with Miss Ellen Wilkinson to her flat at No 18, Guildford Street WC1 where he spent the night’. The two sometimes evaded the Secret Service by driving as fast as Ellen could in her car.

Otto Katz’s letters were opened. Below is a negative of a letter from Ellen to Otto that the Secret Services made. It says ‘WHAT a bombshell. Honestly, I am scared stiff. You simply must destroy the negatives or the worst, or send them to me, and any copies there are. PLEASE’. I don’t know what these photographs illustrated or the result of Ellen’s plea, but Ellen and MI5 destroyed her papers.

What I do know is that Ellen became friendly with Otto Katz in the 1930s and remained so all her life – even when she became a Cabinet Minister. He accompanied her on a number of trips to Spain during the Civil War and involved her in communist-led campaigns. Sadly, Ellen died in 1947, and never knew that in 1952 Otto Katz was put on trial for conspiring against the Czechoslovakian communist state, was tortured, found guilty and hanged.

Spy stories are always interesting, Agent Zig Zag (Durham born Eddie Chapman) is a fascinating tale of traitor, villain and hero. Ben Macintyre made a BBC documentary about him and his exploits as a double agent during the Second World War. On Tyneside was Russian born William Fisher and his son Heinrich, a KGB spy born in Newcastle, he worked for the British Socialist Party in South Shields. My great uncle Alexander Allikivi, born Russia 1888, was living in South Shields at the same time. How many more Soviets were living in the town and was Allikivi a member of the party?  (‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ by Vin Arthey is a great source for research. Interview with Vin on the blog 30th July 2019).

Paula continues…. Like a lot of young people, Ellen was excited by the 1917 Russian revolution. She joined the Communist Party and planned for socialism in Britain. The Soviet Union gave her and Harry Pollitt (later General Secretary of the British Communist Party) £500 to travel first class to Russia so that they could attend the Red Trade Union Conference in Moscow. Here she met leading revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai.

Back in Britain, she helped found the Red International of Labour Unions, known as the Profintern. But there was a problem. She was also a member of the Labour Party. In 1924 communists were banned from belonging to the Labour Party and Ellen had to make a choice. In 1924 she left the Communist Party but its ideas influenced her.

What inspired you to write about Ellen ?  I was intrigued by her, her name kept coming up in lots of books about women’s history: a photo; a mention of the Jarrow March; a bit on the first women Labour MPs. I wanted to know more. I did an internet search, read a book about her by Betty Vernon and was gripped. Why was this 4ft 11’ bundle of dynamite not better known? The more I read, the more I fell in love. I became a little bit obsessed – and two years later, after a lot of research I finished an introductory book about her: Ellen Wilkinson – from Red Suffragist to Government Minister.

It was challenging researching Ellen’s life as she had destroyed all her papers and I had to rely on Hansard, newspapers, archives and people who had known and written about her. I visited lots of archives: Hull, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Warwick to try and find more about her.

Why did I like her so much?  I admired her energy, her passion, her warmth, her charm and her sheer doggedness to make life better for the less well-off.

Where was Ellen born and what kind of upbringing did she have ? She was born in Manchester to parents who didn’t have much money. Ellen, her parents, her two brothers and her sister all lived together in a tiny two-bedroomed terraced house with no bathroom or inside lavatory. The family struggled: her father worked in a very low paid job while her mother was too ill to work outside the home. Ellen’s future didn’t look particularly bright, yet she went to Manchester University, became a Labour MP and then first-ever female Minister of Education.

Do you think it would have been difficult being one of the first women MP’s ? In 1924 Ellen was elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East. She walked into a space that was both masculine and upper-class. The Palace of Westminster was a grand building with its panelled walls, high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, vast halls and chambers, heraldic symbols and statues of dead white men. Intimidating for those, like Ellen, who had not grown up in a big house, been to public school or Oxbridge.

The benches in the House of Commons were made for men. Ellen was so short and the benches so high that she had to sit with her feet dangling inches from the floor. In fact, she used her brief-case to rest her feet.

