Back to index of Nerve 9 - Autumn 2006

The Bobbin Girls in their Sunday bestGarston Riots

By Mike Axworthy

Walking through the Museum of Liverpool Life I found many displays that I could associate with; however, as a Garstonian, the most interesting was a poster with the headline: ‘Police Brutality now Police Persecution’.
Strong stuff indeed, not from the recent past but from 1912 - when the workers of the Bobbin Works in Garston went out on strike.
The poster that alerted me to the historic strike at the Bobbin Works called for a protest ‘against the dastardly conduct of the Authorities’, due to the police persecution of Garston workers.
The poster also gave the names of supporters and contributors to a distress fund set up by women to ease the suffering of strikers. It seemed the whole of Garston supported them - all the pubs and factories in the area, many shops and individuals also made donations. I felt proud of the workers’ struggle and solidarity in the face of much suffering and hardship, and in particular standing up to the police brutality and persecution they suffered.
Wilson Brothers Bobbins and Shuttles began business in Todmorden during 1823, to meet the needs of a rapidly growing cotton industry. Britain exported textiles to the world from the thousands of cotton mills around Lancashire and Yorkshire. The mills needed wooden bobbins, and Garston Bobbin Works - the largest in Britain - supplied them.
Garston was the ideal place to produce bobbins because of its position on the Mersey, where it was the main port of discharge for timber cargoes from Ireland.
In 1912, there were 2,000 workers at Wilson’s Bobbin Works, and in line with many other industries they were organising to improve conditions and pay (1911-1912 was a time of industrial turmoil, with the dockers, railway and coal strikes taking place), which generally were very poor and in some cases dangerous. In those days there was a 6 a.m. start and the basic wages were low even by 1912 standards. Many of the workers were women, who earned even less than the men did.
The Council of Trades in the shuttle and bobbin turning industry called a strike after the management refused to negotiate with the leaders of the five unions affiliated with the Transport Workers Federation, with a view to securing better conditions for the workers.
Part of the poster calling for a march behind the famous Orange and Green Band from the Garston Labour Club on St Mary’s Road to Window Lane. The strike began on 4 May 1912 and lasted until the end of August. It was not 100% solid, and scab labour was brought in by the company. There were angry scenes after work, when the strikebreakers were escorted back by the police to their waiting trams in Speke Road. Large crowds would gather - some to protest, some just to watch until the crowds were broken up by baton charges.
One of the most controversial aspects of the dispute was the action of the police. The historical records of the day show a number of sworn eyewitness accounts of the police charging, hitting out indiscriminately with their batons and badly injuring several women and even children.
Finally - after fifteen weeks - both sides agreed to submit to binding arbitration by the Board of Trade and normal working resumed. An agreement was made on 17 August 1912, that all work people who had come out on strike be reinstated.
The Bobbin Works strike still stands as one of the most significant in Garston’s history. It is extraordinary that the strikers’ alternative to not accepting their wages and conditions was the workhouse or the street.

The Liverpool Echo of 14 August 1912 reported:

‘A sequel to the Garston strike was heard at the Liverpool Crown Court when Michael Wall was fined 40 shillings and costs for assaulting Constable Charsley and in the words of the court “assaulting a loyal worker who went into work.”’
In the same article the Echo said that extra police were drafted into Garston to protect the girls going home from the Bobbin Works. A large crowd made a hostile demonstration and had charged the police batons with their heads.
Two women were also fined 40 shillings for insulting behaviour. Ellen Grimes made a statement in her defence: “It is not right for them to come from Liverpool and work while Garston girls are on strike.” (40 shillings plus costs would have been about three weeks wages at that time.)
Cecilia Philips - the wife of a dock labourer - pleaded guilty to a breach of the peace - she was said to have booed and called a girl a ‘scab’.

Witness statements about police brutality:

Arthur Charles Keats, of 36 Lincoln Street, Garston
I am a Plater and work at Morton’s Iron Works, Garston. Neither I nor anybody connected with me had anything to do with the strike.
I had finished work at 5 o’clock and changed my clothes and was going out to the park to play cricket when I saw the crowd at the bottom of Church Road. I saw the car with the loyalists (strike breakers) coming down Speke Road and go up St. Mary’s Road and I saw the police behind the crowd as they were moving slowly up Church Road.
I was just close to Inspector Keelan when I saw him knock the ground with his stick twice and immediately the police formed four deep, drew their truncheons and attacked the crowd, which was mainly composed of women and children, and at the time they were doing no harm but walking up Church Road. The police struck out right and left. I saw a woman with light hair struck, whom I understand is Mrs. Dodd. She was lying on the ground. I immediately ran up Banks Road lest I too should be struck.

Mary Jane Southall, of 29 Byrom Street, Garston
I am the wife of Ezra Noble Southall, a dock labourer. I am not a striker. I have never worked at the bobbin works neither has my husband.
On the evening of August 13th I went out to look for my child. I saw a large crowd down Church Road and went down there. The crowd then was moving down Church Road towards King Street. I thought I saw my child amongst the crowd and ran forward with my baby 7 months old in my arms. As I did so the police charged and a constable made a blow at me but I dodged and it struck my baby on the forehead raising a large lump, which I afterwards attended to. The constable then struck another woman just behind me. The constable’s number was 122F.
My husband who was present at the time saw the assault.

For more information on the Bobbin Works contact Garston & District Historical Society at Garton & District Community Council.
Thanks to The Museum of Liverpool Life for the picture of the ‘Bobbin Girls’ in their Sunday best and for the poster.
First opened in 1986, as the Labour History Museum, it is now closed until 2010.

