Ten years ago, I was busy turning years of research into a book about the National Federation of Women Workers (the NFWW), that unique experiment into all female trade unionism, from 1906 to 1921. Since its publication in 2014, I have also written a biography of its leader, Mary Macarthur (2019) as well as curating an exhibition for the TUC to commemorate the 100th year since her death. These were of course never intended to be the end of the story and I am always hopeful that new material will turn up to develop it further.

I am so excited, then, to report that 2022 has been a year of discoveries which have led me to a richer understanding of both the NFWW and of its leader. In February I posted here about my excitement when I first saw the handwritten minute book of the Newcastle upon Tyne branch of the NFWW, covering the years just before the First World War.

And then, during the summer, I had an email from the great grandson of a man who worked for the NFWW from 1914 to 1921. His great grandfather, Fred Kershaw, wrote an (unpublished) memoir during the 1950s, by which time he had become Baron Kershaw of Prestwich. His name was put forward by the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee and the title bestowed in the New Year’s Honours’ List of 1947. Fred Kershaw recalls in his account the press surprise at the inclusion in the List of this ‘back-room boy’, with the Daily Express asking ‘Who is he?’.[1] It was precisely for his ’back-room’ work that Kershaw was brought to Attlee’s attention and at least part of the value of the memoir is that it shines light on behind-the-scenes, supporting work that is too often uncharted and unrecognized for its worth. In Kershaw’s case this included detailed research into social issues. This kind of work is seldom front-page news because those people in more high-profile positions, use and incorporate it into the decisions that then shape policy and make an impact on people’s lives. When there is a chance, such as I have been given, it is important to put those who so often remain faceless and nameless fairly and squarely into the written record. In this piece I have the opportunity to share – and therefore honour  – the memory of one of those unsung, dedicated ‘back roomers’ who spent his life making things more comfortable and more secure for thousands of workers.

Fred Kershaw, 1881-1961. Thanks to the Kershaw family for the use of this photograph of Fred at 80

There are several other reasons why I am drawn to Fred Kershaw’s story.  As a historian of the NFWW, my ears prick up every time a new piece of information is turned up. Excitement is greatest when this involves people. When writing the history of the NFWWW, it was often difficult to uncover information about those who worked for the union. With the exception of Mary Macarthur and some of the more high-profile organisers with whom she worked closely – Margaret Bondfield and Susan Lawrence, for example, who both went on to become Labour MPs – it was seldom possible to piece together the life histories of the NFWW’s organisers, activists, members and officials. There are snatches of detail – for example, a strike which led to a factory worker becoming an activist or a paid member of union staff – but to be able to go further back into earlier lives and glimpse how events influenced later decisions is rare. In his memoir, Fred Kershaw describes in moving and intimate detail aspects of his youth and the link between these and the decisions he went on to make is evident.

I was sent this memoir because of my work on Mary Macarthur and the NFWW. In my research, Kershaw had a walk-on part only, because he features very little in the records. He is in fact incorrectly named in my book’s appendices. Referenced as the Assistant Chief Secretary of the NFWW (so far so good), he is listed as George and not Fred Kershaw. Whilst it is never a good day for a historian (understatement) when they find something that contradicts their published work, I am delighted to be now able to correct this inaccuracy. More than this, I am so pleased to be able to do more to place Fred Kershaw within the NFWW’s history. Despite his low profile (at least compared with those whose union work attracted press attention through strikes, work disputes and social campaigns) Kershaw’s work, making sure that the benefits due to members were paid out, was one of the most important jobs within a trade union.

Fred Kershaw’s memoir does not just add to what is known, it reveals a great deal about the times in which he lived. it is a piece of social history which may not change the historical record but certainly makes it more accessible, shining a spotlight on some of the most pressing social problems of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I am privileged to have seen it and I want to use this blog to chart one man’s journey into social work and public service. Thank you to his family for granting me permission to share it here. I mean no disrespect by referring to him from now on as Fred rather than Kershaw. I do so in the hope that this makes him more personable – a real person, not just a name.

