“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.