A group of 12 smartly dressed men walk down the street with the man at the front walking a dog.
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People and Protest: The Story of the Jarrow March

In October 1936, 200 unemployed men from Jarrow began to march to Parliament.

“During the last 15 years Jarrow has passed through a period of industrial depression without parallel in the town’s history. Its shipyard is closed. Its steelworks have been denied the right to reopen. Where formerly 8,000 people, many of them skilled workers, were employed, only 100 men are now employed on a temporary scheme. The town cannot be left derelict.”

The Jarrow Crusade – Speech by Ellen Wilkinson, MP for Jarrow, in the House of Commons on malnutrition, 1936.

On 5 October 1936, 200 unemployed men from Jarrow in South Tyneside began to march to Parliament in what is known as the Jarrow March or Jarrow Crusade.

Here we look at the people behind the protest.

A red brick town hall with a protuding clock at the top. An England flag waves from the flagpole on the roof.
Plaque in council chamber in Jarrow Town Hall commemorates the decision taken there in 1936 to march to London – the Jarrow march © Historic England Archive

Who were the Jarrow Crusaders?

200 unemployed men put their names forward and were chosen by the council, each medically examined to ensure they were fit enough for the journey.

Many of the marchers have become anonymous over time, with only the leaders remembered by name. In 2016, film maker Gary Wilkinson commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow Crusade with a documentary, interviewing relatives of the marchers and those involved with the ‘Who Were the Marchers?’ project at three schools in Jarrow.

Who led the march?

Councillor David Riley, chair of Jarrow council, and Ellen Wilkinson, MP for Jarrow led the crusade.

David Riley

Riley was the march Marshall, and it was his idea to start from a church and have the procession blessed by the town’s religious leaders. He also wanted it to be known as the ‘Jarrow Crusade’ to distinguish it from other hunger marches happening at the time, and emphasise the admirable nature of the Jarrow men.

Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen was from a working class family and had won a scholarship to study History at university. In 1923 she became MP for Middlesbrough East and was elected MP for Jarrow in 1935. She was one of four women MPs in the government at the time.

A well-dressed woman speaks to a huge group of men and women, in Trafalgar square. A statue of a lion is behind her.
Ellen Wilkinson addressing a demonstration in support of the International Labour Policy on Spain in Trafalgar Square 11 July 1937. Photograph from Wiki Commons.

Wilkinson had been involved in Jarrow for many years, leading protests and establishing herself within its community. During her time as MP for Jarrow, she was outspoken in the House of Commons and had consistently sought to draw the plight of Jarrow to the attention of party leaders. She led a deputation of unemployed men from Jarrow to meet the prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, in 1934. She had also supported the General Strike in 1926.

Wilkinson walked part of the way to help attract attention for the marchers and presented their petition to Parliament on 4 November.

After the war, she became the first woman Minister for Education.

What were they marching for?

The march was organised to draw the Government’s attention to the wide scale unemployment and poverty in Jarrow, with the hope of a solution to this issue.

The marchers carried a petition signed by 12,000 people demanding a new steel works after the closure of Palmer’s Shipyard, which had been the main source of employment. The lack of jobs had worsened poverty and malnutrition, already felt from the world-wide depression at the time.

A group of smartly dressed men with flat caps march. One man at the front walks a dog.
Jarrow Marchers en route to London, National Media Museum @ Flickr Commons

How far was the march?

Walking nearly 300 miles, the marchers took almost a month to reach London, arriving on 31 October. They set out each day at 8.45 am of their 25-day march. Many marched army style, walking for 50 minutes and resting for 10 minutes.

This is the route they took, from Jarrow to London.

A mouth organ band kept spirits high with Ellen leading some of the songs.

What was the impact of the march?

The marchers had been popular with people along the route and the press, but few people attended their demonstration at Hyde Park Corner on 1 November. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was apparently ‘too busy’ to meet the deputation of men on their arrival. The marchers returned home (on the train) to a heroes’ welcome.

Initially the march produced few results with no proposal made to help Jarrow and the depression in the North East continued for many years. But as time went on the Jarrow March was recognised as a defining event of the 1930s and helped to foster the change in attitudes which paved the way for improved working conditions.

Jarrow did eventually see some new industry opening, with a ship-breaking yard and engineering works established in 1938 and the Consett Iron Company started a steelworks in 1939.

The marchers are not forgotten. A statue commissioned by the supermarket chain Morrisons sits outside its store in Jarrow.

Bronze statue of the Jarrow marchers, featuring two men holding placards behind a woman holding a baby and two small children.
The Jarrow Marchers. Geograph David Dixon

Further Reading

3 comments on “People and Protest: The Story of the Jarrow March

  1. maggiemoo2015

    Its a mark of defiance from men in great need. My grandfather in the early 60s spoke often of their march and its implication on the news of the day. He was a Gardener and stable boy in life but understood the plight of the men and women. I like the sculpture but feel its a little disjointed. I know its meant to show movement and marching but i think it could be better.

  2. It was People Power similar to that Displayed by the Jarrow Marchers that Finally brought an End to 25 Years of Violence in Northern Ireland.

    The Origins of present Day peace in Northern Ireland can be traced by Public-Records in BELFAST CENTRAL LIBRARY to a 2 Year Public-Debate in an Irish National Newspaper = The SUNDAY WORLD – Belfast Editions Feb 1991-1993 – as the Catalyst for bringing the I.R.A. Leadership to the conclusion Violence in Northern Ireland would never achieve their Objective of a United Ireland – Hence, Thus Explaining the Mysterious Reason behind British Prime Minister John Major receiving His Now-Famous “CONFLICT IN NORTHERN IRELAND IS OVER” Phone-Message from the Leadership of the I.R.A. @ CHEQUERS which John Major quite rightly Accredits with enabling Him to Set the Irish peace-process in perpetual motion. . . . .Making CHEQUERS the Most Famous and Historically Significant House in Britain as the BIRTHPLACE of the Internationally Acclaimed Irish peace-process.

  3. Crispin Edwards

    Ellen Wilkinson (1891 – 1947) was born in Chorlton on Medlock in Manchester, and attended Ardwick Higher Grade School, which stood on Devonshire Street just to the south of Hyde Road. It was one of the three nearby schools which amalgamated in 1953 to form Nicholls Ardwick High School, which eventually occupied only the former ‘Nicholls Hospital’ bluecoat school; the school was renamed Ellen Wilkinson High School in her honour in 1983. It merged again in 2000, losing the name, and left this building, which is now part of The Manchester College; the building is Grade II* listed, see https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1291812. Having first tried her hand as a teacher, Ellen graduated from Manchester University in 1913 having already been involved in the co-operative and women’s suffrage movements, and continued her socialist activism before becoming an MP (she helped organise a suffrage pilgrimage in 1913, and stated that she sacrified achieving a First at university in order to support a strike in Manchester at the time). She was known as Red Ellen, not only for her strong socialist views (she was a member of the Communist Party) but also for her red hair which grew long in her youth. She sadly died from an accidental overdose of medicine for a bronchial disease, aged only 55. There is a blue plaque for her at Manchester University, but otherwise Manchester appears to have forgotten this fiery daughter. There are schools still named after her elsewhere, though.

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