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Love on the Dole in Sheffield: a Unique Story (Part Two)

Professor Chris Hopkins of Sheffield Hallam University continues his account of Love on the Dole in Sheffield.

Sheffield was unique in having the serialisation of the novel (described in Part One) and the play version of Love on the Dole in the public eye at the same time. The play adaptation (made by Greenwood with Ronald Gow) was as great a success as the novel when produced in 1935. Two separate companies toured simultaneous productions until 1937 and Greenwood said that by 1940 three million people had seen the play (letter to the Manchester Guardian, 26/2/1940). Productions went to almost every city and most towns in Britain. For example, during 1936 alone their venues (normally for a week of performances) included places such as Barrow, Birmingham, Brighton, Brixton, Cambridge, Cardiff, Douglas (Isle of Man), Eastbourne, East Ham, Edinburgh, Finsbury Park, Folkestone, Gateshead, Hackney, Keighley, Leeds, Lewisham, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, New Cross, Penge, Plymouth, Poplar, Rotherham, Scarborough, Sunderland, Swansea, Walthamstow, and Woolwich.[i]

The play came to the Sheffield Empire in April 1935 and again in August that year. The Sheffield Daily Independent noted the ‘coincidence’ that the work was simultaneously on the stage and page in the city, and saw the two different versions as reinforcing each other’s impact, while unmistakably advocating the superiority of the novel version it was serialising:

It is interesting to see these Hanky Park personalities, of whom we are reading each day, come to life on the stage. This tragic picture of unemployment with its leavening of humour is but the outline. The complete canvas is found in the book (23/4/1935, p. 6).

The article then went on to argue that the play’s impact in London was bound to differ from its impact in Sheffield. For London audiences, the play had novelty, for while the capital had not been completely immune to unemployment it had no experience of long-term worklessness, of ‘the abandonment of hope in a poverty-stricken industrial area’. In Sheffield the ‘picture is not so unfamiliar’. A review of the production of the play at the Sheffield Empire published by the Daily Independent on 27 August 1935 also claimed that the city, like others in the north, had an affinity with the circumstances portrayed: ‘a poignant tragedy of the evils of unemployment, true to life in many of our large manufacturing towns.’(p. 7). There was a further production of the play at the Attercliffe Palace in May 1939 by a touring repertory company, the Charles Denville Players. A review in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph praised it as a ‘clever performance’ of this ‘pitifully human’ and ‘popular’ play (9/5/1939, p. 3).

Sheffield took other kinds of notice too of Love on the Dole. On 29 April 1935 the Daily Independent reported that the play (and there is reference to their serialisation too) had formed the basis for a sermon by Canon A J Talbot Easter at St Paul’s church. The Canon argued that the story was the result of ‘bitter experience of life’ and that ‘it did not invite one to draw conclusions but placed certain people before the audience and asked them to understand their point of view’. In fact, he said that the story itself ‘had all the essentials of a sermon’. Thus, the work showed that ‘love on the pictures was not the same as love on the dole’ and the vicar also drew the conclusion that Greenwood implied betting to be ‘a mug’s game’ (p. 7). [ii] The Vicar of St Philip’s in Sheffield (presumably the church formerly on Infirmary Rd / Penistone Rd) hit the national press when the Daily Mirror reported under the headline ‘Vicar defends Love on the Dole’ that the clergyman had criticised the Sheffield County Court Judge Essenhigh for pronouncing that men on the dole should not marry. The vicar, Reverend G E Needham, said that having failed ‘to deprive unemployed men of football and the cinema’, they were now to be deprived of love and marriage (20/2/1939, p. 2). The headline implies that Greenwood’s story is so well-known that its themes need no more introduction: it is part of a public conversation about unemployment in which the Sheffield vicar is taking part. The same can be said of a reference to Greenwood’s work by the Sheffield Central Conservative MP on 19 July 1938, titled: ‘Love on the Dole plea by City MP’ (p. 7). Mr W W Boulton said that there had been some improvements in unemployment benefit schemes, but called for more to be done for young workless men who had married and were struggling to care for their families adequately on current levels of public assistance.

