The Tyneside town of Jarrow had been the site for Palmer’s Shipyard that was responsible for a large proportion of the town’s employment. Having operated since 1851, the yard was sold in 1933 due to a collapse in the British shipbuilding industry and the impact of the Great Depression.
The shipyard closed shortly afterwards and, although American entrepreneur T. Vosper Salt proposed turning the site into a steelworks, he was forced to withdraw after members of the British Iron and Steel Federation lobbied to make the project unfeasible.
The collapse of the steelwork plan was a devastating blow to the people of Jarrow, where unemployment had hit 70% in the months following the closure of the shipyard. In response David Riley, the chairman of Jarrow Borough Council, proposed a march to London in order to raise the profile of the economic disaster.
The marchers had the full support of their local Labour MP, Ellen Wilkinson, and secured funding for the march from the local community including all the political parties. Over 1,200 men volunteered to take part in the march, of whom 200 were chosen to take the petition to London. They marched for 25 days and received a generally positive reception wherever they passed through.
Arriving in London on 31 October the marchers entrusted the petition of 11,000 names to Wilkinson, who presented it in the House of Commons on 4 November. It achieved no immediate response from the government, and the marchers returned home feeling that they had failed.