From pitboy to Privy Councillor neatly summarises the life of Thomas Burt. He was the first working miner to become an M.P. when, in 1874, he won the seat for Morpeth as a Liberal (the Labour Party had not yet been formed) and continued to hold it until retirement in 1918, by which time he had become 'father' of the House of Commons.
Born near Backworth, Thomas had a limited education at a local dame school before beginning work at ten years of age as a pit trapper boy, where he earned two shillings for a 12 hour day. Thomas became an avid reader and was frequently seen walking to and from Newcastle to buy second hand books. He became proficient in Latin, French, mathematics, English Literature and shorthand, despite living in a crowded one-roomed cottage. An inspiration to us all!!
In 1895, a new headquarters for the Northumberland Miners' association was opened at Northumberland Road, Newcastle and was later named Burt Hall in recognition of Thomas's 48 years as General Secretary and three years as Secretary of the Board of Trade. A sculpture of Ralph Hedley's painting of a pitman adorns the roof of the building. Burt Hall now forms part of Northumbria University's City Campus.
Unfortunately, Thomas's memorial had been laid flat for Health and Safety reasons and had become overgrown and hidden until the Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery cleared away the years of neglect. However, after a long but successful funding campaign, where we attracted finance from the Northumberland area of the National Union of Mineworkers, the City Council, the Evening Chronicle's 'WISH' campaign and Jesmond Waitrose, we were able to raise nearly £1,700 so that we could direct local firm, Classic Masonry, to re-erect the memorial as a fitting tribute to a true working class hero.
On the 14th April 2014, the Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery hosted a celebration, where Reverend Rob Hawkins, from the Jesmond Methodist Church, carried out a rededication service. The Backworth Colliery Band and Heaton Voices Community Choir provided stirling musical entertainment and Ian Lavery M.P. for Wansbeck gave a warm and congratulatory speech about Thomas Burt and the work of the Friends group within Jesmond Old Cemetery.
A fantastic end to a brilliant campaign.
Thomas Burt's neglected memorial.
After a quick tidy up, it looks a bit better!!
Burt Hall, part of Northumbria University's City Campus. Note the pitman on the roof.
A memorial plaque in recognition of Thomas Burt's achievements.