Love on the Dole was also seen nationally as drawing attention to a number of northern cities which were dealing with the consequences of unemployment. While much local press coverage of the serial and play in Sheffield suggests a place split between those with experience of unemployment and those for whom it is news from another world, one article in the Daily Independent on 13 May 1935 picks up a national story which firmly casts Sheffield as a whole city in distress. Again, the story concerns a clergyman inspired directly by (the play of) Love on the Dole, but this time it is the London-based Reverend Pat McCormick, who in an appeal broadcast by BBC radio from St Martins-in-the-Fields, proposed a scheme for southern families to help struggling northern families by ‘adopting’ them. The scheme was to include ‘Sheffield, Newcastle, Hull, York, Carlisle, Oldham, Chesterfield, Darlington, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Salford, Gateshead, Warrington, St. Helens, Widnes, and a number of hard-hit areas in South Wales’ (p. 1).

I do not know if the serialisation was the publishing success the Daily Independent’s editors hoped for (I notice Reading Sheffield interviewees did not recall the novel), but Love on the Dole seems to have remained a topic of interest in the city in the next few years, with, as we have seen, further press notice. The city certainly suffered from poverty and unemployment in the mid-thirties, and at least until serious rearmament started in 1936, so it is not surprising to find that Greenwood’s novel and play were of interest. Orwell noted in The Road to Wigan Pier in 1936 that ‘towns like Leeds and Sheffield have scores of thousands of “back-to-back” houses which are all of a condemned type but will remain standing for decades’ (Kindle edition location 698). He also noted that conditions in the city were mixed, partly because of its role in rearmament: ‘Even in Sheffield, which has been doing well for the last year or so, because or wars or rumours of war … the proportion … is one in three workers registered as unemployed’ (location 994). There were significant marches against unemployment and especially the effects of the Means Test in the city in January 1935 and a particularly large demonstration on 6 February of the same year when conflict between the police and a large crowd of up to 100,000 protesters was reported by the Daily Herald (7/2/1935, p. 1). The Sheffield Daily Independent naturally also covered the events of the day under the headline: ‘Police Clash with Workless’ (7/2/1935, p. 1). The paper reported that the demonstration outside the City Hall became violent due to a misunderstanding among the marchers that the City Council had rejected a proposal to seek government approval to reduce benefit cuts in the city. In fact, the Council had just voted to approve this measure and there was a subsequent repayment of some reductions to unemployment benefit in the city on the initiative of the City Council, with the permission of the Ministry of Labour.[iii] Publication of the serial suggests the radical and topical sympathies of this widely-read Sheffield paper, as well perhaps as its eye for commercial advantage in giving relatively cheap and wide access to a current best-seller which could very reasonably be seen as being a popular and entertaining, as well as morally, socially and politically serious, work.

Chris Hopkins is the author of Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018 and editor of the Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole web/blogsite:


[i] The list of venues given here is not exhaustive, but all the evidence can be found in the issues of The Stage in its ‘On Tour’ feature; information referred to here is from the 1936 issues for 9/1, 27/2, 5/3, 16/4, 11/5, 25/5, 11/6, 18/6, 16/7, 13/8, 20/8, and 10/9. Accessed via the Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive (online: ProQuest <http://www.proquest.com/products-services/eima.html> accessed 15 May 2016).

[ii] St Paul’s, sited near what is now the Peace Gardens, was an eighteenth-century foundation, sold by the Church of England and demolished in 1937 (see: http://chrishobbs.com/sheffield/stpaulschurchsheffield.htm).

iii] See Stephanie Ward’s book, Unemployment and the State in Britain: the Means Test and Protest in 1930s South Wales and North-Eastern England, Manchester University Press: Manchester, 2013, Kindle edition, locations 4048 and 4230. This account of the protests in Sheffield on 6 February 1935 draws on a booklet published by Sheffield City Libraries in 1985: Bill Moore’s All Out! The Dramatic Story of the Sheffield Demonstration Against Dole Cuts on February 6th 1935. For further detail see also John Stevenson and Chris Cook, The Slump: Britain in the Great Depression (Jonathan Cape 1977; third edition Pearson Education, 2010, Kindle edition Routledge 2013, location 5157).

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