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Peaky Blinders: The real story behind Jessie Eden and her fight for women’s rights

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Hollie Richardson
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Jessie Eden Peaky Blinders

Jessie Eden protested against Oswald Mosley in Peaky Blinders season five, but did you know that her character is based on a real activist from the 1920s? 

“You don’t have a women’s lavatory on the second floor because no women get this far up…” 

This is the reply that Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy) gives a male colleague after he tells her to get out of the loos in season four of Peaky Blinders. She then corners Thomas Shelby (Cillian Muprhy) – perhaps the most dangerous person in Birmingham – in his office to demand equal pay for his female employees. 

After a series of mind games and background checks on each other, the pair go on to respect one another, both politically and personally. Arguably, the writers let Jessie’s character down by relying on a sex scene with Tommy to drive her story. But Jessie is clearly a smart, strong and independent woman who fights for working-class women’s rights. 

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Although we don’t see much of Jessie in season five, she attends Oswald Mosley’s (Sam Clafin) rally to protest against his fascist rhetoric at Bingley Hall. However, she soon finds herself accidentally involved with the attempted assassination of Oswald. This means that we’ll no doubt be seeing more of her in series six.

There have been many pieces explaining the real story of Oswald (he actually died aged 84), but did you know that Jessie Eden also existed in real life? 

Peaky Blinders: Jessie Eden and Tommy Shelby getting to know each other.
Peaky Blinders: Jessie Eden and Tommy Shelby getting to know each other.

Who was Jessie Eden?

According to research by the Historia Writer’s Association, Eden was a trade union activist in Birmingham. She was a champion of women and social justice, which she dedicated her life to.

In 1925, Eden worked at the Joseph Lucas Motor Components Factory and was a shop steward for the Transport and General Workers’ Union. During the 2916 General Strike, Eden marched out the women in her section. 

Speaking to the Birmingham Post in 1976, she recalled: “Sacrifices had to be made. We had practically no meat during the strike. We lived on bread, jam and marge.”

She also described what happened at another march, adding: “One policeman put his hands on my arm. They were telling me to go home, but the crowd howled, ‘Hey, leave her alone’ and then some men came and pushed the policemen away. 

“They didn’t do anything after that. I think they could see that there would have been a riot. I was never frightened of the police or the troops because I had the people with me.”

Five years later, in 1931, Eden was a member of the Communist Party and she led 10,000 women out of the Lucas factory on a week-long strike over exhausting working practices. 

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Eden went on to become the Vice-President of the Central Tenants Association during the 1939 rent strike in Birmingham.

She contested the August 1945 general election in Handsworth for the Communist Party and lost, but continued to be politically active – in 1969, she led a march in Birmingham against the Vietnam War

Writing in the Morning Star, Graham Stevenson, who knew Eden when she was in her 70s, said: “Eden’s leadership triggered the founding of mass factory trade unionism for women and young workers in the Midlands.

“And also so far unshown [in the TV show] is her equally extraordinary achievement in bringing 45,000 Birmingham Council tenants out on rent strike in 1939 — and winning. From her late forties to her retirement she was the key official of the city’s tenants’ association.”

Watch the trailer for Peaky Blinders season five

Speaking to Birmingham Live about how he discovered the inspiration for Jessie’s character, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight explained: “There’s tons of stuff about General Brigadier Whoever in the history of the General Strike, but I just got a glimpse of Jessie Eden.

“I actually came across her in the last series when researching the head of the Birmingham Communist Party in the 1920s, when she was mentioned.

“There’s very little you can find out about her, there are just fragments, but she was a fascinating woman.”

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Actor Muprhy has also discussed her character, saying: “Jessie was an extraordinary woman. Imagine bringing 10,000 people out on strike for equal pay in her mid-20s.

“Back then that was just phenomenal, so she’s a very brave and powerful woman to play.

“She was very intelligent, very funny, a hard worker and a strong woman. I don’t know why more hasn’t been written about her. She’s lost in history, which is bizarre. I haven’t met her descendants, but I understand they have been told about the storyline and are happy with it. We want to treat that with respect.

“When she meets Tommy, she’s done her homework on him and that takes him by surprise. Tommy caught off-guard doesn’t happen very often.

“There’s a spark between them based on intelligence.”

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Hopefully in season six, Jessie will be able to tell her full story.

Images: BBC

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