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The Jarrow March (or Jarrow Crusade, from the phrase on banners carried by the marchers), was an October 1936 protest march against unemployment and extreme poverty suffered in North East England.[1] The 200 marchers travelled from the town of Jarrow to the Palace of Westminster in London, a distance of almost 300 miles (480 km), to lobby Parliament. Their MP, Ellen Wilkinson, known as 'Red Ellen', walked with them. When the marchers completed their feat, very little was done for them. The ship industries remained closed and all that they were given was £1 each to get the train back from London.


The global Great Depression brought particular distress to North East England, where many citizens were miners and ship workers. The collapse of domestic and international trade in shipbuilding, coal mining, and steel industries led to even more severe unemployment and poverty than seen in other parts of the country. At the time unemployment benefit lasted only for twenty-six weeks, and the Unemployment Assistance Board, created in 1934, provided inadequate relief for long-term unemployed people, who were put under the Poor Law, which forced them to do service for less money than normal. Senior generations of families were forcibly evicted from their family homes. Jarrow is a small town on the mouth of the River Tyne, near the city of Newcastle, which had a large ship building industry. A boomtown, Jarrow prospered at the start of the 20th century, when more than a quarter of the world's shipping tonnage was built in North East England. For example, Palmer's Yard had been established in Jarrow in the mid-19th century. After the Great Depression, the town was never the same. The National Shipbuilding Industry Securities was set up to counter the increasingly dirty situation. It recommended "closure", which meant closing down a number of producers. Jarrow was one of the older producers closed to protect the more modern shipbuilding producers. cranes at Palmer's Yard were dismantled, and the town faced a bleak future. The National Unemployed Workers' Movement had organised several similar marches before the Jarrow March, but they received little political support due to the NUWM's links with the Communist Party. When the Jarrow Borough Council organised the protest in July 1936, they named it a "walk" rather than a march, partly to make it clear their protest was not affiliated with the NUWM in the hope of gaining more support. No Communists were allowed to participate; some organised another march later in the year, led by Walter Harrison, the grandfather of Conservative politician David Davis.


The march was to find jobs to support Jarrow men and their families. It was also a bid for respect and recognition, not only for the people of Jarrow, but for others in a similar situation all over the country. The marchers had no resources other than their own determination, and some good boots supplied by the public. During the march, wherever the marchers stopped for the night, the local people gave them shelter and food.

The marchers were selected carefully, with only fit men being allowed to participate. However, there is evidence that blind people were included in the march (see debate title in Hansard for Prime Minister's Questions on 5 November 1936 (vol 317 cc 234-5): "Jarrow and Blind Marchers". Also of note is that the British National League of the Blind and Disabled had organised marches of blind and disabled people from its outset in the 19th century (see, "On Our Own Behalf", Martin Pagel, UK: Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People).

The marchers were supported by a bus which carried cooking equipment and ground sheets for when the march had to stop outside. Many of the men marched in army style, walking for 50 minutes before a ten-minute break, and held blue and white banners. A harmonica band and frequent singing helped to keep morale of the marchers high. Sometimes, the local Member of Parliament, Ellen Wilkinson, marched with the group to give higher profile to the crusade.

The original petition, which demanded government aid for the town of Jarrow, signed by 11,000 people from Jarrow, was carried in an oak box, whilst supporters of the March could add to an additional petition. The marchers spent the nights in local accommodation, whilst sometimes receiving extra aid from locals. For example, in Barnsley, the marchers were allowed to use specially-heated municipal baths.


See also

Further reading

  • Matt Perry, The Jarrow Crusade: Protest and Legend (2005)

External links



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