During WW1 more than 1,500 children in the region
went on strike to get free school meals after being left hungry. They spent two days refusing to go to school to fight their cause. During the winter of 1917 food prices had rocketed,
there was a shortage of supplies and there was no system of rationing in place.
Demand for coal had decreased meaning less work for
the region's miners, and inevitably their families went hungry. The Feeding Of Necessitous School Children Act was put in place for families across the country but the local authorities hadn't implemented it at schools
in Washington & Usworth, meaning they lost out on free school meals.
Mining families in the Washington & Usworth area
were hard hit. Not only were they often large families of 8, 9 or 10 children, but work at the local collieries was in short supply. This meant their weekly wage had shrunk to about 26 shillings per week, just
above the 24 shillings income that qualified them for financial aid.
The majority of children's fathers were miners and,
being trade union members, they knew that to get anything then they had to strike. They suggested to their sons and daughters that this might solve the problem. Those children who chose to still go to school,
mainly the children of officials and shopkeepers, were taunted and called 'blacklegs' and 'scallywags'.
The strike was called on Sunday, 18th November at a mass meeting of Usworth & Washington miners
held in the Alexandra Theatre (later, the Regal Cinema). On Monday, 19th November, the Headmaster of Usworth Council Mixed School wrote in his log:
'The school strike has commenced and very few children attended school. Yesterday morning a mass meeting of miners of the district was held in the Alexandra Theatre, New Washington, to consider how to get more
work or relief. As a protest against the alleged delay or inaction of the Education Committee in not yet providing meals for the children, it was agreed that all school children should be kept from school
pending further developments.'
The strikers stayed out for two days,
refusing to go to school until they had been fed. The authorities relented and the children returned to school and a dinner of potatoes, leek and carrot soup.
[ Courtesy of Washington History Society. ]