On her second day in Parliament Ellen made her debut speech. She looked confident but was scared stiff. Ellen had to stand up alone in the House of Commons while over 600 MPs, mostly men, looked at her. But Ellen was a street-fighter, she had learnt how to deal with difficult crowds when she was campaigning for votes for women, had rotten fruit thrown at her and had to think of quick witty replies to hecklers. And she knew that what she had to say was more important than her fears: she told MPs that she was determined to improve the lives of women and poor people.

Since women had not been expected to be members of Parliament there were no facilities for them in the House of Commons. It was a male space. The first women MPs had to squash into one small dressing room which contained a wash stand, a tin basin, a jug of cold water and a bucket – a situation they naturally found intolerable. Ellen called it ‘The Tomb’. Even so they rarely complained, partly because they were just glad to be in the building.

These women soon found that they were not welcome in certain areas of the House namely the bars, the smoking rooms and the members’ cloakroom. Either because they feared giving offence or were intimidated, they tended to stay away from these places. Ellen broke this by striding into areas that the men thought exclusive to them.

Did you come across anything unusual when researching Ellen ? These early women MPs tended to stick together and give each other support. Ellen became friends with someone who was very different from herself: the American, Conservative and very rich Nancy Astor. The two women worked closely together to improve women’s lives, getting better pensions for women, changing the Nationality Laws (British women lost their nationality if they married a foreigner), allowing more women to join the police force, helping to gain votes for women on the same terms as men, and trying (unsuccessfully) to improve the laws on prostitution.

Where have you publicized your book and have you any projects planned ? I wanted to share my research about this remarkable woman so I spoke at lots of different places, from the Ellen Wilkinson School in Ealing, to Labour Party groups, to women’s groups and even at the House of Commons. You can see one of my talks ‘The Mighty Atom’: Ellen Wilkinson and parliamentary politics on the parliamentary you tube channel (https://youtube/2bi409l621l).

My work on Ellen Wilkinson encouraged me to find out about other Cabinet Ministers and last year my book, Labour Women in Power: Cabinet Ministers in the 20th Century was published. But no-one captured my heart more than Ellen Wilkinson.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    February 2020.

 

TRADING PLACES – 250 years of South Shields Market

In September 2018 I made a short documentary about South Shields market with former Shields Gazette award winning journalist Janis Blower. Janis has a wide knowledge of local history through producing the Cookson Country feature in The Shields Gazette and working on the books ‘Aall T’githor Like Folk O’ Shields’. An interview with Janis talking about her work featured in the blog ‘Have You Heard the News’  (27th January 2020).

We had previously worked together in 2016 on a film about South Shields Photographer and Historian Amy Flagg. Janis added the voice of Amy in the short film ‘Westoe Rose’. Included here is the full script that Janis wrote about the 250 year old South Shields market, a link to the film is at the end.

Trading Places

Author Joseph Conrad is said to have refreshed himself in its ample public houses on his voyage from life before the mast to The Heart of Darkness. It has rung to the strident tones of politics and religion. Marked the coronations and deaths of monarchs; been a centre of commerce and conviviality. A public forum one day, a fairground the next. War almost did for it. Peace would prove no less transformative.

Over the 250 years of its existence, the fortunes of South Shields’s historic Market Place have fluctuated with those of the wider town. Both have had to adjust to social and economic change. Within the lifetime of many townsfolk, that has included the decline of the market itself.

The rise of the discount retailer has seen a corresponding fall in the numbers of bargain hunters. Gone too is the tradition for Shields folk to put on their glad rags on a Saturday afternoon and go ‘down-street,’ to stroll up one side of King Street to the Market, and down the other.

For a post-war generation, this was the era of stalls piled high with crockery, pans and nylons – to be sifted through to find a matching pair, of reconditioned boiler suits and other stalls selling goldfish and rabbits. In winter the lamps would flare in the chilly dusk. By then, the market was no longer open until 10 o’ clock at night, as it had been before the war when, the later the hour, the more the cost of Sunday’s joint fell.

