Turn of the century union banner saved

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Southampton Boilermakers and Shipbuilders Union Banner

Guest blogger Michael Walker, Unison regional Officer tells us the story of how he saved a rare turn of the Century union banner from being sold into private hands.

Soon after visiting the Labour History Museum in the early 1980′s then at the old Limehouse town hall, I secured a copy of the late John Gorman’s “Banner Bright”. The rich history and illustrated pictures of banners through the ages left a major impression upon me and so many others. The most beautiful and striking banners illustrated in Banner bright were those executed by George Tutill of 83 City Road, London.

Tutill banners are of such rarity they are talked about in almost hushed tones and people come from around the world to see them at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester. Tutills banner are exhibited as works of art in their own right.

The odd Tutill banner would turn up from time to time.

However, little did I imagine that I would play a part in uncover another Tutill trade union banner

In August I began to hear rumours of what looked like a freemasons lodge banner recently retrieved from under the stage of a workingmen’s club in Woolston, close to the old shipyards in Southampton

I soon established that this was infact a Boilermakers Lodge (Union) banner, but before I could investigate further, I heard alarming news that the owner was thinking of auctioning the banner. Thus entering the murky world of a friend of a friend a message was communicated to the owner, and despite what seemed to be long periods of email silences, when I feared for the worse that the banner would be snapped up by a private collector or the owner had decided not to sell, I was relieved to get a message that he agreed to sell the banner to us (thank you Bromley Hospitals UNISON branch) for an undisclosed “finders fee” which was significantly less that the true value of the banner, on the condition that it went to an appropriate “good home”.

We were warned that the banner was in a fragile state but on the up side it was in a 15 foot wooden banner box.

Getting a 15ft banner into a vehicle is difficult and we had to hire a van especially to collect the box,

We left destined for Southampton in a truck not really sure if the owner had had second thoughts regarding the banner, but when we arrived the banner was ready for collection and in its box. After opening the four metal catches we discovered inside a tightly bound brightly coloured blue and red banner and visible immediately in-between the fringe of tassels the trade mark hand painted stamp of G.Tutill 83 City Road, London, clearly visible, also in the box was one set of Tutill banner holders and ceremonial toppers for the top of the banner poles.

Trade mark hand painted stamp of G.Tutill 83 City Road, London

Interestingly the newspapers surrounding the banner were Daily Herald’s from 1928 suggesting that possibly the banners last outing had been in that year,

Getting the banner into the truck still proved difficult and had to be carefully positioned at an angle to fit in the van. But thanks to the patience of my colleague Allen Reilly the banner was strapped into the van and brought back into the arms of the Labour Movement.

When opportunity allowed we unraveled the banner revealing the beautiful silk golden swirl designs and brass tags so distinctive of Tutill banners, Prominent on one side is the ship the Tynemouth Castle and on the other side the ceremonial emblems of the Boilermakers, Steel, Iron & Shipbuilders Society with the legend Southampton Branch. This organisation became the Boilermakers union and would end up merging into what is now the GMB in 1982.

A major strike took place in the Southampton shipyards in 1890 and I suspect the banner dates from around 1900.

The banner is presently in a very fragile (please note I have digitally enhanced the border which is damaged in places) We are obviously very keen for it to be assessed by the textile conservation at the Peoples History museum.

Hopefully, funding will be forthcoming for its proper preservation , especially as this is the only Tutill banner from Southampton’s proud trade union history, I am aware of that has survived to-date.

The moral of this story should be never give up searching for those trade union banners, not all will be Tutill’s but they remain an important part of our Movements history

Michael Walker
Unison regional Officer
September 2016

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TUC annual Congress in Brighton

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Clement Attlee (second left) with General Secretary of the TUC, Vincent Tewson (second right), at the 1946 Congress in Brighton.

The annual TUC Congress takes place in Brighton next week, from Sunday 11th – Wednesday 14th September. The TUC has a long association with the seaside town as a conference venue. It first held its Congress in Brighton in 1933 and, particularly from the 1950s onwards, has regularly held its Congress there.

In 1946 the newly elected Labour leader Clement Attlee attended the TUC Congress in Brighton (see photo above).

The photo below shows a card vote during the 1963 Congress in Brighton, a congress that discussed motions on topics such as: trade union recognition; private contracting in public services; equal pay; training of apprentices and youths; workers’ participation in management.

Voting at the 1963 TUC Congress in Brighton.

At the 1976 Congress in Brighton motions discussed the Health and Safety at Work Act which had been passed by Parliament in 1974. Outside the Congress a lobby took place of c.1000 workers from the Grain Power Station in Kent, who were objecting to the use of asbestos at the site (see photo below). Many of the workers had been sacked by a company at the Power Station for refusing to work with asbestos without protective clothing. The dispute eventually ended six months later with the intervention of the Health and Safety Executive. Coincidentally, the Grain Power Station in Kent was demolished in a controlled explosion yesterday (September 7th).

Asbestos lobby at the 1976 Congress in Brighton.

To find out more about the history of the TUC and the labour movement, visit our websites or get in touch.

 

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The Poplar Rate Strike – September 1921

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A group of the Poplar councillors following their release from Brixton Prison.

This month marks the 95th anniversary of the imprisonment of the councillors during the Poplar Rate Strike. In March 1921 the borough of Poplar in the East End (now part of Tower Hamlets) was told to implement a large increase in its rates by the London County Council. The rates were an early form of what is now known as Council Tax. The rates were calculated on the rental value of properties and as Poplar was one of the poorest areas of London it generated a low value of rates in comparison to wealthier boroughs. Each borough also had to pay a precept to pay for city-wide services, such as the Metropolitan Police. The Poplar councillors argued that the system for calculating the contribution of each borough was unfair and that such a large increase would disproportionately hit the poor of the borough. They refused to make the increased payments to the London County Council and were imprisoned for contempt of court in September 1921.

The leader of Poplar council was George Lansbury, who would later become leader of the Labour Party. The imprisonment of the councillors created a scandal and a huge outpouring of public support. Some local councils, such as Stepney (whose council leader was future Labour Party leader, Clement Attlee), threatened similar action. After six weeks of campaigning the LCC and the Government relented and the councillors were released from prison (see picture above, with their lawyer W.H. Thompson who founded Thompsons Solicitors). The Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act was rushed through Parliament, which essentially equalised the tax burden between the rich and poor boroughs.

At the 1922 General Election Lansbury won a landslide victory as Labour MP for Bow. “Poplarism” has sinced passed into the political lexicon to describe an act of defiance by local government, particularly in defence of the poor.

To find out more about what the TUC Library holds on the subject of the Poplar Rate Strike, or any other subject, get in touch.

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