Celebrating labour history through the songs and music of the River Thames

Art and culture are inseparable from labour history, as a GFTU Educational Trust CD on the story of the River Thames from the Nore Mutiny to the Empire Windrush demonstrates, writes SSLH EC member Mike Sanders.

Although the Society for the Study of Labour History is recognised as an academic society and proud to be so, we are not only an academic society. Our aim is to promote the study of labour history as widely as possible and we believe that artistic and cultural activities have a vital role to play in preserving and transmitting labour history. 

Indeed, we recognise that art and culture are inseparable from the history of labour. From banners to songs and poems, labour history has been communicated by visual images as well as by the spoken, sung and written word. This is why we were delighted to join with the GFTU Educational Trust to support the Working River: Songs and Music of the Thames CD which was released in 2020 by Folktree recordings. 

The twenty-one tracks on the album commemorate and celebrate important moments in labour history from the Nore Mutiny of 1797, through the Match Girls strike and the great London Dock strike of the late 1880s to the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948. In addition to the songs remembering momentous occasions there are songs which record the day-to-day experiences of working people both at work and at play on the Thames. That’s a hundred and fifty years of labour history distilled into twenty-one songs.

The CD was launched with an article on the GFTU website by Times theatre critic Clive Davis. Read Water music: the stirring songs of the River Thames.

Reviews of Working River: Songs and Music of the Thames

Buy the CD here.