By Will Barber Taylor
In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie walks from north to south, retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade. Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that, in some ways, is very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide and food banks. Yet in some ways it is completely unrecognisable.
Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voice builds a complex and entertaining tale of Britain then and now.
Stuart Maconie’s great skill as a writer is making what may seem ordinary extraordinary. He brings his journey across the North of England to life in a way no writer could – with a skill and zest for his subject matter that truly comes from the heart. As Terry Jones’ film Boom, Bust Boom said “each generation forgets the depressions of previous generations” and to an extent Maconie proves this. In many ways, the North of the 1930s is gone and can never come back – through the Thatcherite era policy of closing down mines and a drifting of the economy further and further southwards, places like Jarrow are not seen as economically important as they had been prior to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression.
Yet in other ways, in his winningly talkative style, Maconie proves that some things haven’t changed. People are still trying to get on with their lives, to improve the lives of their children and to not live in economic poverty. What Maconie also reveals is that over eighty years on, the North of England is still as politically active as ever. Though the staunch hold of the mining unions may be gone and the battles against the National Government of the 1930s is also over, there is still a staunch and thriving political atmosphere in the North. Maconie beautifully brings this to life when recounting his meeting with a young Jeremy Corbyn supporter; the faces may be different but the desire for political change is still there and ever present.
Maconie’s book also beautifully describes the surroundings he passes through on his journey; through County Durham and into Yorkshire, Maconie’s eloquence at what he sees is inspiring – his description of Ripon in particular has a subtle splendour to it.
Long Road from Jarrow is a fascinating and heartfelt book which takes its readers on an expedition through the very soul of the North of England. It is the journey of the men who marched on their crusade to try and highlight the poverty they were living in. It also shows that politics are as divisive now as they have ever been that it is worth learning from the successes and the mistakes of the Jarrow Crusade. And there is no better book to illustrate this than Long Road from Jarrow.
With thanks to Ebury Publishing. You can buy Long Road From Jarrow directly from them and from Amazon here.