New book offers fresh look at Red Ellen

ON THE MARCH ... late MP Ellen Wilkinson during the 1936 Jarrow Crusade. Below, author Matt Perry.
ON THE MARCH ... late MP Ellen Wilkinson during the 1936 Jarrow Crusade. Below, author Matt Perry.

THE life and times of a heroine of the Jarrow March are explored in a new biography.

Ellen Wilkinson is forever associated with the famous 1936 crusade for jobs during her time as MP for Jarrow.

Matt Perry

Matt Perry

But a new book by Matt Perry attempts to put Wilkinson’s story in a wider political and historical context, including her role as a minister in the 1945 Labour government.

‘Red Ellen’ Wilkinson: Her Ideas, Movements and World explores the life of a multi-faceted woman who met political figures including Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as writing fiction and journalism and witnessing at first hand the rise of Germany’s Third Reich and the Spanish Civil War.

Mr Perry, a reader in Labour history at Newcastle University, told the Gazette: “Ellen Wilkinson is a hero in these parts.

“She can be seen on a banner at the annual Durham Miners’ Gala, and Jarrow Brewery named a beer after her. You cannot get more authentic than real ale!

“While I was researching the Jarrow Crusade, I became more and more intrigued by Ellen Wilkinson.

“I hope to have unravelled the reasons why she was so popular with very different audiences.”

Mr Perry added: “I wanted to deepen our understanding of her commitment to the causes of working people, women, anti-fascism and peace, as well as her journey from rebel to the Cabinet. In so doing, I try to challenge some myths about her, but I think my portrayal shows there was nevertheless something heroic about her life.”

The detailed biography, drawing on years of research and running to more than 400 pages, explores the twists and turns of Wilkinson’s life from her birth in Manchester in 1891 to her death in 1947, still believed by many to have been suicide.

Mr Perry writes: “Wilkinson and the Jarrow Crusade have come to symbolise Britain in the 1930s. This event was crucial to the making of Red Ellen’s celebrity, legend and reputation.

“All too often, though, the collective memory of the Jarrow Crusade has enveloped Wilkinson, sinking her other achievements into oblivion, hollowing out her memory, rendering the life a single snapshot.”

The book, published by Manchester University Press, costs £75.

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