Notable politicians in Hartlepool.
Sir Christopher Furness was born at West Hartlepool on April 23rd, 1852. He married Jane Annette Suggitt in 1876 and they had one son, Marmaduke (born in 1883). During his career he became senior partner in the shipbuilding and engineering firm of Furness, Withy and Company, Ltd., and proprietor of the “Furness” line of steamers; founder of the Furness Seamen’s Pension Fund and Deputy Lieutenant for the North Riding of Yorkshire and County of Durham. He also built built the steam yacht “Emerald”, the first turbine vessel to cross the Atlantic. He served as Member of Parliament for the Hartlepools (Liberal) from 1891 to 1895 and again from 1900 to 1910. He was knighted 1895 and in 1910 became Baron Furness of Grantley. His Hartlepool residence was Tunstall Court.
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Ralph Ward Jackson has gone down in history as the man who built West Hartlepool.
He saw potential in an area which was at the time only villages and sand dunes. He brought trade and industry to West Hartlepool. He helped to plan the layout of town, and was responsible for the first public buildings. He was also involved in the education and the welfare of the inhabitants.
Ralph Ward Jackson was born on 7th June 1806, the third son of William Ward Jackson, of Normanby Hall, Eston, Yorkshire. His family were wealthy, and could trace their ancestry back to the beginning of the 17th century. Ralph was educated at Rugby School, Warwickshire.
Ralph Ward Jackson was married to Susannah, daughter of Charles Swainson of Lancashire, in 1829. They had one surviving son, William, born c1833. Their other children died in infancy. The family lived at Greatham Hall, in Greatham Village on the outskirts of West Hartlepool. Susannah Ward Jackson died in October 1865.
Ralph Ward Jackson left school at the age of sixteen to begin a career as a solicitor. He trained in Preston, Lancashire. After he qualified, in 1829, he went into partnership with Joseph Frank. Frank was an established solicitor in Stockton-on-Tees, about 10 miles from Hartlepool. Ward Jackson became a legal advisor for the Clarence Railway Company, and later for the Stockton and West Hartlepool Railway. After Frank’s death Ward Jackson took sole control of the firm, but he was no longer interested in practising law. He gave up the firm in 1854, to concentrate on developing the railway and docks at West Hartlepool.
In the 1830s railway lines were being built across the north east of England. These were needed to carry coal from the local collieries to the south, to provide fuel for the new machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Local businessmen realised that money could be made from these new trade links. In 1838 Ward Jackson joined a group of businessmen to set up the Stockton and Durham County Bank, in the hope that they could take advantage of the new prosperity. As it turned out, the bank was not a success, and after eight years business was transferred to the National and Provincial Bank.
Ward Jackson also became involved in the railways in a more direct way. The Clarence Coal Railway had recently been built between the Durham coalfields and Stockton, on the River Tees. It was not, however, proving profitable. Once the coal was unloaded from the train, it had to be taken by ship down the river to the sea. The Tees was a difficult river to navigate, full of bends and sandbanks. Ships had to be pulled part of the way by horses. In 1839 it was decided to build a new eight-mile stretch of railway called the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway. It would join the existing railway with Hartlepool. Here, ships had direct access to the sea, without needing to navigate any rivers. Ralph Ward Jackson became a shareholder in the company responsible for building the new line. Ward Jackson was made the Managing Director of this new railway in 1848.
When the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway opened in 1841 it brought coal to the docks at Old Hartlepool, to be taken away by ships. The Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company ran the dock. They charged a high fee to rival companies who wanted to use their facilities. In 1844 Ward Jackson went to Parliament for permission to build his own harbour and dock at West Hartlepool. In spite of opposition from supporters of the Dock and Railway Company this was granted, and building started in spring 1845. The company running the new docks was the West Hartlepool Harbour and Dock Co., and Ward Jackson was made Managing Director of it in 1846. The first West Hartlepool dock, known as the Coal Dock, was opened on 1st June 1847. The second, called Jackson Dock, followed on 1stJune 1852. A year later, in 1853, Ward Jackson’s railway company (the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway) and his dock company (the West Hartlepool Harbour and Dock Co.) were joined together to form the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company. A third dock opened on 3rd June 1856, and was called Swainson Dock.