In those days visitors would also have found Harry Randall’s toffee stand where homemade toffee, with a free bag of horehound candy, could be bought for sixpence. Also the stall piled high with assorted tripe into which the stall holder would shove his hands, shouting: “Come on, get amongst it!”

And there was the painless dentist, who guaranteed to pull a tooth with his finger and thumb for a shilling: This was the market as part-public service, part-spectacle, like the stocks that a century earlier had once stood opposite St Hilda’s Church. Or the fairs that would visit, in spring and autumn, with their prancing horses and shuggy boat rides or, likewise, the travelling  menageries that would also descend at regular intervals.

The Friday flea market has in recent years returned the square to aspects of what it was then, at least commercially, though the old clothes stalls are no longer confined to the side nearest the church. South Shields-born poet James Kirkup immortalised these in a poem, writing:  “The old jackets rub shoulders on the rack of life and death, the crumpled trousers all undone swing in a driving wind, a boneless abandon, soft-shoe shuffle in the sands of time. Laid away, the painter’s dungarees are dingy white, stained with forgotten schemes for houses decorated out of sight…”

Gone, though, is the fresh fish market: also the groups of men who, hands cupped round their Woodbines or Capstan Full Strength, would gather around the Old Town Hall in the hope of being tapped for work on the river.

An old Shieldsman, writing of his Victorian childhood, remembered each trade having it’s own beat. “While the Church side was common to most parties”. Men milled in this way, albeit in ever-decreasing numbers, until as late as the 1960s, before the skyline increasingly ceased to be criss-crossed by cranes.

The Market Place pulsed with life, not only in the numerous pubs – of which there were at least six before the First World War and as many again in the surrounding streets – but also in the shops. Marks and Spencer started out in the town with a Penny Bazaar here. Barbour’s with a shop on the west side of the square, specialised in weatherproof clothes that would evolve into the garb of aristrocats. Crofton’s, the legendary department store on the corner of King Street, would survive one disastrous fire early in it’s existence but not a second.

That catastrophe was visited one autumn night in 1941 when the town suffered the biggest air raid of the war. In a matter of hours two sides of the square had been reduced to smoking ruins. The then-170-year-old Town Hall – miraculously stood firm, albeit not undamaged. The ‘Old Cross,’ as it was affectionately known was left looking out over a sea of devastation.

Over the next 20 years, new buildings would grow-up around it. There would be no attempt to reconstruct a square which had once been likened to the market place at Bruges. Post-war modernity won the day, in keeping with a town which, under Borough Engineer John Reid, was sweeping away much of its Victorian housing and redrawing its commercial heart.

Concrete took the place of brick, with new pubs going up on the site of the old and the building of a new tax office, Wouldhave House, with shops adjacent. Small thoroughfares which had run in and out of the square for much of its existence, like Thrift Street and little West Street, disappeared. East Street and Union Alley, became backwaters.

Today the square continues to evolve. Words remain its currency, – not those of the fairground barker, or the radical anymore, but as the home of the town’s main library, housed within an award winning building dedicated to writing and creativity.

The Market Place own story, meanwhile, continues to unfold….

Gary Alikivi  January 2020

 

 

EVERYBODY’S LIFE WAS TOUCHED BY COAL with artist Bob Olley

 

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Between 2009 and 2016 I made over 20 films. ‘Vanished’ was a documentary about the lost industry of coal, shipyards and railways made in 2012. Also featured was the lost village of Marsden, once situated on the cliff top near Souter Lighthouse and Whitburn pit. (pic above courtesy of Marsden Banner Group). This extract is taken from an interview featured in the film with former miner now Artist, Bob Olley….

Well I worked at Whitburn Colliery from 1957 till the colliery closed in ’68. Whitburn was a wet pit mostly and I was working in the east yard seam 3 miles out under the North Sea. It took us three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out. I think it’s because it’s such an adverse industry, danger, and whatever else, a sense of humour developed.

When the colliery closed it was the push I needed to get out. When I first went into the artistic side of my life the stuff I did was very dour, mostly pen and ink work. Then I moved away from coal mining for about 15 years then suddenly I got this urge to go back to the subject and this was the type of thing I was doing (points to picture next to him).

