County Road, 1911

Sefton Street, 1911

Armoured Car

Cricket outside St George’s Hall

Over fifteen years ago, I published a book Near to Revolution by Eric Taplin on the 1911 Transport Strike in Liverpool (not to be confused with the 1926 General Strike). This year Liverpool City Council has launched its City of Radicals 2011 to mark not just the centenary of the strike but a number of other events (including the first Post-Impressionist exhibition outside of London at the Sandon Studios – now Bluecoat Art Centre, the death of Robert Tressell -author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists) – and the first International Women’s Day.
The strike itself should be seen against the background of a divided society, with 120,000 people owning two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. The Industrial Revolution had widened the poverty gap with millions living barely at subsistence levels. Liverpool was a hotbed of activism and there was a growing feeling that a united labour force could take over the means of production. Inspired by radicals such as Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, ‘War’ was declared and industrial action began to spiral out of control. Troops and police from other forces were called in, HMS Antrim was moored in the Mersey and, inevitably, two strikers were shot dead in the most violent strike action seen in Britain. Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, described the situation as ‘near to revolution’. Panic resolutions to settle with the different unions began to take the sting out of the strike, which had lost some of its willingness to continue after the police and military aggression coupled with the two deaths.
From a photographic point of interest, this was the first major strike to be fully documented photographically and cinematically (although only brief snatches of the film survive). Most of the photographic record is the work of the Carbonora company run by Gwilym Mills. His set of postcards published throughout the strike are now amongst the most collectible of postcards (reaching up to ?100+ per card). Unfortunately, the offices and workrooms of Carbonora were destroyed by enemy bombing and their negatives and archive destroyed (the company still survives as the Mills Media Group).
The top photograph shows a police and army convoy travelling along County Road in Walton. The shops on the left belonged to Robert Crease (a music dealer), Arthur Rattenbury’s tobacconist, and Elizabeth Ford’s hosiery shop. The second photograph, showing troops protecting food supplies in Sefton Street was an American Press print I purchased from a supplier in Dallas – which indicates the international importance of the strike. The other two photographs are my favourites: the rather inadequate riot car (although petrol bombs had not been thought of at that time) and the boys playing cricket on St George’s Plateau in the midst of all the mayhem.

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