When I decided I should post a little blog about my retracing of the Jarrow March – something I could tap out reflectively with a tawny port at evening’s end – I’d reckoned without a couple of things. Firstly that I’d be spending my evenings in the streets, bars, curry houses and salons of Chester Le Street, Ferryhill, Darlington and so on; soaking up atmosphere, meeting people, that kind of thing. And secondly, that having often walked miles with a wardrobe sized rucksack, by nine o clock, I’d be drooling and semi-conscious
That’s my excuse anyway. So forgive me if these little missives sometimes take a day or two to percolate and let me bring you up to date…
I had a bit of a mooch (technical term) around Jarrow on Wednesday morning for a while before I set out. There was a civic reception at the town hall to mark the 80th anniversary; I saw a chap taking the box of sandwiches in. I remained defiantly independent and aloof (not invited) and had a bacon buttie in Café Rosie instead. On a fine autumn morning, Jarrow seemed livelier and more genial than it had done when I came here for Pies And Prejudice. The pub that terrified me back then is a hipster-ish Gin bar now, there in the shadow of the two big blocks of flats, Ellen House and Wilkinson House named after Red Ellen, Jarrow’s MP who led the march.
(What I will find over the coming weeks is that the name as associated with Jarrow as Wilkinson’s is Alan Price, purveyor of a famed song about the march from 1974. Here it si with some fun visuals, from what looks like Eastern European TV. Also note that Price’s marchers, exhorted by their wives to burn London, were much more violently disposed than the real ones)
The first few miles are lovely; leafy even. The path rises up through Campbell Park, a green tract reclaimed for the community from ‘the Crusher’, a huge slag heap from smelting iron ore at the Palmers shipyard. Everything in town still seems in the shadow of those long defunct yards. The Palmer Hospital, the Palmer Nursing Home, Palmer St, Sir Charles Mark Palmer’s statue on the Main Street (“erected in 1903 by the workmen of palmers company and a few friends”) is far larger and more imposing than the Perspex sheet to commemorate the marchers, although to be fair, nearby is a proper statue of a handful of marchers led by Red Ellen
I take the Bowes Railway Path for several more congenial miles. This runs roughly parallel to the Marchers route and gets me off the A road for a while until the greenery gives way to the arterial roads of the north east. I pass into the environs of Sunderland. Crowther Industrial Park and the large striplit units of Schiedel Chimney Systems and Ronbar Flexible Conduits and accessories. I cross over, a sign tells me, into County Durham “Land Of The Prince Bishops”. The Prince Bishops were a ruling class of noble clergymen of the 14th century onwards but it always sounds to me like a 60s beat group with bowl hair cuts, white sports jackets and winklepickers.
I enter Chester Le Street as the sun drops low and slants blindingly across the quiet town, I enter slowly, footsore, squinting, my flat cap pulled own over my eyes against the glare. I fancy I cut rather a dash, a Clint Eastwood man of mystery, making curtains twitch and causing them to pull down the shutters and spin round the closed signs on Lloyds Pharmacy, Pizza, G W Horners, Bridge End Kebabs and Burgers. My first day is over and I’m ready for something long and cold; possibly a Mango And Apple Crushed Fruit Cooler, something that neither The Man With No Name or The Jarra Lads would order I’m sure