The 4th of October 2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a well-known protest in which around 100,000 people prevented the anti-Semitic British Union of Fascists (BUF) from marching through the East End of London, which had a large Jewish population at the time. Since the late 70s, it has become tradition for the 5- and 10-year anniversaries of the Battle to be celebrated with a march, and a rally in St George’s Gardens near the Cable Street Mural. On Sunday the 9th of October I went along to the latest commemoration, Cable Street 80.
As a national and imperial centre London is, and has long been, a key node in a whole range of networks involving the circulation of ideas, people, and materials. This fact was brought home to me recently when I visited the North East of England. Even though I was about 300 miles away from London, I found multiple connections to Turbulent London. Last week, I wrote about the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette from Northumberland who died at the Epsom Derby in 1913. This week, I will be thinking about the ways that the 1936 Jarrow Marchers have been memorialised in their home town in Tyneside.
Jarrow is a small town, with a population of around 30,000. During the industrial revolution the town experienced massive growth thanks to heavy industries like coal mining and shipbuilding. The Palmer’s Shipbuilding and Iron Company shipyard was established there in 1852, and went on to employ as much as 80% of the town’s working population. This dependence on one employer meant that the town was devastated when the shipyard closed in 1933. Unemployment and poverty was rife, setting the stage for the Jarrow March, sometimes called the Jarrow Crusade.
The Jarrow Crusade was a type of protest called a Hunger March. Beginning in the 1920s, groups of demonstrators (normally men) would embark on long marches to London in order to draw attention to issues of poverty, unemployment, and hunger. On the 5th of October 1936, around 200 men set off from Jarrow carrying a petition asking the British government to re-establish industry in the town. 26 days later the men arrived in London, 282 miles away. The House of Commons accepted the petition, but did not debate it. Although they were immediately unsuccessful, the marchers helped develop the attitudes that paved the way for social reform after World War Two.
When I went to Jarrow I found 3 memorials to the Marchers. If you arrive via Tyneside’s Metro train system from the direction of Newcastle and look across to the other platform you will see The Jarrow March, by Vince Rea, unveiled by Neil Kinnock in 1984.
Walking out of the station towards the town centre you have to walk through an underpass, one of several which is decorated with images made up of painted tiles celebrating the town’s history. One of these mosaics shows the Jarrow Marchers.
Finally, if you walk through the Viking Shopping Centre to the Morrisons Supermarket you will see the life-size bronze sculpture Spirit of Jarrow. The sculpture was commissioned by Morrisons, made by Graham Ibbeson, and named by 2 local residents. The marchers are depicting walking out of the frame of a ship, surrounded by scattered tools. It was unveiled in 2001, marking the 65th anniversary of the March. As in Morpeth, the varying ages of the memorials demonstrate that commemoration is an ongoing process, it has to be constantly renewed and maintained.
Although each representation of the Jarrow March uses a different medium, the content is very similar. All 3 show male marchers in flat caps, the ‘Jarrow Crusade’ banner, and a dog- Paddy the dog was apparently the marchers’ mascot. The fact that there are so many representations of the March within a small area suggests that this is an event that the local community are proud of.
When comparing these memorials to the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, what really struck me was the difference that location makes. Emily is buried in a churchyard- out of the way, quiet and sedate. You have to consciously decide to go and visit, and for me it felt a little like a pilgrimage. In Jarrow, the memorials are part of the everyday infrastructure of the town and, like a lot of public art, they run the risk of fading into the background. When asking for directions whilst looking for the Spirit of Jarrow, one local woman had no idea what we were talking about. If you travel the same route everyday, you frequently stop noticing what is around you.
Another striking element of the Jarrow memorials was their representations of gender. Both The Jarrow March and the Spirit of Jarrow include a women carrying what appears to be a baby. The only woman permitted to join the march was local MP Ellen Wilkinson, and she only marched sections of the route. No children took part either. The memorials present the March as being more inclusive than it actually was. It is a reminder not to take memorials and other similar representations at face value.
The proliferation of Hunger Marches as a method of protest in the 1920s and 30s linked London to the rest of Britain in a clear way, and the Jarrow March was no exception. Despite being almost 300 miles away, the people of Jarrow decided that London was where they needed to be in order to get their voices heard. London was, and still is, the political heart of Britain, and as such it interacts with the rest of the country in a whole range of complex and interconnecting ways.
Sources and Further Reading
Anon. “Jarrow Crusade Captured in Bronze.” BBC News. Last modified 5th October 2001, accessed 10th August 2015. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1581572.stm
Anon. “Jarrow March.” Wikipedia. Last modified 29th July 2015, accessed 10th August 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jarrow_March
Colette, Christine. “The Jarrow Crusade.” BBC History. Last modified 3rd March 2011, accessed 10th August 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/jarrow_01.shtml
Last week, I wrote about the importance of networks for understanding protest in London. As a national and imperial centre London is, and has long been, a key node in a whole range of networks involving the circulation of ideas, people, and materials. This fact was brought home to me recently when I visited the North East of England. Even though I was about 300 miles away from London, I found multiple connections to Turbulent London.
Morpeth is the county town of Northumberland. Situated on a crossing point of the river Wansbeck, the town has a long history, but I am more interested in one of it’s most famous residents. The suffragette Emily Wilding Davison came from Morpeth, and is buried there. Her grave in St. Mary the Virgin Church is visited frequently, and Davison House in the town centre has been painted purple in her honour.
Emily Wilding Davison is arguably one of the most famous suffragettes. Born in 1872, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, and began working for them full time in 1909. She became increasingly militant, and was often arrested for causing a public disturbance. She was imprisoned nine times, during which she was force-fed; almost drowned when a guard filled her cell with water; and threw herself down a 10-metre iron staircase in protest at the practice of force-feeding. She also spent a night hidden in a cupboard in the House of Commons so she could list it as her place of residence in the 1911 census.
