Wilson, John, DCL, MP

Trade unionist, born on 26 June 1837 at Greatham, Co. Durham. Following his mother's death he spent his childhood moving from place to place with his father. He received a sparse education at a dame school, but developed a growing appetite for reading. At 12 he began work at Stanhope quarries, first as a 'putter' and then as a hewer, and was subsequently employed in a number of pits. Between 1864 and 1867 he and his wife looked for a new life as emigrants to America, but without success. He took a leading part in the formation of the Durham Miners' Association in 1869 and as a consequence of this was sacked from his job at the colliery. About this time he was converted, gave up gambling and drink, becoming a Sunday School teacher and in 1870 a PM local preacher. For a while he ran a stationer's shop, but returned to Durham in 1882 and became successively agent, treasurer and, in 1896, the general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association. He was specially involved in the provision of the Aged Miners' Homes. Following the extension of the franchise to rural areas by Gladstone's 1885 Reform Act, he was elected Liberal MP for Houghton-le-Spring in 1885, but was defeated the following year. He returned to Parliament as MP for Mid-Durham 1890-1915, remaining a Liberal even after the formation of the ILP in 1893 and being returned unopposed in 1906. He was also an alderman of Durham County Council and was awarded an honorary DCL by Durham University. His autobiography, originating as newspaper articles, appeared in 1910 under the title Memoirs of a Labour Leader. He died at Crossgate, Durham on 24 March 1915.

  • John Wilson, Memories of a Labour Leader: the autobiography of John Wilson, JP, MP (1910)
  • Times, 25 & 29 March 1915
  • Robert F. Wearmouth, Methodism and the Trade Unions (1959)
  • M. Stenton (ed.), Who's Who of British MPs, vol.2 (1978)
  • John Burnett, Introduction to 1980 reprint of Memories of a Labour Leader
  • Oxford DNB

Entry written by: NADS
Category: Person
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