May Day Procession in Cotton Street
May Day Procession in Cotton Street
May Day Procession in Cotton Street
About two hundred dockworkers march up Cotton Street into East India Dock Road, Poplar, during the May Day procession in 1926. The men are led by three workers in light-coloured sashes and a brass band. The musicians are carrying their instruments, which includes a large drum. Three men at the front are in three-piece suits with shirts, collars, tightly-knotted ties and bowler hats. A man in a straw boater hat looks straight up at the camera. Most of the rest of the men behind are in flat caps. The procession is accompanied by at least six policemen in uniform. Two police horses bring up the rear in Cotton Street. A man on a bicycle rides alongside them. The marchers carry large cloth banners representing their unions. The first is a banner for the Transport and General Workers Union showing stevedores and other dock workers on a wharf beside an ocean-going liner, transporting goods into warehouses. Above is a portrait of Ben Tillett who had been instrumental in the Great Dock Strike of 1889 and who afterwards became General Secretary of the newly-formed Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers' Union. The union (renamed as the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers' Union in 1899) initiated the amalgamation of fourteen small unions to form the Transport and General Workers Union in 1922. Large crowds of onlookers have gathered on the street corners. These are mostly men, but a woman with three young girls in white pinafores can be spotted on the corner outside the Eagle's Tavern public house on the right, as well as two young boys in shorts, thick socks and ankle boots. There are also children on the opposite corner outside the City & West End Shirt & Collar Dressing Company's receiving office. This was a laundry; a wooden sign erected between two multi-paned sash windows on the upper floor facing East India Dock Road proclaims in faded lettering that they are dyers and cleaners, and that suits are cleaned and pressed 'tailor fashion'. Bills pasted on the side of the laundry's upper wall in Cotton Street advertise the latest silent movies coming to the cinema for three days from Monday, 23 July: 'Moonshine Valley', a 1922 Western starring William Farnum and Anne Shirley; and 'The Sky Pilot', a 1921 drama directed by King Vidor and featuring Colleen Moore. A second poster promotes 'The Right That Failed', a 1922 film described at the time as a 'knock-out of a picture' of a 'ring-side romance of a highbrow lowbrow'; and 'The Sheik of Araby', a Mark Sennett send-up of the Valentino hit 'The Sheik' first screened in 1923, starring Ben Turpin and Kathryn McGuire. Tram rails and cobblestones can be seen on East India Dock Road. Looking south along Cotton Street, on the left, a person pokes their head out of an upper floor window of an early nineteenth-century terraced house. Further along can be seen the entrance to Wright's Place; the street sign just visible above the leading trade union banner, and to the left of an ornate cast-iron street lamp. Beyond, the old Baptist Church dating from 1811 can be seen. This stood on the northern corner of Woolmore Street. The junction with Manisty Street is in the far-ground, around where a saloon car can be seen driving towards the camera. The 1926 General Strike was called just days later, on 4 May. None of these buildings survive today. The area has been comprehensively redeveloped for residential and commercial use and where the Eagle Tavern used to be is now a public open space with grass and trees.
London Metropolitan Archives
LCC Photograph Library
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