As the original Jarrow Marchers set off for London on October 5th 1936, one of their number received word that he’d got a job in the North East starting immediately. There were no shortage of men to take his place; over a thousand had applied to take part. The chap that was chosen as a substitute had no time to tell his wife, not at home, that he was off and so left a note on the mantlepiece with a message to the effect ‘Marching To London, see you in a month”
These days of course, he’d text her, or find her on Facebook (if perhaps not LinkedIn), use Instagram or Periscope, he’d email, Skype or What’sApp. From the outset, I’d decided that I would make no bones, no foolish ‘sackcloth and ashes’ purism about doing it exactly this trip the original Crusaders way. For one thing, you can’t do it their way. Some of that England of 1936 is gone forever and the point of my trip is to look at Britain then and now, to celebrate the Marchers but by putting them in a modern context. So my march takes place unashamedly in world of Spotify and Google Maps,of Uber and Voice Memos and Amazon Prime.
I had no qualms then when on a rest day I’ve just had (they never walked on Sundays) I took the 36 bus to Ripon Workhouse Museum.For one thing it passes along their exact route, through many the pretty villages where the Crusade received an unexpectedly warm welcome, with cash being trust into their hands and buckets, and cries of ‘How are you sticking it, Geordie?’ For another, the fear of the dreaded Workhouse haunted the Marchers days and the days of many unemployed and impoverished workers. And for another, being a fan of the late wonderful Jake Thakray, I just really wanted to ride a North Country Bus.
The 36 from Ripon to Leeds via Harrogate, with its Free Wifi and USB Power Supply, is nothing like as ‘malodorous’ and ‘notorious’ as Jake’s charabanc but the people of the North and West Riding still love it. I took it to the Ripon Workhouse Museum which was much less fun and suffice to say that you will read more about this chilling place in the finished book. For now, I’ll just ask that if you know who put ‘Great Idea. Save us millions in benefits. Stick them in the workhouse” in the comments book. then I’d be grateful for their address.
That October night in Harrogate in 1936, they received the warmest reception of the Crusade to date. At a public meeting at the Winter Gardens, ladies in fur coats wept at Paddy Scullion’s tales of midwives putting their own pennies in the gas to deliver babies in impoverished Jarrow homes and ‘Red’ Ellen Wilkinson gave another witty, blistering oration.
Some people might find some callow and wearisome irony in the fact that the Winter Gardens is now a JD Wetherspoons but in fact it makes perfect sense. It fulfils just the same valuable and happy function now as the Winter Gardems did then; providing nighttime entertainment for the working folk of Harrogate. Back then it was recitals and acrobats. Now it’s big screen football and pub quizzes. A large Hendrix Gin and Tonic in an ice frosted glass cost me £3.80 and the ambience was just as chilled as I watched England’s arid encounter with Slovenia.
A Vice journalist wrote up a piece on a holiday spent in Wetherspoon’s bars and hotels for an actually pretty fair and affectionate piece. It still roped in the usual cliches though; sullen men getting dourly hammered, people drinking Guinness at nine in the morning, all of which you can do and find in the fashionable dives of Soho. But if Francis Bacon does it, it’s bohemian, if Wayne Rooney does it, it’s barbarian
At the final whistle, plates piled high with carbolicious, slathersome, batterific delights arrived for a cheery group of four. Again it struck me that if you eat at ten thirty pm in Madrid, you’re free-spirited and exotic. But if you do it in Yorkshire, you’re a slob.
Well, not in my book (available next Spring from Ebury Press, a division of Penguin Random House!) you’re not. Buen Appetito, amigos!
And so to Leeds