Ward Jackson was keen to see the new town of West Hartlepool develop. At the end of the 1830s the area had been made up of a few small villages and a lot of marshes and sand dunes. The arrival of the railway, and the shipping of coal from the new dock in the 1840s, had brought money and people into the area. A town began to grow up around the harbour, and Ward Jackson was the person who did most to encourage it.
The West Hartlepool Harbour and Dock Co. (of which Ward Jackson was the managing director), owned large areas of land around the new harbour. They laid out the first streets, and provided a sewerage system. The stone which had been cut away to make the docks was magnesian limestone, which was a good building material. The dock company donated the stone and the land to build public buildings such as Christ Church. This still stands today, and now houses the town’s art gallery.
Ward Jackson was also responsible for the first shipbuilding yard in West Hartlepool. He included facilities for shipbuilding in the design of Jackson Dock. He then invited John Pile, a successful shipbuilder from Sunderland, twenty miles north of Hartlepool, to relocate his business.
As the population grew, better facilities such as street lighting and a cemetery were needed. Ward Jackson applied to Parliament for an Improvement Act. This would recognise West Hartlepool’s status as a town, and allow a proper means of local government to be formed. The Act was granted in June 1854. In September of the same year, the first meeting of the Board of Improvement Commissioners was held. These were the people who would organise how the town was run. Ralph Ward Jackson was appointed as their chairman, and remained in this post until his retirement in 1870.
Ralph Ward Jackson had a huge influence on the growth on West Hartlepool. He did all he could to promote the town, and bring trade and money into it. Within twenty years the port became one of the busiest on the north east coast. As head of the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company, Ward Jackson invested money into collieries in County Durham. He also bought a fleet of steamships to export the coal. Unfortunately, this was not allowed under the terms which governed the running of the Harbour and Railway Company. This was pointed out by Benjamin Coleman, a shareholder in the company, in 1861. Coleman ran a campaign which resulted in the resignation of Ward Jackson from the Board of Directors.
In spite of his resignation over irregular dealings in the Harbour and Railway Company, Ward Jackson remained popular with local people. It was felt that everything he had done had benefited the town, even if his methods had not been strictly legal. In 1868 he was elected as the Hartlepools first Member of Parliament. He held the seat, as a Conservative, for six years. He was defeated by local businessman Thomas Richardson in the General Election of 1874.
Ward Jackson was forced to resign from the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company in 1862. This was after an investigation which showed that he had carried out business dealings which were not allowed under the terms which governed the running of the company. The business was taken over by the North-Eastern Railway Company (NER). Legal arguments between Ward Jackson and NER went on until 1872. Although Ward Jackson won the case, he lost most of his money in the process. His later years were spent in near-poverty. At the time of his death, some of his friends were attempting to raise money to support him.
Ward Jackson died in London on 6th August 1880. He was 75. He was buried in London, but on the day of his funeral the people of West Hartlepool showed their respect. In the harbour ships flew their flags at half-mast. Shops were closed, and the bells of Christ Church were rung.
Ralph Ward Jackson led a stormy life. He was several times involved in legal battles with people who opposed him. In 1861 he was fined for assaulting the vicar of Greatham after an argument over public rights of way. But he was also a man of great vision and purpose. He was passionate about everything to do with West Hartlepool, and was involved in almost every part of the town’s early growth.
The docks he built have now been made into a marina. The railway still follows the same route through the town. Ward Jackson Park was opened in 1883, and has recently been renovated. It was originally paid for from money which had been raised by wellwishers. This was to support Ward Jackson after the lengthy legal battle with NER, which left him almost bankrupt. After his death it was decided to use the money for a public park, as a lasting memorial. A statue of Ward Jackson was unveiled in 1897. It stands at the top of Church Street, one of the first streets to be laid out in West Hartlepool. It faces down the street, looking towards the railway line and the sea, around which the town grew. However, a song performed in a local theatre a few years before his death expresses the feelings of the townspeople at the time:
“…No need for pillar raised to him in brass or stone, His monument’s a Town, it stands alone!”
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Thomas Richardson III was born at Castle Eden in December 1846. He was a Director of Richardsons, Westgarth & Co. and in 1895 he followed in his father's footsteps to become the Member of Parliament for the Hartlepools (a Liberal Unionist). He was knighted in 1897 and died in May 1906.More detail »
The Hartlepools - as the constituency comprising today’s Headland and West Hartlepool used to be called - had been a Liberal stronghold until the Party’s 44-years innings ended in 1918 with the election of W. G. Howard Gritten as its Independent Unionist Member of Parliament.
