New play commemorates Centenary of Bristol’s Tramway Riots
‘Someone raised the cry. “Get the girls off the cars,” and a rush was made by several hundreds of the men to the Tramways Centre. The police had already gathered considerable force, evidently anticipating trouble. A rush was made for a car at the bottom of Clare Street, and a man jumped on it grabbing the conductress by the arm. … The large open space of the Old Market seemed to have attraction for the crowd, who stood about several thousands strong and as the trams passed by gave vent to their feelings in groans, hooting, &c., with occasional shout of “You ought not to be there,” ” Have them off it,” and so on. Now and then sand and gravel were thrown the girls, with, occasionally, some harder missile. ‘ Western Daily Press – Tuesday 27 April 1920
27th April 2020 marks 100 years since a little-known, but very significant and poignant episode from Bristol history, the Tramway Riots, and now the subject of a new play by acta Company. The play follows the stories of young women and their families who were caught up in violent and disturbing scenes in the depression that followed the First World War.
Neil says: “One of the things that acta is well known for is telling untold stories from the everyday experience of working people of Bristol; both past and present, and one of our best-known plays is Gas Girls, which retold the stories of Bristol women and men who worked at the Mustard Gas factories in Avonmouth during 2017-18, and the horrific toll this dangerous work took on their health. This play ended with the war in 1918, but it had always seemed to me that there was more to tell. I was particularly haunted by a line from one of the characters ‘Now the war is over, the men will want their jobs back, you mark my words’. What would happen to all those skilled and empowered women? How would society deal with them? ‘Clippies’ follows on from that story, and gives answers to some of those questions.”
Clippies of the title were young women who worked on the trams operated by Bristol Tramways. They had been recruited at the height of the War in 1916, and were universally loved and respected by the people of Bristol… until the War was over. By April 1920, there were 6000 ex-servicemen who couldn’t find work, many families in extreme poverty, war widows who struggled to make ends meet, and an economic depression beginning to bite. The flags had long since stopped waving; tensions were high, tempers were short, and the people of Bristol were looking for someone to blame for the austerity which blighted their lives. And the Clippies were right in the firing line.
Clippies tells the story of the young women who worked on the trams, but is set in the context of the social conditions of the time; the pressures of poverty, the extremes it drove people to, the damaged and bitter men who had fought a war and expected something in return, the impact on families. All the elements that led to the climactic and dramatic events of 27-30 April 1920 – and the aftermath.
Ingrid says: “Overall, the play is about women, and women’s rights – to work, to have equal pay, to be respected and treated well – and it highlights so much which has changed, but sadly, so much which has yet to change, in the last 100 years.”