Ninety years ago on the 13 August 1923 the canal here at Braunston made national headlines. The entire traffic on the canal, then one of Britain’s most important transport arteries, came to a total halt.
Braunston’s community of boat families on the canal were out on strike.
The village marked the anniversary with an event in the Stop House Garden on 13 August 2013. 150 people enjoyed short guided walks to locations connected with the strike, speakers and music. On a bright sunny afternoon villagers, trade unionists, and canal families enjoyed a picnic.
In the 1920’s canal employers told the boat families that they would be reducing their already meagre pay-packets once more, this time by another six and a half percent.
Many of these boat families were employed by Fellows Morton & Clayton (FMC), one of the country's largest canal carrying companies. FMC had a major wharf and depot in what is now Braunston Marina
The striking boats gathered around FMC’s Wharf in Braunston. The strike, and the families selfless sacrifice, was to last for fourteen weeks.
It was one of the first disputes to involve the recently created Transport and General Workers Union. The TGWU would grow to become Britain’s and indeed the world’s biggest trades union.Today it is part of the huge Unite union. Unite were kind enough to be a major sponsor of the picnic.
Despite the challenge from the railways, and the arrval of trains in the village in 1895, Braunston had retained its position as a major canal centre.
As the strike took hold in Braunston, between fifty and sixty boats tied up in the approaches to the FMC wharf and along both sides of the Oxford and Grand Junction canals
This increased the village's population (1,081 in 1921) by 300 putting a great strain on village facilities.
A thousand tons of sugar and tea were trapped in the boats. Strike-breakers attempted to unload the boats. Not surprisingly the striking boatmen saw this as an act of extreme provocation.
A second attempt was made to unload the three boats. On this occasion a detachment of police was drafted in. The strikers protest was colourful and noisy. One man was thrown in the canal. Under strong police protection the boats were finally unloaded.
Local journalist Peter Frost has produced a short illustrated history of the strike and it is available from him priced £2.