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 

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.

JARROVIANS – Vince Rae’s photographic record of Jarrow in 1978.

For 30 years Vince Rae ran the Bede Gallery in Jarrow which featured paintings, sculpture and photographs reflecting the town’s history. Included was material relating to the 1936 Jarrow March and the execution of William Jobling, the last man to be gibbeted in the North.

I knew of Vince Rae’s work as I’d read a couple of books that he had published about old Jarrow and came across his photography through the 1990’s. But first talked to him around 2001 when I was running a Community Video Project in South Shields. He was organising an exhibition about the Jarrow Crusade and was looking for a video projector. We didn’t have one, but I went along to the Viking shopping centre in Jarrow to see the exhibition.

Then in 2008 I called him up explaining that I was making a documentary in Jarrow called ‘Little Ireland’. The film was going to look at the Irish immigration into Jarrow and could I use some of his photographs. He agreed straight away ‘Yeah no bother son just send me a copy when it’s done’.

But if we go back to around 2002 I was filming in Jarrow and in a newsagents I saw a book called ‘Jarrovians’. Inside were some amazing black & white documentary photographs of people and places around Jarrow, all taken by Vince during 1978. I handed my tenner over.

Packed with images of drinkers and barmaids from pubs like the Royal Oak, Prince of Wales, Tunnel Tavern and the Viking Bar. There’s gadgies suppin’ pints and playing domino’s, kid’s on the streets setting up bonfires, homeless men in Simpsons Hostal, women’s darts team in The Western pub. Dogs, horses and Joblings gibbet – all life is here in it’s working class glory.

With few exceptions, the overall feel of the collection of photographs is people simply enjoying themselves, being out of the house and among friends sharing their time together. Most people are happy to get their photograph taken but looking at some of the images Vince might not of asked first.

The Jarrovians was first published in 2001 by Vince and Willa Rae at The Bede Gallery, Jarrow.

Gary Alikivi  December 2019.