Nostalgia: Red Ellen and the Jarrow Crusaders march through Yorkshire

The world remembers it as a spontaneous cry for help from the darkest part of depression-era Britain. But the Jarrow Crusade of 1936 was arguably the first manifestation of the kind of sophisticated politicking we know today.

1st October 1936: Protest marchers starting out on the Jarrow Crusade, a demonstration march by unemployed men from the shipyard town of Jarrow, Tyneside, who walked to London to demand the right to work. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

As these pictures from the archive illustrate, it was a media event along every one of the 300 miles between Tyneside and London. Some of these shots were taken during the seven days the 200 marchers were in Yorkshire: first Northallerton, then Thirsk, Boroughbridge, Harrogate, Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley and finally Sheffield, before heading south into Derbyshire.

Jarrow’s Labour MP, Ellen Wilkinson – ‘Red Ellen’ – was among the organisers. The town’s unemployment rate stood at 70 per cent and it was, said one marcher, “a filthy, dirty, falling down, consumptive area”.

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The men – Ms Wilkinson was the only woman on the march – were demanding that a steelworks be built in Jarrow to replace the recently closed Palmer’s shipyard. It had been the main source of employment, and its closure compounded the poverty, overcrowding, poor housing and high mortality rates that were rife.

1936: A group of protesters carrying the petition on the Jarrow Crusade, a demonstration march by unemployed men from shipyard town of Jarrow, Tyneside, who walked to London to demand the right to work. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The marchers were hand-picked and each given a medical examination. A second-hand bus, purchased for the purpose, followed them with cooking equipment and ground sheets. An advance guard arranged overnight stops and public meetings.

At Leeds, the men were handed a donation towards their train fare back home. In Barnsley, they were welcomed into the heated municipal baths. Those showing fatigue were tended to by medical students from the Inter Hospital Socialist Society.

In London, the marchers had a sympathetic ear, though not from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who told Ms Wilkinson he was “too busy”.

Jarrow got its steelworks in 1939, as well as a ship-breaking yard and an engineering works – but it took the wartime rearmament effort to bring anything approaching prosperity.

1936: Protest marchers on the Jarrow Crusade, a demonstration march by unemployed men from shipyard town of Jarrow, Tyneside, who walked to London to demand the right to work. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

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12th October 1936: Unemployed men from the shipyard town of Jarrow, Tyneside march from Ripon to London with Ellen Wilkinson MP heading the procession. (Photo by George W. Hales/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
31st October 1936: The marchers of the Jarrow Crusade arrive in London. Leading them through Hyde Park is their MP, Ellen Wilkinson. (Photo by E. Dean/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
26th October 1936: The Jarrow Marchers, walking to London to demand the right to work, line up for corned-beef and potatoes at a farm near Bedford. (Photo by David Savill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
10th October 1936: Labourers from Jarrow, near Newcastle upon Tyne, pausing to read letters from home during their march to London to present a petition with 11,000 signatures which they hope will encourage the government to act over the 75% unemployment in their area. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
March 1926: Jarrow marchers stop for a much needed sandwich on their month long walk to London from Durham, to hand a petition to Parliament drawing attention to the growing unemployment and suffering across northern England. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson (1891 - 1947, centre) with the Jarrow marchers, and their black labrador mascot, at Harrogate during their march from Tyne and Wear to London, 13th October 1936. The marchers intend to present a petition to Parliament and protest the mass unemployment in northern England. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A roadside canteen for the protestors on the Jarrow March from north-east England to London, 29th October 1936. The protest was intended to highlight the poverty and unemployment in the area. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)