Moving on from “The Great War”, as World War I came to be known for a time, 1920s for Britain was a time that was neither granted the piece nor the prosperity it had hoped for post-war. Britain continued to struggle with unemployment before the Great Depression began, and troubles with Ireland continued to brew even after the Irish War of Independence concluded. Yet, there was still plenty to celebrate in the decade with advancements for people and technology. Have a look below at what we believe were ten of the most important events from the 1920s, and let us know in the comments if you think we left anything out.
1921 – Irish Partition
In the aftermath of the Irish War for Independence, the British government formally granted its island neighbor its freedom from the UK—but with a catch. Partition separated the Republic of Ireland from the counties that became Northern Ireland, the latter remaining part of the United Kingdom. A strong Protestant, Unionist presence in Northern Ireland would keep the two parts of the island separate to this day and lead to “The Troubles” decades later.
1922 – 2MT Launched as First UK Radio Station
Radio had been around since the end of the 19th Century, but it wouldn’t develop for entertainment purposes in the UK until station 2MT was established. Two Emma Toc, in the broadcasting spelling used at the time, became the first entertainment radio station in Britain, followed closely by 2LO the same year (more on that later).
1923 – First Edition of the Radio Times
With the founding of 2LO and five other stations that fell under the umbrella of the British Broadcasting Company, the BBC began to publish a schedule of its programs known as the Radio Times. Newspapers during the period saw radio as competition and refused to publish the schedules, necessitating the periodical that continues to this day, covering both radio and television.
1924 – Ramsay MacDonald Becomes First Labour Prime Minister
While the Labour Party had been founded in 1900, it took twenty-four years for it to earn enough seats to form a coalition. After the Conservative government lost a vote of no confidence in 1923, King George V asked MacDonald to form a minority government with the Liberal Party. The government only lasted a few months before the Conservatives returned to power in the October general election, but it marked the first time the Labour Party was in 10 Downing Street.
1925 – Plaid Cymru Formed
Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist and socialist democratic party, got its start in 1925. It was initially formed to promote and encourage the adoption and use of the Welsh language, but over time took on Welsh home rule as a political goal. While it’s never held much of a presence in the UK Parliament or even in the Welsh Parliament, it has been an important organization for the preservation of Welsh history, culture, and language.
1926 – John Logie Baird Demonstrates First Television
While experiments in television began as far back as 1914, it was Scottish inventor John Logie Baird that demonstrated the first working television on January 26, 1926 for the Royal Institute. Baird made several improvements and was even able to transmit a color signal by 1928.
1926 – Imperial Conference and Balfour Declaration
At the 1926 Imperial Conference, the seventh annual conference of Prime Ministers from all the dominions of the British Empire, the Balfour Declaration of 1926 was issued. This public statement declared that Britain’s dominions were “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another”. The effect was to grant Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa autonomy from the United Kingdom and was the first time that the alliance of former British Empire countries was referred to as the Commonwealth of Nations.
1927 – British Broadcasting Corporation Established
While the BBC had existed since 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company after establishing radio station 2LO, this was a private entity rather than the public one that we know today. By 1926, the government accepted a recommendation from the Crawford Committee that the BBC become a non-commercial, Crown-charted organization. Thus, in 1927, the British Broadcasting Company was re-organized as a public entity, the British Broadcasting Corporation. This set the standard that the BBC would follow for decades and had a major influence on media in the United Kingdom.
1928 – All Women Over 21 Granted Suffrage
While the Representation of the People Act of 1918 granted women with a property interest the right to vote, suffrage for all women in the UK was not achieved until the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928. This granted the right to vote to all women over the age of 21.
1929 – Great Depression Begins
When the United States stock market crashed in 1929, it had worldwide repercussions that reached all the way to Britain. The United Kingdom still had not recovered from the economic devastation of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression compounded this. Within a year, demand for British products dropped by staggering amounts and the unemployment rate more than doubled from 1 million to 2.5 million. The Depression in the UK would last well into the 1930s, and while the government looked for solutions, it rejected the recommendations of one junior minister, Oswald Mosley, who would become a more important and dangerous figure in the next decade.