The Battle of Lewes Road Part 1
The General Strike 3rd ~ 12th May 1926
The greatest strike in the history of Great Britain,
and possibly the greatest that the world has witness
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
By Oscar Wilde
Background to the Strike
During the General Strike, Brighton was totally paralysed with the transport being brought to a total stand still. This was due to a large railway work force and Brighton become the worse effected town on the South Coast with neighbouring loco sheds which also supported this strike. The Southern Railway employed a work force of approximately 73,000, with only 12,000 railway workers from the various grades and departments reporting for work during the entire General Strike.
However I have discovered some information regarding the ‘Battle of Lewes Road’, which took place on Tuesday 11th May, 1926, where it is presumed, that members of the Brighton Branch of A.S.L.E.F. may have been involved in this demonstration. It is known that some of the demonstrators who were arrested and sentenced worked for the Southern Railway at Brighton.
Below is some background information into the General Strike nationally, which is followed by a major event that happened in Brighton during the General Strike, which involved trade union members from the various trade unions that worked within the town. Paul Edwards
The General Strike
The strike was called by the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C.) in support of striking coal miners in the North of England, Scotland and Wales. The miners were making a stand against an enforced pay-cut. It was the latest in a long series of industrial disputes that had dogged the coal industry since the end of the First World War and created real hardship for mining families. ‘Not a minute on the day, not a penny off the pay’, was the miners’ slogan.
Although the dispute began in the mining areas, one of the trigger events took place in London, when the Daily Mail’s Fleet Street printers refused to print a leading article criticising trade unions. Other print workers also downed tools. The T.U.C. activated its plans for sympathetic strike action and called out all trade union members in essential industries.
From the early hours of Monday 3rd May, some two million workers went on strike across Britain. In London, the main groups of striking workers were the dockers, printers, power station workers, railwaymen, and transport workers. The aim was to bring the capital to a halt and force the government to intervene on the side of the miners.
For its part, the government brought in the army to ensure that essential services continued and food supplies got through. Army barracks were set up in Hyde Park, which was also turned into a milk and food depot. People who disapproved of the T.U.C. ‘holding a pistol to the nation’s head’ took action themselves, volunteering to work in place of the strikers. London’s buses, trams, trains and delivery vans were kept running by a skeleton staff of non-unionised workers and university students.
On Wednesday 12th May 1926, the T.U.C. General Council visited 10 Downing Street to announce their decision to call off the strike, provided that the proposals worked out by the Samuel Commission were adhered to and that the Government offered a guarantee that there would be no victimization of strikers. The Government stated that it had “no power to compel employers to take back every man who had been on strike.” Thus the T.U.C. agreed to end the dispute without such an agreement.
The miners maintained resistance for a few months before being forced by their own economic needs to return to the mines. By the end of November most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those that were employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages, and district wage agreements. The strikers felt as though they had achieved nothing.
BRIGHTON AND THE GENERAL STRIKE
Extracted and adapted from the book of the same tittle by Ernie Trory
Additional info from the notes by M. Bance
The General Strike descended with full force on Brighton on Tuesday 4thMay. It came suddenly and relentlessly. When the inhabitants of Brighton awoke, there were no trains, trams, no buses and no newspapers. It was an unfamiliar world. The tensions which led to the General Strike were exacerbated by the policies of the Brighton Corporation and the fears of members of the Middle Classes. Their concerns, however, were misplaced: local socialists and unemployed people of Brighton were not revolutionaries but had a strong feeling of sympathy with the industrial unrest that existed around the country, and when the strike began to take full effect on the 4th May only 6,000 workers, a small proportion of the town’s workforce, came out. Of these, transport workers were seen to represent the greatest threat, and succeeded in stopping service on the town’s external railway links and internal tramways. This was largely due to the hundreds of railway workers employed in Brighton and the solidarity of Brighton workers with strikers elsewhere was virtually complete.
The Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. Now absorbed into an official government organisation was hard at it, and ardent young men of the “Sporting type” were dashing about in lorries and on motorcycles. All members of Brighton Police Force had orders to sleep “at their posts” and to increase their mobility. Motor coaches were drawn up in readiness to convey them to any point in the borough where their services might be requires. The Special Constabulary had been called up and extra recruits were being enrolled at the Y.M.C.A. in the Old Steine, and at Preston Circus Police Station.
Typewritten bulletins, giving the latest wireless messages, began to be issued from the Electric Shop in North Street and from the headquarters of the Brighton & Hove Conservative Association in the Old Steine, limited consignment of the London morning papers, which had arrived in Brighton that morning, remained untouched on the station. The distributors had refused to handle them. Meanwhile the Labour institute in London Road was a hive of industry. Here it was that the Council of Action, and most of the Strike Committees, held their meetings. Notices relating to pickets were displayed outside the building, where later were to be seen two telegrams from Mr. C.T. Cramp, the railway leader, congratulating the workers of Brighton on their stand and urging them to work together.
On the morning of Wednesday 5th May, five thousand copies of the British Gazette, Government-sponsored organ of the coal–owners, were brought into Brighton. Some were posted in prominent positions around the town, only to be torn down by angry strikers. The T.U.C. replied with the British Worker, and the local Council of Action produced Stand Firm. There was also The Punch, produces by the Brighton Communist Party, a duplicated paper that appeared to be on sale everywhere, but printed nowhere. Brighton was solid. In no other town in the South of England was there such a complete stoppage. The strike order specified a call –out in “two grades” or “lines” but the difficulty was to keep the second line in. Engineering was in the second line and the railways in the first line. So the engineers in the railway workshops came out on the first day. The engineers at Southdown Motors came out on the second day. Everywhere men and women were leaving work in sympathy with the miners – even domestic servants and hotel employees were walking out.
There was a dramatic event moment on Thursday 6th May in the vicinity of the Town Hall about noon, when the big procession of about 2,000 strikers, headed by a brass band. The strikers were marching on to the Town Hall in response to the council considering the use of volunteer labour on the trams, they wanted to lobby transport committee and to try and persuade them not to use volunteers to operate the trams. As the procession made its way down to East Street, there were several hundred men in ranks as they swung round the corner out of North Street, a solid mass of marchers. Drawn up in a cordon guarding the approach through Bartholomews to the Town Hall. Where the Tram Committee were sitting in council, members of the Brighton Police Force waited apprehensively. Behind them, scores of reserves were disposed in strategic positions. The front line stiffened as marchers approached, but the demonstration continued on in an orderly fashion, leaving the minions of law and order on their right. On the following day, at same spot aprocession of about 200 strikers were marching towards the sea when a quite shocking thing happened. A woman driving a two-seater car spotted the procession and deliberately increased her speed and ploughed through the procession, scattering the strikers and making others flee for their lives.
The police who were at the scene made no attempt to apprehend her Instead the police drew their truncheons and set about the strikers who tried to mount the footboard to stop the car and then dragging them off the car. In the confusion, the woman continued to drive on at a great speed, turned swftly into North Street and disappeared. On the Saturday, the Brighton Herald came out in a four-page issue, produced with the aid of Special Constables who worked all Friday night and into the early hours of the next morning. The Sussex Daily News was produced with less difficulty but the printing was of a very low standard, many copies being unreadable.
Many thanks to Paul Edwards
“The Brighton Motive Power Depots” website
Over many years much has been written about the various forms of traction that operated in and around the Brighton area.
But very little has been documented about the footplate-men who actually worked on them.
This web site tries to remedy this as it seeks to explain the history of
Brighton’s Motive Power depots and the creation of the Brighton branch of the train driver’s union,
ASLEF – the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen.