THOMAS BURT (1837 - 1922)

Born near North Shields, Burt was elected as Member of Parliament for Morpeth in 1874 and was the first "working man" to be elected to the House of Commons.

He was born in the colliery village of Murton Row in Northumberland on 12th November 1837. His father, Peter Burt, a miner, was an active trade unionist. After a bitter mining strike Burt was victimized and the family were forced to move from their tied cottage.

Thomas Burt (age 10) had only 2 years of schooling, when he left to became a trapper boy in Haswell Colliery with wages of 10 pence per day for 12 hours work. Burt worked in a wide variety of pits, and like his father, was forced to move because of his union activities. In 1852 Burt was employed at Seaton Delaval Colliery where he stayed for thirteen years.

Despite his brief schooling, Burt loved readinghad a strong love of reading. He had to walk a distance of eighteen miles to Newcastle to get to the library. Burt's knowledge of politics and economics impressed his fellow miners and in 1863 he was elected secretary and agent of the Northumberland Miners Association (NMA).

Following the 1867 Reform Act, the working class made up the majority of the electorate. It was now possible for working class candidates to win parliamentary elections. In 1874 General Election Burt stood as the Radical Labour candidate for Morpeth. The local Liberal Party agreed not to put up a candidate in Morpeth and Burt easily beat his Conservative opponent (3,332 to 585). Burt joined Alexander Macdonald, another miner who had been elected as the Lib-Lab MP for Stafford.

In the House of Commons Burt campaigned for reform of the 1871 Trade Union Act amongst other things.

Burt was re-elected unopposed in the 1880 General Election and held the seat for the next thirty-eight years. After the 1892 General Election, William Gladstone appointed Thomas Burt as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, a post he held for three years. Burt remained loyal to the Liberal Party and refused to join the Independent Labour Party when it was formed in 1893.

Ill-health forced Burt to retire at the 1918 General Election. He spent the final three years bed-ridden before his death on 12th April 1922. Thomas Burt was buried at the Jesmond Cemetery near his Newcastle home.

His biography is called "A Howky in Parliament" - a howky being local dialect for a coal hewer.

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