Labour’s 1920 line-up on the beach

Part of the line-up from first annual Labour Party conference in Scarborough.
Part of the line-up from first annual Labour Party conference in Scarborough.

Written by Jeannie Swales

This year’s Labour Party Annual Conference starts in Manchester on Sunday.

Major cities such as Manchester and Liverpool have increasingly been the venue for the party conference in recent years. But back in the day, delegates could look forward to a trip to the seaside – a raft of ‘B’s (Brighton, Bournemouth, and Blackpool) and ‘M’s (Morecambe and Margate) and, of course, Scarborough, where the conference was held in 1931, 1948, 1951, 1954, 1958, 1960, 1963 and, finally, 1967.

But the first annual Labour Party conference in Scarborough was the Party’s 20th, held from 22nd to 25th June 1920. Our exhibit from the Scarborough Collections this week records that event, and if it shows all of the delegates – and I don’t envy whoever had to set that one up on the beach – then you can see how the event has grown over the years: estimated attendance for this year’s conference is over 10,000 delegates.

The picture, by Bradford’s Walter Scott, a well-known photographer and postcard publisher, shows a fascinating slice of political life in the inter-war period. There’s the fashion – it looks like it was quite a formal affair, there are quite a few ties in that crowd – and the fact that men massively outnumber the women (although I was still surprised to see quite as many women as there are in there).

Scattered throughout the group are delegates holding posters for The Daily Herald, a left wing newspaper which was published in this country from 1912 to 1964, and subsequently relaunched as The Sun.

Then there’s that skyline, at once so familiar and so different to how it is now: the Grand, the Royal Hotel and the Town Hall broadly the same; the Olympia, sadly, long gone (it burned down in the 70s), as are all those houses to the right of the picture.

The photograph is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects that have been acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on or 01723 384510.