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Pauline Bewley on 25th March, 2007 at 17:19
My g grandfather William Bewley worked for Wilson Bobbin works in Athlone Ireland before moving to Garston. I am trying to locate any information regarding employees of this company do you know where I can view same. Regards, Pauline Bewley

Comment left by Daniel Axworthy on 24th October, 2008 at 23:07
A fantastic article giving an very vivid description of what life was like at the beginning of the century. Well done Mike.

Comment left by Walter Revans on 9th November, 2008 at 14:55
In compiling a family tree I've spent a lot of time hunting in Liverpool data. Which brought me here, I was born in York Street and one of my first memories is of the smell of burning wood from the Bobbin works. Especially walking down to the Mersey. The reason I'm on the site is I know my grandmother worked in the works in 1906 and probably met my Grandfather through it. I'm just getting a picture of Liverpool in the early part of the century as my great grandmother came from Ireland to Toxteth Park. My grandmother put three children in orphanages(2 died) and had 3 others who were born in York Street.

Comment left by dave garston on 30th October, 2009 at 20:30
have you got any pics of the garston lodge from the 60s and 70s if so can you put them on or send me them so i can show my kids them thankyou

Comment left by kay Gibbard nee williams on 7th February, 2010 at 19:10
My grandfather John Williams was the foreman of Kings ship-breakers yard on Garston Shore from about 1900- 1929. Have you any info'about the ship -breaker's.

Comment left by Norman Revill on 18th February, 2010 at 15:42
I was born in Garston and went to Garston C of E School on Banks Road, when it was known as 'The Knackers' (don't ask me why!). Most of my mother Lydia's family (Hughes from 101 Lincoln Street, where I was born), worked in the Bobbin Works - her brothers Ted, Albert and Herbert, as did her father Joseph Brelisford, who was a sawyer there. Several of them were injured by the machinery - my mother had her arm ripped open and Ted lost the tip of a finger. Compensation? They were probably given a cup of tea and told how lucky they were to be being stitched up at Wilson Bros' expense. My nan, Annie Revill from Winfield Road, also worked there and I remember as a child seeing her in her metal-rimmed clogs and hearing the women rattling in their clogs as they walked back down the streets to the Bobbin Works after being let out for their breakfasts (they started at six am!). But I've never heard any of them talk about this strike in 1912, which would have been before most of them were born. So many thanks for bringing it to my attention. Tough times indeed.

Comment left by Tommy McNaught on 28th February, 2010 at 22:09
I was just wondering if anybody has any information on a Miss E,Davieswho worked at the Bobbin Co in Garston 1929.Many Thanks,Tommy.

Comment left by Paul on 17th March, 2010 at 15:13
Garston and District Historical Society have published a fuller monograph on the Bobbin Works dispute, see publications tab

Comment left by paul Turton on 2nd May, 2010 at 23:39
Like others on this site I have tried tracing my family history and discovered that my Grandfather. (Thomas Hodge) was brought in to convert the old steam workings into electrical power. I have some old photographs somewhere of the new machines. I never realised that the managers and those with blue collar jobs were given houses in Durham Street (where I grew up) as they faced the park. Snobery even in those hard times

Comment left by Sian Browne on 23rd October, 2010 at 20:59
From researching my family tree my great grandfather james william gibson was working here in 1911.I was wondering if anybody had any info on him and his family they used to live in Saunby St in Garston

Comment left by Sue Shuttleworth on 31st March, 2011 at 1:44
A relative of mine was described as the Yard Foreman at the Bobbin Works in 1901 and Foreman in 1911, living in a cottage (Atlas Cottage) presumably at the works as the address is the Bobbin Works. It would be interesting to know which side he would be on during the strike? His name was Abraham Eaton. Any thoughts?

Comment left by Brendan Wall on 18th October, 2011 at 12:59
I think the Michael Wall refered to in the Liverpool Echo August 14th "Liverpool Crown Court when Michael Wall was fined 40 shillings ",is a grand uncle of mine from Bath Avenue Dublin.He was killed,some say murdered,when he "fell" into the cargo hold of a ship the "Nicoya" in Stalbridge Dock Garston.He was a union activist.

Comment left by Robert Guinan on 18th October, 2011 at 16:36
Both my parents worked at the Bobbin works, along with Grandparents & other relatives.I was born in Canterbury St & moved to Bankfield house.I wish to thank everybody involved in this project,it is wonderful.

Comment left by stuart perks on 14th November, 2011 at 1:03
I was born at 28 durham street I remember paul. Turton I see made a comment here would like to make contact paul email me at if you remember your auntie phyllis

Comment left by Dave Powell on 1st April, 2012 at 20:18
Does any one remember the shop Powells then Kettlewells it was on the corner of lyon street i think it was my grandmothers the went to her daughter and husband Frank and Nellie Kettlewell

Comment left by brian carson on 29th April, 2012 at 18:03
the two gas tanks in banks road did they have names if so what are they called. thanks brian

Comment left by John on 2nd May, 2012 at 16:51
I read in a Liverpool blog elsewhere that there was also a strike at the beginning of the 20C at Bibby's copper works, Garston, in which the managers brought in "scab" labour from Shropshire. Does anyone have further information on this, please.

Comment left by ron {rusty} evans on 18th June, 2012 at 18:11
my uncle weaver & son derek lived in canterbury st derek would be in his 70s now I remember a guinan I was mates with napper nolan, charlie may, york street great site

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