The Intersection of Race, Class and Politics on Tyneside, 1918-1962

Hannah Martin is a first year PhD student in human geography in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University. Her key areas of interest are labour and social geographies and the history of working class communities in the North East of England. Her previous research has focussed on identity construction, social formation and cultural development of 19th century coalmining communities in Durham and Northumberland. Hannah’s PhD thesis will focus on the intersection of race, class and politics in Tyneside in the 20th century.


Hostile, and often violent, relationships have punctuated the history of working class race relations in Britain in the early twentieth century. Whilst larger politically and economically disruptive events often caught the attention of contemporary journalists and modern day scholars alike, the significance of these ‘exceptional episodes’ of racialized hostilities on the articulation of everyday race relations in occupational communities has generally been overlooked. This PhD thesis aims to reconsider the expression of race relations in working class Tyneside communities in the period 1918-1962 and uncover the significance of temporal, spatial and social contexts as well as the longer-term impact of ‘exceptional episodes’ of racialized violence and culture on everyday interactions in a local space.

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Meeting of seaman outside of Customs House at the Mill Dam, South Shields, 1930 (Credit: South Tyneside Libraries Photo Archive)

This project has three objectives. The first is to understand the multiple ways in which ‘exceptional episodes’ of racialized behaviours and culture, such as riots, strikes, imperial exhibitions etc., intersected with everyday interactions between colonial migrants and the native population. In order to draw conclusions about spatial, temporal and social contexts of race relations GIS will be used to digitally document diverse experiences and racialized interactions in the period 1919-1932, the decade between two ‘race riots’. The second aim is to highlight the ways in which national policies, relating to immigration, employment, housing and residency, were experienced and contested across Tyneside and how this shaped race relations, politics, and social and cultural integration at a local level. The final aim of this thesis will be to consider how identities were shaped and reshaped by the contexts and relational structures of power in which they were situated within Tyneside’s seaport communities.

This thesis will engage with numerous bodies of existing research, situating itself alongside theoretical frameworks and traditional narrative historical accounts whilst perusing an original line of enquiry. Data will be collected from primary sources, such as newsprint, police and judiciary records, and naturalisation case records, as the archival record proves to be an influential, informative resource when locating episodes of civil unrest, social and political agitation, protest and the diverse public perceptions of race and class. The project seeks to illuminate the ways in which race relations are created, maintained, contested and articulated in a local community over a long trajectory, drawing attention to the significance of social contexts, community memory and identity.

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