Fred was born on November 6th, 1881, in Prestwich, which was then a village just north of Manchester. He was one of 13 children whose father John’s working life was disrupted and ultimately ruined by drink. He was, according to Fred, a very well-respected skilled man. Apparently, an early venture in Salford as a mill owner had ended because of his gambling and drinking. At the time of Fred’s birth, John was employed in a Prestwich mill which manufactured cotton tapes, webbings, bindings and ribbons. During these years, he had periods of continuous drinking which would result in frequent and long absences from work. The work here lasted until around 1896, by which time Fred describes John as a broken man who never worked regularly again. To provide for his family, however, he did rent a property close by and turned it into a grocery and provisions shop. This required Fred, aged about 16, to leave his own job and manage the shop on behalf of his father. The business was not a success, partly because it was not in the best location for passing trade and partly because it was weakened by John, who ‘meddled and interfered without ever taking a practical and real part in the work’.

Anxiety and insecurity seem to have been constants within the family as John’s drinking impacted heavily on his wife and children. Fred describes one occasion when his father turned his mother out of the house and she sought refuge at her mother’s nearby. Four-year-old Fred stayed on at home, entirely reliant on the kindness of neighbours, until, after some days, he was able to join his mother and sleep in a cot in his grandmother’s room. There must have been some sort of reconciliation and they returned home, and more children were born in the years that followed.

Fred recalled one incident which unsurprisingly ‘seared itself’ on his memory. When he was around 16, he came home from work one afternoon to find his mother nursing her young child whose illness was causing convulsions. To try to stop these, the baby was placed in a mustard bath, which was a much-tried remedy for reducing fever in the late 19th century.  The frantic mother’s anxiety and desperation was heightened when John did not arrive home from work at his usual time. The family knew only too well what this meant – that he would not now appear until pub closing time. That he would be drunk they both knew with certainty but worse, there was no predicting what sort of mood he would be in. The fight for the infant’s life went on all evening and the worry and fear (of his uncertain temper) over Father’s impending return intensified.  At around 11pm, his key was heard in the lock. He came into the room, took in the scene around the zinc bath at the fireside, stared, ‘as only drunken men stare’, closed the door and retreated silently upstairs to bed. The baby died during the night. That the tragedy and the trauma of losing the baby were worsened by the father’s unpredictability hardly needs stating. What further saddened me as I read this was that Fred could see that although drunk, his father did still recognise the gravity of the situation but decided to withdraw, rather than cause a scene, unable or not prepared to help in the struggle to save his infant child.  

About 20 years later, Fred, when working with the NFWW, recounted this deeply painful event to Mary Macarthur. She was standing as the Labour Party candidate in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, in the General Election which took place at the end of the First World War. Mary was apparently frustrated by the questions she was facing from temperance activists in the audience. Despite the wartime introduction of some government control in the drinks trade, including the restriction of pub opening hours, the watering down of beer and making it illegal to buy rounds of drinks, temperance societies were not in favour of permanent state control or any measures which they believed normalized or made alcohol more respectable. In contrast, Mary’s views were those of the Labour Party, which advocated taking the production and retailing of alcohol out of the hands of all those who profited by encouraging excessive consumption and instead ensuring that local areas could set their own controls relating to the sale and consumption of drink. Mary recognised that excessive drinking was a social evil but she was more concerned to get to ‘the root of the matter’, convinced as she was that the solution was ‘bound up with the removal of bad social conditions generally’. [2]

On hearing Mary Macarthur’s impatience on temperance (quite probably because in such a crucial post war election, there were so many more social and economic issues to be tackled; her 14 electoral points ranged from the need for lasting peace, a restoration of freedom, to the necessity of a living wage, new homes and education for all), Fred told her of the death of his young sibling and how alcoholism had made things so much worse. Many contemporary accounts refer to Mary Macarthur’s tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve, with one colleague recalling that ‘emotional outbursts were common […] indeed they were part of her stock-in-trade’.[3] It comes as little surprise to me that she wept on hearing Fred’s story and ‘never again had a word to say against total abstainers’.

