Insight into the social history of Kingsley Hall – Emma Collins

23rd February 2024

Explore the vibrant social history of Kingsley Hall in this latest blog, written by Heritage Youth Board Member Emma Collins.

Since the 19th Century, Kingsley Hall has been a hub for trade union activity. A trade union is an organisation which represents the rights – such as pay, working conditions and job stability – of members of a trade, sector, or industry. During the rise of trade unions within Bristol, Kingsley Hall was a hub for the community of Old Market. It accommodated many meetings throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The building was a key figure in the May Day marches, where trade unions paraded through Bristol city centre to celebrate their history and continued work.

This blog will focus on the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union, as Bristol was one of their largest branches. It was also known as the ‘Docker’s Union’ because its members worked with ships and traded on the docks. Kingsley Hall played a key role in the union’s activities in Bristol by hosting Branch 3 of the Docker’s Union every Thursday evening from 1911 to 1922.

During its time at Kingsley Hall, three chairmen presided over Branch 3 Docker’s Union. H. Tomkins was chairman from 1911 to 1912 until H. Fry took over and remained chairman until 1915. A meticulous record was kept of the minutes from the meetings, showing how the branch grew alongside the union in the 1910s due to an increase in membership.

Eventually, the branch began to raise funds for the wider union within Bristol and was able to support its members and their families through the First World War. After the war, the union continued to raise funds to help returning soldiers find work at the docks and support grieving families.

The Docker’s Union dissolved in 1922 after a merger was initiated with other similar unions, forming the Transport and General Workers Union.

While Docker’s Union’s meetings ended at Kingsley Hall in 1922, the Hall has remained a hub for community activity, and today 1625 Independent People supports our communities by providing services and assistance to young people who are homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

Through the Heritage Project, more trade union history at Kingsley Hall will be examined and could reveal how different trade unions interacted with each other over time.

Find out more about our Kingsley Hall Heritage Project here.

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