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Season’s Greetings from 1934

Hero for Season’s Greetings from 1934
Children of the Unemployed in 1934. Photo courtesy of Barnet Archives
By Mark Amies 24 December 2021

Many of us will have happy memories of childhood parties sitting at a table loaded with food, drinks and treats, especially at Christmas. The scene above is perhaps no different, but it has a story behind it that reminds us that this time of year is not always carefree.

The photograph was taken on December 30th, 1934, at the Methodist Church Hall on the Watling Estate, Burnt Oak. Three hundred children were sat down for a special tea party provided by the National Unemployed Workers Movement. This largely forgotten organisation was set up in 1921 by the Communist Party of Great Britain to draw attention to the plight of unemployed workers in the period after the First World War, during the General Strike of 1926 and onto the Depression of the 1930s. Although London hadn’t been as badly affected by the economic decline as other parts of the nation in the 1930s, there were still many who were without work.

The Watling Estate at Burnt Oak had been built as a brand-new London County Council estate. Construction started in February 1926 and by 1931 it was pretty much complete. Most of the residents moving into the 4000 homes were families who had been cleared out of overcrowded parts of west London. The Communist Party were keen to be seen supporting the working class and the less fortunate in society, and the Watling Estate was seen as a good place to focus on in the mid-1930s. At the time the photo was taken there were about 2000 families in the Borough of Hendon where the main breadwinners were unemployed.

Looking closely at the photograph the assembled children appear to be having a good time, with many of them wearing party hats that were provided by the Atora Beef Suet company, (a product that would have been a major component of everyday cooking, especially Christmas puddings!). Some of the youngsters are wearing cardboard spectacles with coloured celluloid lenses, quite possibly a novelty provided by another benevolent company. On the tables are cups of tea (on saucers, naturally!) Christmas crackers, and what looks like jelly in paper pots. Hanging from the ceiling are festive paper decorations that, compared to our times, look decidedly basic.

It is rather sobering to consider that only five years later these same children would experience the challenges of the Second World War, some may have spent the conflict away from London as evacuees, but many would have returned, and hopefully survived to enjoy many more Christmas parties. There’s a possibility that one or two of the assembled children are still alive and may be related to you, if so, drop Barnet Post a line!

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