Shot dead during Liverpool’s general transport strike, 1911
In 1911, Britain was in economic decline. Workers’ wages had dropped, the cost of living rose steeply and living conditions were poor. Sailors and firemen in Southampton began the strike, and action quickly spread across the country in solidarity. But Liverpool saw the most organised and persistent action, led by syndicalist Tom Mann who headed up a dedicated strike committee.
Liverpool’s general transport strike of 1911 saw over 70,000 men join the action and by the summer, the city had come to a virtual standstill.
Home Secretary Winston Churchill ordered troops out onto the streets and the authorities shipped in an extra 2,400 police and 5,000 troops from other areas to contain the action. Events came to a head on 13th August at a rally at St George’s Plateau. After Tom Mann’s speech, police attacked crowds apparently without reason. In total, 186 people were hospitalised and 96 arrested.
Two days later, prison vans containing 90 men convicted for involvement in the riots were being escorted by the 18th Royal Hussars towards Walton Jail via Vauxhall Road, a controversial route as many striking dockworkers lived in the area. Unrest broke out and soldiers opened fire on the crowd. Thirteen were injured and two men killed.
- John Sutcliffe, a 19-year-old carter, was shot twice in the head on the corner of Hopwood Street and Vauxhall Road, virtually on his own doorstep.
- Michael Prendergast, 30, a docker, was shot twice in the chest at close range on the corner of Lamb Street.
Later inquests gave verdicts of justifiable homicide. But by 24 August, the government had realised it simply couldn’t contain the troubles across the country, and concessions were made to the workers.
This was one of the last occasions in history when British soldiers have killed civilians on the streets of mainland Britain. It’s widely believed to be the nearest this country has ever come to revolution. But it also transformed trade unionism on Merseyside.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.