Jack William Jones, born 1900: Politics Protest & Class Part 2

As discussed in the Part 1, Jack remembers many of the political strikes and protests of the early 20th Century London, ‘In June 1981, they became involved with a 6-day strike for a 12–hour day.’[1]. Although some were successful, others led to difficult divides between the unions of the busmen and cabmen and then the tramwaymen. However, after strikes of 1915 and declining protest among the tramwaymen, all sectors joined together and by 1920 formed the Vehicle Workers Union.

The 1918 women’s strikes, supported by the men of the movement, proved successful and women for the first time, earned equal pay to men. However, by 1936 working conditions in the transport industry had worsened. Trying to push for the 7-hour day Jack’s union printed leaflets and pamphlets under the slogan ‘London Busmen Demand to Live a Little Longer’ (pictured right). They received a large political backing that drove the campaign to ‘The Coronation Strike’. Beginning 30th April on the eve of the coronation of George VI, the strike caused havoc in London for those trying to travel to and from the special event.

Jack’s memoir also seeks to challenge long-standing stereotypes of the East End poor. In the Victorian period, the journalist Henry Mayhew had suggested that London workers were ‘heathen.’ ‘Civilization’ had not reached them. The poor lived in inaccessible places, in ‘dens,’ in ‘swamps,’ in the ‘deeps,’ in the ‘wilds,’ or in the ‘abyss.’ The Light of ‘civilisation’ did not shine upon them because they dwelt in ‘the shadows,’ ‘the shade,’ ‘the nether world,’ the ‘darkest’ regions [2] Yet when described by an actual member of the working class, like Jack William Jones and all of the authors in our Writing Lives archive, it is evident that this is not always the case.

Working class living conditions in the early 20th century in London

In comparison to today’s world of football hooliganism and player glorification, for instance, Jack describes how ‘Never, at any time, did I see any sign of the fighting or rowdiness which today is part and parcel of the modern game, neither can I remember professional football players kissing goal scorers’.



[1]  Jones, Jack William, Untitled, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:250, available at http://burar.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895

[2] Stedman Jones, Gareth, Working-Class Culture and Working-Class Politics in London, 1870-1900; Notes on the Remaking of a Working Class Journal of Social History. Vol. 7, No. 4 (Summer, 1974), pp. 460-508

[3]Rose, Jonathan, Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences. Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1992), pp. 47-70

[4]Todd, Selina (2014) Class, experience and Britain’s twentieth century, Social History




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