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Up to about 15 years ago I would say most people in the North East their lives was influenced by the coal industry. The amount of people that were involved with the transportation of coal, the winning of the coal, the processing of the coal, everybody’s life was touched by coal.

Gary Alikivi   January 2020.

SMOULT THE BOLT

In 2006 the idea was to make a number of short documentaries in South Shields featuring residents of the town and their hobbies, interests or passion. The first was Colin Smoult, this was his story and a link to the 4 minute film is at the end. 

South Shields has always been a rock town and even when music has faded and past like the indie culture of the late ‘80s, the big dance boom of the ‘90s then you’ve still got the rock scene. We might be gettin’ older, greyer, fatter but I think a lot of people in this town will always have a place in their heart for rock music. We’ve always had people from this town that’s been so fanatical for the bands that they have followed. I’ve grown up with many of them from my late teens onwards and some of them remain just as passionate about their music now as they did over 25 years ago.

My name’s Colin Smoult I’m 42 years old and I live in a town where I was born, South Shields. A small seaside town 10 miles east of Newcastle. My occupation is a shopkeeper, it’s essentially what people used to refer to as a head shop. I sell things like pipes and bongs which 20 years ago might have been seen as very risqué. But this day and age it’s all fairly acceptable. It’s only a tiny shop with a minimum amount of trade but I’m me own boss and if it pays the bills I’m quite happy. That allows me plenty of time to pursue my other hobbies and interests – my main one is local live music.

I’ve been the singer and guitarist in a band called Shovelmouth for the past 11 years now and we play various gigs in pubs scattered right across the region. The songs are all rock cover versions but the pub rock scene is huge in the North East of England. On a Friday and Saturday night there are probably 100 pubs and more putting on live entertainment featuring full on rock bands.

South Shields alone has half a dozen pubs that put on live music and the largest of these is called The Office. Not only does my band get to play there but I am responsible for booking the acts every weekend. The acts are normally small local bands playing a variety of covers but now and then we put on special events that feature tribute bands, some of these are from out the area.

I’m a rocker at heart but I find there is a lot of people who love this kind of music so I book the bands that people want to see the most. I’m pretty passionate about live music and only book the very best from the talent that we have.

Some people may see it as a bit sad and may view it as a bunch of middle aged folkies trying to re-live their youth but nostalgia is a big booming industry and if people want to see songs from their youth played live in their local pub – then who am I to deny them. Whether I’m the bloke singing the songs or the man who books the bands I’m content to know I’m doing my bit to allow people to have a good time after a long week at work.

I’m also involved with a website called Riffs which pushes and promotes local bands, and apart from news pages and gig guides I also post up my own reviews of the many bands that I get to see here. So I suppose my hobby is full time because as well as being directly involved every weekend, during the week I am always writing things up and arranging things for the venue and my own band.

I like to keep in touch with lots of groups out there and there’s quite a lot of time spent gob shyting with people on the internet as well. Don’t get us wrong I get a big buzz out of being on stage and entertaining people, but if you’ve got any band up there on stage with a superb crowd watching them, for me the atmosphere in the room is just as enjoyable.

The standard of musicianship on the local circuit is extremely high and is way beyond what people would term as pub bands in other parts of the country. The old club scene has become a lot more pop orientated in the last 20 years and a lot of the rock players that used to play that circuit have now moved into the pubs instead. So the end result is that we have some amazing musicians kicking around and most of the bands that you get to see are free admission too.

So for a lot of people aged in their ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s watching a live band on a Saturday night is a very cheap way to have a fantastic night out. If I’m not playing with my own band then I’m here at The Office watching them instead. Either way for me every weekend is dominated by my love for live music. I got tons of pride in what I do. But for me there’s only one true satisfaction and that’s putting a smile on people’s faces.

If I can be involved in any way with live music that others gain a lot of pleasure from I get immense satisfaction from doing that. I suppose as I get older I won’t be able to bounce around on stage in the same way, then eventually there will come a time when I’ll have to retire from live performances, but I’ll always stay involved with the local band scene even if I have to be brought in on a wheelchair.

