POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Former South Shields Councillor, Alderman & Mayor, James Dunlop 1865-1938

The blog has featured highlights from the life of Tyneside born international musician Chas Chandler, little known South Shields born musicians Kathy Stobbart and Jack Brymer, a brave war story from North Shields hero Tommy Brown, also a profile of my Great Uncle, Richard Ewart MP, a committed socialist from the south of the Tyne. His story ‘From Coal Mine to the House of Commons’ is on the link below.

The latest story researched and put together from a number of print sources features the colourful life of South Shields Mayor James Dunlop, it also includes crossing points in my family research.

James Dunlop with his wife Marie pic. courtesy South Tyneside Council.

Glasgow born Dunlop spent a short time in Canada then returned to England where he worked in Barrow in Furness and Middlesbrough before moving to South Shields at the end of the nineteenth century finding employment in Tyneside shipyards.

Soon he was an active member of the Independent Labour Party but found their brand of politics a little tame so joined the Social Democratic Federation where he became a leading figure in the South Shields party. Dunlop was quickly gaining a reputation as a fiery character who fought for what he thought was right for the working class people of the town.

Being successful at fighting local elections the Labour party took note and called him in, James agreed to become Tyne Dock ward councillor in 1906. He retained strong links with the Social Democratic Federation party who were supported by the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers Party.

Through political and social gatherings Dunlop is likely to have met two Russian comrades – Tyneside shipyard worker Heinrich Fischer and my Great Uncle Alexander Alikivi who made the journey from Russia to the North East as a Merchant Seaman and settled in South Shields.

Family research is yet to point to a definite political affiliation for Alikivi but it was highly likely he was a member of the Russian Socialists, a party with someone speaking his mother tongue would be welcoming to someone so far from home.

Fischer was a confirmed member of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party, useful reading about his life is an interview with author Vin Arthey who wrote an excellent book, The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy (link below).

Russia was in turmoil as a workers revolution raged across the country, to help the struggle in overthrowing the ruling Tsar regime and form a socialist government, arms were smuggled from the river Tyne to St Petersburg using established Baltic trade routes.

Along the riverside the boat building yards of Tyne Dock and Holborn would be suitable access points for smuggling. Was suspicious activity seen and reported ?

Upshot was a major police operation was launched on Tyneside leading to a number of arrests being made and Dunlop held on suspicion of gun running – this won’t look good for a recently elected councillor of Tyne Dock.

A search of his home revealed a box in the cellar which the police suspected had previously held guns and bullets. An Edinburgh address was on the box which led them to the ringleaders of the organisation. How much involvement Dunlop had isn’t known, but fortunately for him he escaped any charges.

During the next decade Dunlop’s political career took off – employed as a boilermaker at Readheads shipyard his rallying calls for socialism won a strong following, he was promoted to Chairman of the Housing and Town Planning committee and made Alderman of the town. James became a senior member of the Labour council with one of his proudest moments in 1928 becoming South Shields Mayor.

pic. November 3rd 1920 Alderman Dunlop laid a stone at the entrance of Cleadon Park Housing Estate, South Shields.

Sadly after a 32 year membership and service to the Council, James passed away aged 73. A full council meeting was held to remember a valued colleague, Mayor Harris, councillor Gompertz, and my relative and brother in law of Alexander Alikivi, Councillor Richard Ewart, were some who attended.

Local newspaper The Shields Gazette featured the story –

“One could not but admire his courage, persistency and unshakeable belief in what he thought was right. I am sure the working class people of this town will remember with gratitude his fight for better housing conditions” said the Mayor.

Councillor Gompertz added “Alderman Dunlop’s work had a standing monument in the Cleadon Park Estate. People who had travelled the country looked upon Cleadon Park as the finest homes for working people in the whole country”.

“A pronounced Socialist, he laid the foundations of the party and we thank him for the enormous amount of spade work he did. In this Council chamber we miss his voice, which at times was raised against injustice and always in the cause of freedom”.

South Shields Corporation minutes of proceedings July – Dec 1938.

‘We Do Not Want the Earth’ – The History of South Shields Labour Party by David Clark.

‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ by Vin Arthey.

The Shields Gazette.

RUSSIA’S GEORDIE SPY with author Vin Arthey | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SON – Richard Ewart M.P. 1904-53. The long hard road from North East coal mines to the House of Commons. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Gary Alikivi   February 2022.