On This Day: Jarrow Crusade unemployment march begins

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: Jarrow Crusade unemployment march begins

OCTOBER 5, 1936: The Jarrow Crusade began on this day in 1936, as 207 jobless men began a 300-mile march from Tyneside to London in a failed bid to end mass unemployment.

The poverty-stricken former shipbuilders demanded government aid and also hoped to highlight the wider plight of England’s industrial North during the Great Depression.

The unemployment rate in Jarrow had reached a staggering 73% after the town’s shipyards collapsed and were then dismantled by a government syndicate in 1933.

A British Pathé newsreel filmed the flat-capped men walking though all kinds of weather while carrying an 11,000-name petition pleading for work.

The marchers, who were joined on some of the 22 stages by their Labour MP “Red Ellen” Wilkinson, generated huge publicity and sympathy, including food and shelter.

Yet, when they arrived in Westminster almost a month later, Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to meet the foot-weary demonstrators.

The petition was accepted by the House of Commons, although the only thing MPs could agree to give the men was £1 each – enough to pay their train fare home.

However, despite the failure of the arduous walk, it was viewed as a landmark moment for the labour movement and a glorious working class defeat.

And despite other bigger unemployment marches taking place during the Great Depression, it is the Jarrow Crusade that is best remembered.

Many historians argue that the march was crucial in changing southern opinions about the need for regeneration in distressed industrial areas.


[On This Day: WW2 Blitz begins over London]


The area around London had, by 1936, begun booming once again and the protest did indeed bring home northern plight to an increasingly prosperous region.

The fact that the Jarrow Crusaders were, unlike many other marchers, not linked to the Communist Party also bolstered their public support.

The march, which was organised by Jarrow Borough Council, increasingly convinced people that the government needed to introduce huge social reforms.

Ironically, it took World War II to save Jarrow after the Royal Navy began requiring ships again as the country began a massive rearmament programme.

After the conflict the shipbuilding, coal and steel industries that dominated the North were nationalised following Labour’s landslide election victory in 1945.
The new government also introduced a radical welfare state, including the National Health Service.

Yet this did not entirely end the demise of Jarrow, which suffered again after the town’s last shipyard closed for ever in 1980.

Con Shiels, who was the last living man to participate in the march, died aged 96 on Boxing Day 2012.