I’ve jokingly said that when I die I want my ashes scattered under the stage of The Office. But honestly it’s as good a place as any and that way I’ll always be close to what I love.

 

Gary Alikivi  January 2020.

HARD UP in HOLBORN – South Shields photographer James Henry Cleet 1876-1959.

During the 1930’s James Cleet was commissioned by South Shields Public Health Department to make a photographic record of ‘slum housing’ in the town. Side Photographic Gallery in Newcastle produced a booklet in 1979 of some of the photo’s. Not sure if the term ‘slum’ was first used by Side Gallery or Public Health Department ?

But first time I came across James Cleet when I was doing some family and history research in the Local History section of South Tyneside Library. It gave me the idea to make a documentary in 2010 called ‘The Hills of Holborn’, featuring the area once known as the industrial heartland of Shields, Cleet’s work and the digitization project. The Local History section had been awarded funding to digitize thousands of photographs they had in their archive and load them onto a new website. Volunteers were needed for this process and as I was self employed I could give a couple of hours a week to a worthwhile cause.

Spending time looking through photographs, some from the early 1900’s, of people, places and events around South Tyneside was a great way to spend a couple of hours. It wasn’t long till I dropped in more frequently. Photographs by Emmett, Flagg and Cleet were an excellent record of the times. Some images had familiar street names of area’s where my ancestors lived, mainly Tyne Dock, Holborn and Jarrow. Finding a family of photographers called Downey who had a studio in Eldon Street next to where my great grandmother lived was an added bonus.

There was a small team of volunteers who recorded details of the images, scanned the photo’s, and uploaded them onto the website, this process features in the documentary. Street names, buildings, shops and people were researched, as much information as possible was added. On the back of the pictures was nearly always a date or name of the photographer. But unfortunately, some photographs were left blank and didn’t have any recognizable signs, but were still uploaded.

After a few sessions I could recognize the styles of certain photographers and two of them stood out. Amy Flagg added extensive details to a lot of her work, and covered some powerful subjects like the Second World War – climbing over bombed houses to get the shot won’t have been easy. Some of her images became instantly recognisable, in her darkroom she stamped a date in Roman numerals on the bottom of the photo.

There were a load of photographs that were taken in Holborn by James Cleet, his style and composition was of a very high quality with clean, sharp images. Most of the images are taken on overcast, grey rainy days – is that a coincidence ? I doubt it. The lighting give the pictures a uniform look and add to the bleak, grim atmosphere of the housing clearance. In research I found he had regular work at ship launches, plus The Shields Gazette and Daily Mirror. While Flagg’s technique was more hand held, Cleet used a tripod in most if not all of his shot’s. Both were passionate about their work.

Around that time an old guy used to come to the local history section and tell me a few stories about Tyne Dock and Holborn as his family lived in those area’s. Next time he brought in a booklet which he gave to me, it featured a collection of the housing clearance photographs I’d been looking at.

The booklet also included reports by the South Shields Medical Officer for Health talking about ‘rat repression’ and ‘eradication of bed bugs’. They reported….’The women had a very hard life. They polished their steps and the pavement was scrubbed. The backyard was washed regular. There was a question of pride. They had to keep them clean or they’d be overrun with vermin. No getting away with it. It had to be kept down’. The report also included complaints from residents…’A’ve seen some hard up times. Families of nine in one room. I knew a family, the father and mother had to gan ootside to do their business. Yes they used to do their courtin’ ootside. The mother used to stand at the telegraph pole on Johnsons Hill and have her love with the husband and then gan yem to bed. You couldn’t do nowt with all the family livin’ in one room’.

In a previous post I wrote about the important historical archive that Amy Flagg had left to the town: her Second World War photo’s plus the book ‘The History of Shipbuilding in South Shields’, the James Cleet housing clearance booklet is just as important a document of South Shields.

To check out the South Tyneside photographs featuring Amy Flagg and James Cleet go to :   https://www.southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi   December 2019.