Jarrow Crusade: 80th anniversary of protest march through St Albans

Jarrow Marchers on their way to London to present a petition to the Government in 1936. Photo PA

Jarrow Marchers on their way to London to present a petition to the Government in 1936. Photo PA - Credit: PA

Eighty years ago the Jarrow Crusaders swept into St Albans, to a ‘warm welcome’, on one of the last stages of their epic 300-mile march to London.

This legendary event captured the imagination of a nation, as nearly 200 protesters set off on foot during October 1936 to illustrate the plight of the people of Jarrow by delivering a petition to Parliament demanding work for the poverty-stricken town.

The ‘march of unemployed from Jarrow to London’ started on Monday October 5, 1936, and was organised to obtain widespread publicity and the sympathy of the general public and - it was hoped - the establishment of industry to provide work for unemployed men in the town, on the River Tyne in north-east England.

Most of the men marching were formerly employed in Palmer’s Shipyard, which closed down in 1931, and their petition drew attention to the serious unemployment situation existing in Jarrow.

They received a civic welcome in St Albans, the 21st stop during their 300-mile journey, on Thursday October 29, 1936.

The Herts Advertiser described the arrival of the Jarrow Crusaders: “They walked briskly into the town to the tune of ‘There’s a long, long trail’ played on mouth organs and kettledrums, and on arrival at the Town Hall they were given a civic welcome.

“Despite the dismal weather conditions, they appeared to be in the best of spirits.”

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At the city’s iconic Town Hall, they were met by the Mayor, his deputy, the town clerk and the Chief Constable.

The Mayor, the Rev. B.E.F. Mitchell, extended a warm welcome on behalf of St Albans’ citizens and wished them ‘every success in their mission’.

He added that St Albans knew something of the depression because his predecessor, Mr W. Bird, had worked in the interests of the depressed areas of the north.

The article continued that, “St Albans had been informed of the conditions in a way that perhaps few other cities had.

“The result of that information had been to quicken interest and sympathy with them. [The Mayor] hoped that something might result from the march that would make conditions at Jarrow better. St Albans was sorry indeed that the men had found it necessay to take such a step.”

The chief marshal of the Crusade, county councillor D.F. Riley, said the unemployment figures in St Albans were very low “but one felt that Jarrow was too far away to enjoy any of the prosperity that prevailed here”.

This paper added that, “The marchers, who numbered 195, were given hot meals at Oster House, and later they attended local cinema shows.”

One concerned resident was reported as asking: “What is to be the end of the Jarrow march? Will the Government send the gallant marchers back with some evasive answer and no real solution to the waiting town of unemployed with the empty shipyards?”

Unfortunately for those gallant marchers, she had correctly foreseen that they were to be met with disappointment upon delivering their petition to the Government after continuing on to Edgware, and then London on Saturday October 31.

However, the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow March “remains an inspiration to people fighting for justice,” according to Dr Matt Perry, a reader in Labour history at Newcastle University.

He said: “We live in a world of widening inequality and great injustices so the issues raised by the marchers all those years ago are, unfortunately, still relevant now.”