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 publicly 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