THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SON – Richard Ewart M.P. 1904-53. The long hard road from North East coal mines to the House of Commons.


It’s a rare post when any politics touch this blog but this is about a relation of mine, so I’ll make an exception.

Watching news programs in 1984 about the miner’s strike brought politics to my attention. The Battle of Orgreave ? I knew whose side I was on. But this is a story about a young politician that asks, would he have got anywhere near the House of Commons today ?

My Great Uncle Richard Ewart was born on 15 September 1904 in Livingstone Street, South Shields, County Durham. He was the only son in a family of seven daughters.

His mother’s family were from County Derry, Ireland and his father’s family were from Longtown on the Scottish border.

His father worked as a fishmonger’s assistant, hawker, knocker-upper and lamplighter. The family also lived in the Holborn and Laygate area’s of the town.

Richard was educated at St Bede’s Roman Catholic School in South Shields. He left school at 14 and worked as a hewer in Whitburn Colliery. But at the age of 21 he suffered a back injury and left the mine.

During his employment at the Colliery, he was a member of the Durham Miner’s Association and when he left the pit, he immediately joined the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW).

Unemployment was very high in South Shields in the 1920’s, and the only work he could find was a marker in a local billiards hall in Cuthbert Street, Laygate. He eventually became manager of the hall.

Richard joined the Labour Party in 1925 and on 1 November 1932 was elected to the South Shields Town Council for the Holborn Ward to become its youngest member at that time.

From 1936-39 he was Chairman of the Housing Committee and Vice Chairman of its Public Assistance Committee. In December ’36 he became full-time branch secretary of the NUGMW and in August ’38 was appointed Union Organiser.

Apart from his Trade Union and Council work Richard was a keen billiards player and a member of Robert Monteigle’s Studio Players who performed at the Alexandra Theatre in South Shields.

When the Second World War started he served on the South Shields Council until 1943 then transferred to the Cleveland District to help Union Officials cope with the wartime expansion of trade union work on Teesside.

In 1945 he successfully stood as Parliamentary Labour Candidate for the double member constituency of Sunderland as a sponsored candidate of the NUGMW. Along with his Labour partner F.T. Willey they defeated the two sitting members, a National Liberal and a Conservative.

Richard lived in Kensington, London and his first parliamentary duty after his election to the House of Commons was to join the British Parliamentary delegation to Germany in 1946. For most of his Parliamentary career he confined himself to regional and industrial affairs.

He also pressed in Parliament for the North East to be given it’s own radio service and urged the extension and completion of television services to the Pontop Pike transmitter.

On 8 June 1951 Richard was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Sir Hartley Shawcross, President of the Board of Trade.

Sadly at a young age, just 48, Richard died on 7 March 1953 in St Andrew’s Hospital, London. His death was announced on BBC radio.

In memory of his life there was a Dick Ewart reading room in Sunderland Labour Party Headquarters, also a street in his birth town of South Shields, Ewart Crescent.

Information taken from Hansard, Electoral Rolls, Sunderland Echo, The Shields Gazette and personal papers.

Gary Alikivi   July 2019.