Walking in the footsteps of ancestors…

I have worked for King’s College for almost twenty years but little did I know that I had another family link to the Strand.  This emerged as a result of my deciding to research our family tree for my father’s 80th birthday.  He has ancestors, as far back as the late 1700s, who moved from all over England and Wales to Yorkshire, presumably following jobs in the coalmining and manufacturing industries.  When I researched my mother’s family history I found records for one family in a local mining village (Kippax) that went back well over 300 years.  As several coal mines operated in the area, it is perhaps not so surprising that they did not need to move away to earn a living.  The biggest surprise came with the revelation that a first-cousin of my Great-grandfather, born and raised in Kippax, ended his life living and working (like me) near the Strand!

Benjamin Pickard (1842-1904) was born into a mining family and began working as a pit-boy aged twelve.  I am told he had a particular interest in and responsibility for safety issues, which led to him being involved in the trade union movement where he became lodge secretary, aged just sixteen.  He was Assistant Secretary (1873) then Secretary (1876) of the West Yorkshire Miners’ Association which he united with the South Yorkshire Miners’ Association to create the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, of which he became the first Secretary (1881).  He was Assistant Secretary of the Miners’ National Union (1877) and was instrumental in founding the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain at a conference in November 1889 (in Newport) when he was elected its first president.  He led miners in the biggest industrial dispute (1893) the country had known, which resulted in the establishment of a Board of Conciliation to address industrial problems, and subsequently most disputes were settled using this machinery – in a similar manner to ACAS.  He was also active in obtaining legislation for the mining industry including the Eight Hours Bill which limited the length of time miners could be made to work underground – sadly he did not live to see this become law.

As well as his UK trades union activities he helped establish the International Federation of Mineworkers (1890). He organised six international congresses of miners held in Paris, Jolimont (Switzerland), Brussels, Berlin, Aix-la-Chapelle and London. His involvement in arbitration and with the Peace Society led to his inclusion in a peace deputation to the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland in 1887.

Ben was an ‘ardent liberal’ and served on the Wakefield school board (1881-1885), and was an alderman of the West Riding County Council (1889, 1895 and 1901).  In the meantime (1885) he had been elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal MP representing the new parliamentary division of Normanton (where I attended grammar school 80 years later!).  He seems to have been ahead of his times as he was later elected as a Lib-Lab MP, and advocated the payment of MPs and the abolition of the House of Lords! He held this seat until his death in February 1904.

I had done very little direct research on Ben as he was, after all, simply a cousin, but when I heard about Strandlines last year, it occurred to me that perhaps Ben had lived in this area when he was working in Westminster, so I checked him on the 1901 census:

Benjamin Pickard on the 1901 Census

Benjamin Pickard on the 1901 Census

I could hardly believe my eyes when I found him (age 59), his wife Hannah Elizabeth (58) and two of their eight children, Mabel (26) and Bertram (11) as boarders at 5 Craven Street (parish of St Martin and parliamentary division of Strand).  His occupation is recorded as “Secretary Yorks Miners Assn & MP” with the “& MP” being added almost as an afterthought on the next line!  His wife died soon after the 1901 census and her death was recorded in the Strand registration district. Ben died three years later in Westminster and his death is recorded in the St George Hanover Square registration district.  His death was announced in the New York Times on February 4th 1904.

So my cousin Ben had a remarkable life.  He came from the poor but proud background of a Yorkshire mining village, and by working for the welfare of others in his local and national community he became an international figure.   I walk down Craven Street from time to time and am struck by the thought that so little has changed on that street in the last 100 years – and how many of his ideas and principles are still with us today.

Links:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUpickard.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Pickard

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw120147/Benjamin-Pickard

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/largerimage.php?LinkID=mp124073&role=sit&rNo=0

http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/CultureAndLeisure/HistoricWakefield/People/WalterHampson/HistoryOfNormanton/09Parliament.htm

Ann P Wood

Dept of Biochemistry

King’s College London

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