Historians do have to be careful about how they make use of anecdotal material and personal recollection and here I am mindful of the fact that Fred’s memoir was written over 40 years after the 1918 incident in Stourbridge. If, however, we are ever going to understand more about the character of someone whom we never met, then surely the only way to do so is to examine evidence in all forms to get as close to that person as possible.  We can never know for certain but, armed with other recorded observations of Mary Macarthur’s reactions, perhaps we can legitimately reflect on the impact that Fred’s words might have had on her. About 15 months later, she gave an interview in which she expressed her views on the drink question. As a member of the Labour Campaign for the Public Ownership and Control of the Liquor Trade, she held its position on freedom to choose as opposed to prohibition (which had recently been imposed in the United States) and believed that what was important was that alcohol should be obtainable in ‘reasonable quantities and under decent conditions’. Mary put the woman’s point of view. She stressed that it was ‘woman in the home – she and her children – who suffer most from excessive drinking’ and that it was women, armed with the vote, who needed to influence public opinion, and encourage ‘wise solutions…vital to their freedom and happiness’. It was a thoughtful, nuanced interview, calling for understanding, empathy and recognition that the drink question would not be resolved until poverty was ended and education accessible to all. [4]

Let’s return now to Fred and find out how he came to work alongside Mary Macarthur within the trade union movement. He left school aged 13, denied the chance to stay on any longer because his father insisted that he should go out to work. His earnings were needed and therefore sitting the scholarship for a free grammar school place, suggested by his teacher, was not an option. Fred did not, however, have a job to go to; instead this young lad walked into Manchester and set about looking out for ‘boy wanted’ notices, before finding a position at a weekly paper called The British Fancier. We read often enough of the early age at which so many boys and girls started employment, working long hours for wages that were needed by their families. Arguably we do still need accounts that provide us with a glimpse of what life was like for such young workers. Going to work was not the end of childhood and the strains on young lives were immeasurable. All of Fred’s wages went to his parents, apart from two pence a day given to him for a midday meal. As the cheapest of these was fourpence a day (for beef and potatoes), he often went without to save for a meal another day, or he would walk into the market to buy some apples or a penny’s worth of soup and half a loaf (which took care of the other penny). His working day was extended by walking there and back, a total of eight miles a day. His youth is apparent in the sweet story he tells of his mum and brothers and sisters coming to meet him from the office one evening to take him to the pantomime, with a basket of apples and oranges to eat in the theatre.

After about a year, Fred moved on to a new job as a ‘flour boy’ at the Prestwich Cooperative Society, earning five shillings a week. Here he stayed until leaving to manage the shop taken on by his father. But John was drinking heavily again and one day, in a violent rage, he ordered Fred out of the house. It was a turning point; Fred could not risk losing both his home and his livelihood. He approached a firm from which he had bought goods for the shop and was offered a job as a traveller in provisions. This kept him in steady employment and made it possible for him to get married, aged 21 and start a family.

