The Jarrow March of 1936: A 300-mile Protest March to London

When an economic crisis hit Britain in the 1930s as a result of the Wall Street Crash, mass unemployment swooped across the country, with the North, the Midlands, and Wales being hit the hardest. This was due to heavy industries such as Coal, Iron, and Shipbuilding being concentrated there. British industry was unable to compete with the United States and Germany, who were able to sell their products for far less and whilst other industries bounced back from 1933, the heavy industries did not.

Jarrow was a small town in North-East England in which the population was primarily employed by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, employing more than 9,000 people in the town with a population of 35,000. When the Great Depression hit, it destroyed any business that the shipbuilding company had been receiving, and in 1931 Palmers recorded a loss of £88,000, equivalent of £5.5million today. The company was unable to repay the loss and in 1934 it closed down forcing the majority of the working population out of work.

A battle cruiser being launched for the first time in Jarrow
The launch of battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary at Palmer’s Shipbuilding in Jarrow in March 1912.

In 1936 life was bad for the typical Jarrow citizen; with unemployment peaking at 68% and with 25,000 citizens dependent on government relief, something had to be done. Ellen Wilkinson was a Labour MP that represented the Jarrow constituency and despite attempting to draw attention to the plight of Jarrow to the party leaders, they were just not listening. This is why on the 5th October 1936, with the support of the Bishop of Jarrow, Ellen Wilkinson led the protest that came to be known as the Jarrow Crusade.

Ellen Wilkinson marching during the Jaroow March
Ellen Wilkinson, Labour MP for Jarrow, leading the Jarrow Crusade on the final day, 31 October 1936.
Jarrow marchers walking towards london
13 Jarrow Citizens on the route toward London in October 1936.

200 fit men were carefully selected for the 300-mile march from Jarrow to London in order to present a petition to the House of Commons that was signed by 11,000 Jarrow citizens which requested the re-establishment of industry in the town. The march lasted 25 days and at some points was led by Ellen Wilkinson in order to increase public attention to the march. They were welcomed into London with a public reception but Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to meet with them. The petition signed by 11,000 and a further petition was taken on the trek down to London which was signed by 90,000 people; it was received by the House of Commons but was not debated. In Leeds, they were donated train tickets to get back. The marchers returned with the belief that they had failed.

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin wearing a fur coat
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin wearing a fur coat on a ship.

Although there was no immediate impact, the march succeeded in bringing attention to the plight of Jarrow and other towns in the North. Eventually, a ship-breaking yard and engineering works were built in the town in 1938 and the Consett Iron Company established a steelworks there in 1939. Jarrow and other Northern towns prospered throughout the 2nd World War.

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