5 October 1936: the Jarrow Crusade sets off for London

On this day in 1936, 200 men set off on the Jarrow Crusade to march the 300 miles from County Durham to London to demand the government take action on unemployment.

For over a hundred years from the middle of the 19th century, Jarrow, in County Durham, had been a thriving shipbuilding town. By the 1930s, Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company employed 80% of the town's workforce.

Then the Great Depression hit, and Palmers closed. Unemployment soared to 70%. And with unemployment benefit lasting just 26 weeks, things soon started looking grim. The people of the town wanted the government to do something – many wanted them to build a steelworks to provide employment. And so on 20 July 1936, Jarrow Borough Council decided to present a petition to Parliament demanding that "His Majesty's Government and this honourable House should realise the urgent need that work should be provided for the town without further delay."

The petition was circulated and received 11,000 signatures. A "crusade" – a march the length of the country to London – would be staged to bring the petition, carried in an oak box, to the government.

Some 200 physically fit men (women were not invited to march) were selected from the local population and checked to ensure they could endure the 300-mile walk to London. And on this day in 1936, they set off, a mouth organ band leading the way.

It wasn't the first march of its kind. The National Unemployed Workers' Movement had organised “hunger marches”, including one of 2,000 people in 1932, plus others in 1934 and 1936. But there was a strong scent of Bolshevism about those marches which meant they weren't widely supported. For this one, however, Ellen Wilkinson, Jarrow's Labour MP, threw her weight behind the cause, despite the misgivings of her national party. And her presence ensured huge publicity.

As they wound their way south, the petition was added to, and the marchers received hospitality along the way. They finally reached London on 31 October. And Ellen Wilkinson presented the petition in Parliament on 4 November. But, rather than the petition, it was the coming of war that brought industry back to the town of Jarrow. The shipyards were reopened in 1938, and in 1939, the Consett Iron Company started a steelworks.

Recommended

Is London’s office market a bargain?
Property

Is London’s office market a bargain?

Private-equity groups are swooping on London’s property companies, which are trading on steep discounts to net asset value.
23 Oct 2020
Big spending government is here to stay – just ask Rishi Sunak
UK Economy

Big spending government is here to stay – just ask Rishi Sunak

Governments around the world are splashing huge amounts of cash as they do “whatever it takes” to prop up their economies. John Stepek looks at where …
23 Oct 2020
Why negative interest rates are a lousy idea
UK Economy

Why negative interest rates are a lousy idea

The Bank of England’s governor says negative interest rates can encourage investment rather than having cash stashed in the bank. But is that really t…
22 Oct 2020
I wish I knew what negative interest rates were, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what negative interest rates were, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

There’s been a lot of talk from the Bank of England recently about introducing “negative interest rates”. So what on earth are they, and what would th…
20 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express
Trading

Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express

Bus operator National Express is cheap, robust and ideally placed to ride the recovery. Matthew Partridge explains how traders can play it.
19 Oct 2020
Three stocks that can cope with Covid-19
Share tips

Three stocks that can cope with Covid-19

Professional investor Zehrid Osmani of the Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust, picks three stocks that he thinks should be able to weather the coron…
12 Oct 2020