At some point during these years, Fred became actively involved in the temperance movement, joining the Prestwich branch of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society. The Sons of Temperance mission was to encourage abstinence for the benefit and well-being of the community. Friendly societies had a long tradition in Britain, providing sickness benefits and savings schemes to those workers who were able to save and contribute. Fred spent time teaching children and gaining experience in delivering talks. He was, by his own admission, a young man who took life very seriously and he clearly thought deeply about the work that he did. By 1913 he had become President of the Salford Grand Division of the Order (of the Sons of Temperance). Looking back, he discovered notes he made to support his first speech in May 1904. Under no illusions that drink alone was responsible for the many social ills that confronted people in the early 20th century, he demanded the abolition of the dreaded Poor Laws. Those in the direst straits might (after severe grilling from the Poor Law Guardians) be offered ‘parish relief’, either in the form of payment or a spell in the workhouse, designed not for comfort but as a deterrent. For the sick and elderly with nowhere to go and no one to care for them (and with no old age pensions until 1908), the workhouse or its infirmary provided some sort of care and shelter. Everyone knew how hard it was to recover from encounters with a system intended not to prevent poverty but merely to provide assistance to the desperate which came with a heavy – and all too often permanent – sting in its tail. Fred was lecturing on this ahead of the creation of a Royal Commission of the Poor Law in 1905, finally set up to review the system of poor relief. There was little doubt amongst those who had experience of it that the Poor Laws were cruel and inadequate, but the Commission came to little. A majority report offered no substantial change and despite a minority report compiled by some high-profile social campaigners (including Beatrice Webb) calling for its abolition, the Poor Law dragged on until 1948. By this time Fred was in the House of Lords and voted for the legislation which finally marked the end of a hateful system of ‘help’ which had so embedded itself into the psyche that ‘ending up in the workhouse’ remained a visceral fear for thousands of people long after its eventual demise.

In 1906 a Liberal government was elected in Britain and was responsible for a series of enormously important social and welfare reforms which brought benefit to the lives of hundreds of thousands. The introduction of the Old Age Pension in 1908 was one such vital measure and the National Insurance Act of 1911 another. The latter introduced the first state unemployment benefit for certain categories of workers but by far the largest part of the Act was the introduction of health insurance, entitling workers to sickness benefit and medical assistance.  The costs of this state insurance were born by the worker and the employer, with further contribution from the government and it came into effect in the summer of 1912.

David LLoyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal Government which introduced the Old Age Pension and the National Insurance Act. Wikimedia Commons

In preparation, lecturers were employed by the National Health Insurance Commissioners to explain not just the costs and the benefits but also how the Act was to be administered. Because of his experience as a speaker, Fred was recommended by the Sons of Temperance as a Commission lecturer. He was invited to London in the spring of 1912 and after an interview, was offered a temporary job. For Fred, such a move was impossible. He understood only too well the risks of casual or short-term contracts and as a married man with three children, ‘the horrors of unemployment were too vivid’. None of the excitement of London which Fred experienced on that trip could come before the stability he sought for his young family and so he agreed only that he would lecture for the Commission on a voluntary basis and return to his life and employment in Northwest England.

He appears to have been very good at lecturing, knowledgeable but also clear and direct in message. Although he had been drawn to his own friendly society by the temperance teaching, Fred’s expertise on National Insurance was now in great demand. It was valuable work and he saw how the administration of the new Act could help government and organisations understand more about the overall health of the nation. It was not long before he accepted a job as a manager for the State Section of the London Grand Division of the (Sons of Temperance) Order and the move south to London was then made. He was well qualified, with experience of friendly societies as well as his sound knowledge of the implementation and workings of the National Insurance Act.

Fred Kershaw and the National Federation of Women Workers

Before I explain Fred’s move to the NFWW, I want to explain how his work with the Sons of Temperance took him into the British labour movement. In response to growing concern among friendly societies and trade unions that the new National Insurance scheme would damage their own, long established benefit schemes, the government agreed that they, along with commercial insurance companies and the Post Office could become ‘Approved Societies’. These were to be able to administer their existing plans alongside those of the State. An article in the Rochdale Times in June 1912 confirms the impression I get from Fred’s account that he was both cautious and thorough in his research and his methods. He was at a meeting of a small sickness and burial club in Rochdale, called to discuss the adjustments it was required to make to accommodate National Insurance. Possibly there at the behest of the Rochdale Union of Friendly Societies, Fred comes across as the (quite likely unwelcome) voice of reason, reminding those who were still there (several members had walked out amid what sounded like a long and bad-tempered discussion about government interference) of the need for societies to be actuarily sound to be accepted as approved societies. He was promptly shut down by the Chairman when he asked if this society was sound, and the meeting ended after what seems to have been a rather painful two and a half hours for all concerned. [5]

