Residents are invited to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Braunston Canal Strike in Northamptonshire’s ‘rich’ radical heritage

The one-of-a-kind event features an hour-long performance of an ‘interesting’ and ‘inspiring story’

Residents are invited into the heart of Braunston to commemorate a unique event with an “interesting” and “inspirational story” in Northamptonshire’s “rich” radical history.

In the summer of 1923, the entire traffic on the canal, one of Britain's important transport arteries, came to a halt when Braunston’s community of boat families and workers went out on strike against wage cuts, working conditions, and the right to join a union.

Led by the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), formed the previous year, they were victorious after standing firm for 14 weeks.

Russ Hickman, 75, organiser of the event and the chairman of the community section of Unite the Union, said: “Northamptonshire has a very rich radical history as well. There are lots of stories which have not been told.”

The centenary of the Braunston Canal Strike event is set to take place at Braunston Village Hall with a brief tour, a free buffet, a performance, and an after-show panel discussion.

On June 29, 2015, officer Julia Long unveiled a plaque commemorating the canal boat strike on the wharf in the Northamptonshire village. That day, Russ met Peter Frost from Braunston while sitting on a bench near the plaque.

“He told me the whole story. This is a really interesting story. It’s quite inspirational, and yet I doubt if many people in Northamptonshire even know about it. Since then, I’ve not met one person in Northampton who has heard of it,” said Russ.

The programme starts at Braunston Marina from 5.30pm with a brief tour of where the events in 1923 occurred, followed by a buffet of freshly cooked food prepared locally by Braunston Bakers Collective at Braunston Village Hall from 6pm and a brief introduction from Sean Kettle of Unite the Union. Residents can learn more about the strike, life in 1920, and the TGWU's role and involvement.

“Sometimes people look at these things in isolation and wonder if they are worthwhile, but sometimes successes aren’t immediately obvious; they’re building blocks, and the benefits are cumulative. Eventually, you get a breakthrough,” said Russ.

The ‘Rats, Ropes and Revolution’ play performed by Alarum Productions starts at 6.45pm. The hour-long original story and song performance that debuted at the Historic Boat Rally in June features two acclaimed canal-based performers, Kate Saffin, who wrote the play, and Janul, musician and songwriter. The performance portrays the 14-week strike through the eyes of a boatwoman, managing family, work, and domestic life in a ten-by-seven-foot cabin.

“I wanted it to be a very rounded event because you can look at these things from different points of view. You can look at it, as Alarum Productions has, from the point of view of how it affected the family, particularly a woman who’s supposed to keep everything together.

“The people lived on the boat. That was the terrible thing about it. They lived in these tiny, cramped conditions, and what was worse was that only the man, the head of the family, as it was called, got paid. The family and children were not paid; they had no rights; they had no benefits or anything like that; and the children had no access to education,” said Russ.

People can join an after-show panel discussion at 8pm with Kate Saffin, writer, producer and performer, John Pomfret, local historian, and Sean Kettle, Unite the Union regional officer and a long-term trade union activist in the county, talking about the strike and people’s achievements and the importance of the hardship endured by Eliza and her family.

“We need to know about these things. We need to know our own history. There are very few who show the lives of ordinary working people. These are interesting stories,” said Russ.

This event is scheduled for Saturday, November 4, from 5.30pm until 9.00pm. People are advised to book the £3.00 tickets via Eventbrite.

All proceeds are donated to the Braunston Food Larder, and food contributions are accepted on the day.

Northampton Central and Community Branches of Unite the Union are supporting the event.

Russ is also part of the radical history Northampton tour events, strolling around the town with “loose and informal” groups. So far, the group has done five walks in Northampton, all of which have been "oversubscribed."