Despite all this, Emily is probably best known for the way she died. At the Epson Derby on the 4th of June 1913, she ran out in front of the King’s horse. She was trampled, and died in the 8th of June from her injuries. Controversy has raged ever since about whether or not she intended to commit suicide, but it seems most likely that she was just trying to attach a suffragette scarf to the horse’s reins. She became a martyr for the suffragette cause and was buried in Morpeth on the 15th of June.
Morpeth certainly is proud of Emily. As well as Davison House and her grave, she is mentioned in the Tourist Information Centre as a ‘local hero’. Davison House, in Sanderson shopping arcade, was only renamed and painted in March this year. A cynic might say this was an attempt to draw visitors into the town centre (St. Mary’s Church is on the outskirts). Whatever the reason, it was getting attention from passers-by when I visited, and anything that raises the profile of lesser-known historical activists is great as far as I’m concerned.
I found visiting Emily’s grave more moving than I expected it to be. She is buried in the Davison family plot, which is surrounded by a green railing; as well as the family headstone there are other, more recent memorials to Emily. The space clearly means a lot of people; messages and ribbons in the suffragette colours have been attached to the railings by previous visitors. In this way, the grave acts as a focus for both official and unofficial forms of remembrance and commemoration. Both the unofficial and unofficial are being constantly renewed- the grave was restored in 2008, a new plaque was added on the centenary of Emily’s funeral in 2013, and some ribbons and messages were more weathered than others.
One of the most recent messages was also one of the most touching. The message, dated the 19th of December 2014 memorialises Katrina Dawson, who was killed in the Sydney Siege a few days before. It explains that the Dawson family were close to Emily Wilding Davison’s descendants; Emily didn’t marry or have children, but one of her relatives must have emigrated to Australia. The message says that Emily would have approved of Katrina’s actions. This shows that, for many, Emily Wilding Davison is a a role model, someone to look up to and be inspired by. This is not something I had thought about before, but the shrine-like quality of the grave made it hard to miss.
Even now, a century after her death, Emily Wilding Davison is remembered with admiration and gratitude. Morpeth is proud of her, and not just because of power to draw in tourists. As ‘A True Daughter of Northumberland’ she embodies qualities which the county as whole want to be known for (Northumbrians are also very proud of Grace Darling, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper who conducted a daring rescue of shipwrecked sailors during a storm in 1838). Emily also forms a connection between Morpeth and London, 300 miles away, demonstrating just how far the networks of protest interlacing the capital reach.
Next week I will be writing about the memorials in Tyneside to the Jarrow Marchers, who marched from Tyneside to London in 1936.
Sources and Further Reading
Anon. ‘The Grave of Emily Wilding Davison’ More in Morpeth. No date, accessed 30th August 2015. http://www.moreinmorpeth.co.uk/visit/the-grave-of-emily-wilding-davison
Smith, Anna. ‘Emily Davison Tribute Planned in Morpeth.’ Morpeth Herald. Last modified 10th March 2015, accessed 30th August 2015. http://www.morpethherald.co.uk/news/emily-davison-tribute-planned-in-morpeth-1-7149312
Between the 1st and the 10th of August 2014 was the East London Suffragettes Festival (http://eastlondonsuffragettes.tumblr.com), celebrating the centenary of the East London Federation of Suffragettes. Over the course of the 10-day period, a series of events were organised across East London, including a film night, talks, a book launch, a walking tour and, on Saturday the 9th, a full day of talks, events, and stalls at Toynbee Hall in Tower Hamlets. Organised solely by volunteers, I think it is safe to say that the festival was a huge success. I attended the book launch, the day at Toynbee Hall, and the walking tour, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself at all three.
East London Suffragettes Walking Tour, led by David Rosenberg (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The East London Federation of Suffragettes were more radical and broad in their aims than more well-known groups campaigning for women’s suffrage. The group started out as a branch of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), run by Sylvia Pankhurst. As the mainstream suffrage movement focussed on the emancipation of middle and upper class women, Sylvia worked with working class women in the East End of London.The East End women were asked to leave the WSPU when Sylvia disobeyed her mother’s (Emmeline Pankhurst) orders and spoke at a rally in support of Irish Home Rule. It was at this point that the East London Federation of Suffragettes came about. Whilst other suffrage groups suspended their campaigns during the First World War, Sylvia and her fellow activists kept campaigning, becoming increasingly anti-war as time progressed. As well as campaigning, the group set up a cost-price restaurant, a nursery, and a cooperative toy factory to help support the local community.
Poetry in Toynbee Hall (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
All of the above information I learnt during the course of the festival, I had no previous knowledge of the East London Federation of Suffragettes. So for me at least, the festival’s goal of revealing the ‘Hidden Histories’ (one of the panel discussions organised by the festival) of the women of the East End was a resounding success. Another of the festival’s goals was to look forward as well as back, connecting the work of the suffragettes with campaigns that are still going on today, in particular the issue of tackling domestic abuse in East London. This is an admirable goal, and it proves that the study of historical protest has a purpose beyond entertainment or commemoration. Activists and campaigners can learn from their past counterparts, and also take heart and inspiration. Sylvia Pankhurst and the women of the East End were brave, strong, and fiercely independent, embodying qualities that many modern women, campaigners or not, aspire to. We should remember them because they deserve to be celebrated, but also because their actions continue to inspire and empower.
Thank you and congratulations to everyone involved in the organising and running of the festival, you did a wonderful job.