This one incident gives us some idea of the amount of work – and understanding – that was required by small organisations to comply with government rules and – as importantly – to ensure their own survival. The transition period was a difficult one and needed the patient expertise of people like Fred to get the job done. The challenge to those trade unions whose membership included workers on very low pay was considerable. They worried that members who already struggled to pay their union dues, might decide, when faced with the new compulsory state payments to be taken from their wages, to stop paying their union dues. It was tough enough to endure one deduction but two could stretch budgets too thin. In the case of the NFWW founded just five years before the NI Act, the worries were considerable. Its small membership, numbering just a few thousand in 1911, was comprised of some of the very worst paid women workers in Britain, drawn from industries including garment, box, jam and sweet making and metal work. Fred recalled that one of his earliest talks for the Sons of Temperance had referred to the women chain makers of Cradley Heath in the Black Country. These women, whose wages were scandalously low, worked excessively long hours in small forges at the back of their homes. Their struggles would become famous during a 1910 ten-week ‘lock out’, which, led by Mary Macarthur and her NFWW, resulted in victory for the women workers and the securing of Britain’s first minimum wage. The chain makers were by no means alone. The Federation was aware of thousands of women working either in their own homes or in small workshops, isolated and so hidden from the public gaze that employers could get away with paying the very lowest of wages.

Mary Macarthur supporting the women chain makers of Cradley Heath in 1910. Wikimedia Commons

Fred’s work and research in London brought him, in 1914, to the attention of Mary Macarthur. Since 1912, her union had thrown every available resource into the drive to get women to join its Approved Society. Organisers and officials were told in no uncertain terms that ‘every other thing must be put aside. You must think of nothing else, do nothing else, give yourself to the work heart and soul’.[6] Touring the country, talking to women workers, the NFWW’s message was simple. Join its Approved Society if that was all you could afford but remember also that the union is on your side. Whatever employers say (and some were pressing workers to join insurance societies and ‘sick clubs’ which they had set up themselves), the union has your interests at heart.

The task of expanding the union amongst women who were often not yet very familiar with the importance of trade unions was never easy. Dealing also with the new state administration made things even harder. Nevertheless, the NFWW’s Approved Society grew sufficiently to require additional office space and an expanded team of administrative staff research. Fred was appointed by Mary Macarthur as Chief Assistant Secretary of the NFWW, specifically to manage the Approved Society. It was a move which ‘completely transformed [his] life’, placing him within what he referred to as ‘the councils of the great trade union and Labour movements’.

The banner of the National Federation of Women Workers

It was, however, never plain sailing. When he first arrived at the offices in Mecklenburgh Square, in Bloomsbury, he found the Approved Society in ‘a shocking state of disorder’. It was not just the NFWW that struggled; Fred recognised that not even the largest organisations had understood just how much extra work National Insurance would involve. Mary Macarthur concluded that administering National Insurance had strained the energies of friendly societies and trade unions ‘to breaking point’, diverting staff away from their ‘true aims’. The NFWW had spent an enormous amount of time looking for ways to ensure that the 1911 Act did not drain its resources and so it was clearly an enormous advantage to be able to entrust the NFWW’s Approved Society to someone with solid experience of such an important but often neglected (due to lack of staff and time) part of the union.

Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury, London. The buildings which housed the National Federation of Women Workers are no longer in existence. Wikimedia Commons

Fred had already carried out some research into the sickness claims of married women and it was his knowledge of this aspect of the new insurance work which first brought him to Mary Macarthur’s attention when she read a report he had produced on the subject for his own organisation. It was an issue she cared deeply about. When questions began to be asked in government over why sickness claims among women were higher than expected, the answer was entirely obvious to Mary. It was the direct result of poverty, the type of work that women did, the long hours, often standing up, lack of fresh air, long periods without nourishment and low wages, resulting in insufficient and improper food. Even among the Cradley Heath chain makers, with their minimum wage, it was found that the sad reality was that women remained ‘overstrained by their arduous work, underfed in consequence of their meagre wage and [living] on the borderlands of chronic ailment’.[7] They frequently worked up to the last minute before their babies were born and returned too soon, resulting in a high incidence of sickness among married women.

