Dockers Labour Hall Re-Discovered: ‘a Sign of the Times’

On location outside the original Bridgwater Dockers Hall

The original “Dockers’ Labour Hall” signs, that, well over a century ago, graced mass meetings of Bridgwater’s dockers, brick and tile workers addressed by trade union legends such as Ben Tillett and Ernie Bevin, have been lovingly restored. Brian Smedley, a Unite the Union member, and leader of Bridgwater’s Labour Town Council, discovered the signs in the loft of Unity House in Dampiet St, just before the former Labour Party HQ was sold. Mike Mansell, Bridgwater postman, CWU Union committee member, and passionate part-time woodworker, has painstakingly cleaned and re-varnished the gold leaf lettering, the hardwood frame and the fine metal mesh. The results are beautifully-restored signs that have had most of the dirt and grime of 120 years removed, but have retained the wonderful age-old patina of what may be a unique trade union survival.

Dave Chapple and Mike Mansfield at Horseponds Lane

Bridgwater Trades Union Council Secretary Dave Chapple said “Further research needs to be undertaken, but the signs were definitely used to advertise meetings in the dockers’ hall, situated at No 29 Friarn St, between c. 1899 and 1928. These working-class gatherings included the two Bridgwater branches of Ben Tillett’s Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers’ Union; the Bridgwater Branch of Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party, and even the Bridgwater Labour Church!”

The restoration was funded by the Hinkley Point ‘C’ Branch of Unite the Union, the direct descendent of Ben Tillett’s union.
The signs are in the custodianship of Bridgwater Trades Union Council, and have been offered on loan to Tony Benn House in Bristol, the home of Unite the Union’s South West Region, until such time as a suitable and permanent home can be found for the signs back in Bridgwater.

Antiques in the Attic

The Druids banner the day it was found in the loft at Unity House

Dave Chapple, added “Some years ago the loft at Unity House delivered up theĀ  wonderful silk banner, made by George Tutill of East London, of the Bridgwater Branch of the Independent Equalized Order of Ancient Druids, one of the key working-class friendly societies. This banner is in safe keeping locally. Almost incredibly, this same loft has now given us an original artefact of Ben Tillett’s trade union. Some trade union gatherings are a little bit different: and this restoration event was both happy celebration and serious reminder: a reminder that the dignity and respect that Ben Tillett and Bridgwater workers fought for over and over again 120 years ago are still to be achieved!”

Photo by Donna Williams, shows activists at the site of the Dockers’ Labour Hall in Horsepond Lane/29 Friarn St, left to right: Donna Williams, Senior Regional Officer, Unite the Union; Cllr Glen Burrows Bridgwater Labour Party and Trades Council; Holly, canine picket-line veteran; Malcolm Davies, site convenor, Unite the Union at Hinkley Point ‘C’; Richard Lees, Vice-Chair, Hinkley Point ‘C’ Unite Branch; Cllr. Brian Smedley, Bridgwater Labour Party and Trades Council; Mike Mansell, sign restorer and Bridgwater postman; Dave Chapple, Bridgwater & District Trades Council Secretary; and Cllr. Kath Pearce, Bridgwater Labour Party. For further information please contact Dave Chapple on 07707869144

Find your ward using the SCC ward finder

Privacy Policy

To read our Privacy Policy and GDPR compliance statement click here.