The Manx General Strike of 1918 Search of iMuseum

The Manx General Strike of 1918

Posted on 03.07.2018

Arguably the worst incident of labour unrest ever to occur on the Isle of Man came in the summer of 1918. This was the so-called ‘Bread Strike’ (or Manx General Strike) and it was the product of simmering resentment over a number of uniquely Manx issues.

Captain Moughtin (Image ref: PG/8655/3296)


It affected virtually the entire workforce on the Island, including not only the crews of Steam Packet vessels, which refused to sail, but also the Isle of Man Railway which was effectively paralysed. On Douglas harbour, ugly scenes developed as Captain Robert Moughtin MHK stood defiantly in front of his coal yard, refusing to yield to the demands of the strikers to close the gates. An angry mob threatened to dunk him in the harbour, and only the timely intervention of the police prevented matters from getting out of hand. In fact, Superintendent Quilliam of the IOM Constabulary resisted calls for troops from the army to be deployed against the strikers, and in doing so he probably averted a bloodbath.

South Quay Coal Yard (Image ref: PG/5952)


John Thomas Quilliam Chief Constable (Image ref: PG/13210


But how had matters come to such a pass? The refusal of the Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan to assist struggling Manx boarding house keepers, as well as his dogged intransigence in other areas had made him deeply unpopular as the war progressed. He had set his face against old age pensions and workmens’ compensation, and had raised indirect taxation on essential commodities. As early as July 1916 he had been pelted with mud on Tynwald Day. However in the summer of 1918 things became much worse; up to this point, along with much of the British Isles, bread prices in the Isle of Man had been kept artificially low by means of a subsidy.

Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan (Image ref: PG/0625)


When Raglan unilaterally decided to end the Manx subsidy, thus ending the nine penny loaf, he reckoned without the strength and confidence of the Island’s branch of the Workers’ Union (later to become part of the TGWU), which had been growing in numbers as the war continued. As regional organiser George Titt noted, the union was strong enough to have fought and won a narrow battle simply to raise its members’ wages in order to meet the cost. Instead it took a wider view, and decided to fight on behalf of those members of society who were less able to help themselves.

Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan at the Tynwald ceremony (Image ref: PG/3266)


The general strike in support of the nine penny loaf which duly commenced on 4 July forced Raglan to cancel the 1918 Tynwald Day ceremony, something which the autocratic Lieutenant Governor must have found deeply humiliating. He backed down over the bread subsidy, and subsequently left the Island on long term sick leave. Alf Teare, founder of the Manx branch of the Workers’ Union and one of the leaders of the strike, was described in 1918 as ‘the most powerful man on the Island.’ It was a remarkable testament to the reversal of fortunes which wartime conditions had produced.


Matthew Richardson (MNH Curator of Social History)

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