As the NFWW faced the realities of the First World War, its team of staff expanded to deal with unprecedented challenges. Fred’s role grew to cover the administration of the whole union. At the start of the War there was high unemployment amongst women workers who were laid off by firms waiting to see what the War would mean for business. Then, as thousands of women moved into munitions work from 1915, the NFWW membership began to expand significantly. Women munitions workers not only undertook dangerous work with toxic materials, they also worked long hours which were regularly extended by compulsory overtime. Married women, particularly those with menfolk away at the Front, juggled shift work with childcare, and, despite generally higher wartime wages, a cost-of-living crisis meant there was constant anxiety over budgeting and feeding the family. Women bore the brunt of life on the home front and the women’s unions worked tirelessly to defend their rights and protect their welfare.

Mary Macarthur

As leader of the NFWW and, increasingly, as a national spokesperson for women’s employment and welfare rights, Mary Macarthur had an exhausting war. She relied heavily on a small band of NFWW advisers and supporters and Fred was trusted with the day to day running of her beloved union’s administration. She lived and worked in Mecklenburgh Square and Fred, coming daily to the Square to work, came to know her well. Some of the most well respected and influential people in the labour movement came to gatherings at the home she shared with her husband, the socialist and trade unionist, William Anderson, before and during the war years. Fred recalled that on Friday evenings Mary would host symposiums, which he likened to ‘our modern cocktail parties’, to which ‘a few of the outstanding figures of the day’ would be invited. It is easy to imagine these events, full of earnest talk and lively debate, crowded with people wanting to be close to those whom it appeared would have a hand in shaping the post war world.

Mary Macarthur in Trafalgar Square in 1908.Image copyright TUC Library Collections

It was not all work, but it was certainly not all play. The impact of the First World War was enormous, reaching into every aspect of life but it is not until we read individual stories that we remember that things continued to happen to families regardless of the disruptions of war. Days before the outbreak of war, the Kershaws’ six-year-old son, Freddie, died suddenly, quite probably from undiagnosed diphtheria (a doctor had treated the little boy for tonsillitis). Fred’s account of the agonies suffered by his wife is hard to read and it is not surprising then that for this couple, the coming of war was muted by the poignancy of their personal grief. Fred went to Mecklenburgh Square to tell Mary Macarthur and her reaction clearly stayed with him. She was, he wrote, naturally sympathetic but at the same time she was overwhelmed by the prospect of war, drawing nearer. ‘It is the end of everything’ she said to Fred, who although wrapped in his grief, thought that she was too pessimistic. His memoir concludes, however, that ‘neither Miss Macarthur nor I realised what was to follow’ and they certainly had no concept of the scale of the tragedy that lay ahead for the world.

Mary Macarthur, despite being distraught at the idea of war (she was prominent at a big peace rally in Trafalgar Square the day after her meeting with Fred) had experienced a personal tragedy the previous year, when her first born child was still born. Comfort did come to both families; in 1915 Fred’s wife had a son and Mary Macarthur gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Further tragedy lay ahead for Mary Macarthur. Her husband, Will Anderson (a Labour MP in Sheffield until 1918 and reckoned by many to be a future leader of the Labour Party), died in February 1919, during the Spanish flu pandemic. A year later, Mary was diagnosed with cancer that proved to be terminal.  Fred recalled the afternoon in 1920 when they sat together at tea and she told him that she had just a few months to live. She urged him to work to help push through the planned amalgamation of the NFWW with the larger, mixed sex National Union of General Workers (NUGW). Fred’s account confirms others which stress Mary’s devotion to her work right up until the very end of her life and her deep affection for the union she had founded and nurtured since 1906. It was always her intention to ensure that the men and women of the labour movement worked together side by side. She viewed the NFWW as a training ground, for which there would be no further need once women had sound union experience and confidence and when men recognised women as trusted and competent allies in the fight for better working conditions. Mary Macarthur died on January 1st, 1921, the very day that the merger with the NUGW took place. She was just 40 years old and in Fred’s words, ‘there passed a woman who, had she lived, would have been the foremost woman in Labour’s political and industrial movement’.

Although Fred worked for the NUGW for a brief spell, his future lay beyond it. He used his considerable experience of social insurance and his financial expertise to work for the wider trade union movement, helping members obtain compensation in accident claims and advising unions on the investment of any accumulated funds. Additionally, he maintained a close interest and connection with matters relating to the health aspect of National Insurance, recalling his shock at maternal mortality figures which remained unchanged by advances in medicine and health services. He was deeply respected by many within the labour movement and his detailed work (often behind the scenes) on reports into social problems was highly regarded. Fred draws attention to his deep and lasting friendship with Margaret Bondfield (who he had worked with at the NFWW and was to become one of the first women Labour MPs in 1923 and Britain’s first woman cabinet minister in 1929); in her autobiography, she refers to Fred as her friend, helper and supporter and notes the importance of his statistical work on unemployment insurance claims in the 1920s.[8]

Margaret Bondfield. Image copyright of TUC Library Collection

Fred’s pride in entering the House of Lords is evident (‘what a day! The ex-milk boy and flour boy was to become a peer of the United Kingdom’) and he took the bestowed Honour ‘very, very seriously’. What mattered most to him was how his experience in social insurance could, in this new capacity, continue to be of value to the nation. Just ahead of the 1950 General Election, Lord Kershaw spoke in support of the Labour candidate at a meeting in Mortlake, near where he lived in Richmond. He spoke of his humble start as a flour boy and how he felt that the spirit of service must always supersede the spirit of capitalism. He talked also of how he had been mocked in the House of Lords for not having an Oxford accent and how this was assumed to mean a lack of wisdom. He was having none of it. ‘We may drop our aitches’, he said, ‘but we don’t drop the standard of living of our people’. He drew attention to the advances that had been made by Labour; people were, he said, never so free as they were now – free to preserve their self-respect even if unemployment came their way, now that the hated Means Test had been removed. Maternal mortality had been reduced and ‘those with eyes to see could not help marvel at the wonderfully healthy children of today. Healthy and bonny children did not happen by accident; they happened through the concerted planning of the government of the day’.[9]

Fred, who served as a JP, as a Board member at Westminster Hospital, as chairperson of the Marie Curie Foundation, devoted his public life to that spirit of service of which he spoke in 1950. His social conscience was formed early on and drew him to the sort of work to which he knew he could make a real difference. He did not become a household name or even a prominent name within the Labour movement and it is one of the reasons why it is so important to show the lasting value of the ‘backroom’ boys and girls.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

[1] Taken from Fred Kershaw’s unpublished memoir. Grateful thanks to the Kershaw family for sharing with me and encouraging me to write this post

[2] Mary Macarthur’s Election Manifesto 1918, Gertrude Tuckwell Collection, TUC Library Collections, London Metropolitan University

[3] Cathy Hunt (2019) Righting the Wrong: Mary Macarthur 1880-1921, History West Midlands, page 72

[4] Londonderry Sentinel, March 20 1920, British Newspaper Archive

[5] Rochdale Times, June 11, 1912, British Newspaper Archive

[6] Cathy Hunt (2104), The National Federation of Women Workers, 1906-21, Palgrave Macmillan, page 60

[7] Cathy Hunt, Righting the Wrong, page 100

[8] Margaret Bondfield (1949) A Life’s Work, Hutchinson & Co, pages 250, 274

[9] Richmond Herald, February 4 1950, British Newspaper Archive

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