From 1900, shipping, steel and coal magnate and 30,000-acre landowner Sir Christopher (‘Kitty’) Furness had been its MP until he was unseated on petition in May 1910 because his agent in the previous January General Election had been found guilty of creating an ‘atmosphere of intimidation’ of the electorate. There had not even been a Tory Parliamentary candidate for twenty-four years when Howard Gritten was introduced by Lord Londonderry and adopted in 1909 by the local Conservative and Unionist Association.
In spite of being dubbed a ‘carpet-bagger’ and ‘stranger’ - he was born in London and brought up in Cheshire - barrister Gritten reduced the Liberal majority in each of the three elections in 1910 until Stephen, the nephew of the deposed Sir ‘Kitty’, retained the seat for the Liberals in December by a mere 48 votes after a recount.
Because of the First World War intervening, Gritten did not stand again until the Liberal Lloyd George, after the Armistice, decided to test the public’s opinion of his Coalition Government by declaring a General Election in December 1918. As far as the Hartlepools were concerned, Conservative Central Office decided to support the official Coalition candidate, the Liberal C. MacFarlane, although the local Tory Association supported Gritten. Its Party leader, Bonar Law, requested him ‘to stand down’. He didn’t, and was returned with an over 5,300 majority. The Labour Party, standing a candidate for the first time, came bottom of the poll.
However, there was no winning spell for Gritten after the success of this fourth attempt in eight years to become MP for The Hartlepools; instead of accepting ‘offers’ of a safe Tory seat, at the 1922 General Election he was defeated by the Liberal William Jowitt and again in the December 1923 General Election, albeit by only 145 votes. In 1924 he didn’t stand and while his friend Sir Wilfred Sugden won the seat from Jowitt, Howard Gritten drifted in the doldrums of the political wilderness for seven years.
Then, in 1929, he contested The Hartlepools again, this time against Liberal Stephen Furness, son of the MP with the same name who had fallen to his death from a hotel window in 1914. Gritten topped the poll by a margin of 138 votes after a recount - to become the only Tory MP in the County of Durham. Despite the national swing against Tory Premier Stanley Baldwin resulting in Labour’s Ramsay Macdonald forming his second Labour government, in the Hartlepools Labour had again been at the bottom of the poll, although G. Oliver polled well over 7,000 votes more than his predecessor had done in 1924.
Howard Gritten would be returned in 1931 and again in 1935 and would remain MP for the Hartlepools - there were no General Elections during the Second World War - until he died in 1943. In the ensuing by-election, his successor, Tory Colonel T. G. Greenwell, was returned unopposed by either of the two main parties because of the wartime truce; he would lose the seat in the post-war Labour landslide of 1945 but by only 275 votes. For the first time and for the next fourteen years, the Hartlepools would have a Labour MP: another ‘stranger’, Welsh railway signalman David Jones.
When a local Tory candidate as early as 1868 won the seat with a majority of only three votes, it seems to have set the precedent in the Hartlepools for an unusual number of election narrow majorities after recounts. Whatever reasons may be advanced for this, an explanation should be attempted in the specific case of Howard Gritten as to why a Tory regained his seat in this industrial constituency at the depth of the recession in 1929 and retained it for another fourteen years. He would have a 34-year association with the Hartlepools, a total of eighteen as MP, and personally claimed that none of his contemporaries had stood anywhere in the UK nine times for the same constituency.
His performances within the House of Commons cannot account for him being returned three times following his defeats in 1922 and 1923. While he supported the 1919 Act which gave (some) women the vote for the first time, his Bill to amend the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act failed; while his speeches on the floor of the House on behalf of the fishing and shipbuilding industries gained some publicity (including on cinema screens), his representation of Britain’s ten million cyclists would hardly have won him votes in the Hartlepools; and his Questions to the Home Secretary about the ‘cost of education of Jewish children’ (fleeing Hitler Germany) and whether the government intended ‘to continue its special favours to its friends the Jews’ must have alienated many liberal-minded people who were not necessarily Liberal Party supporters. Because he didn’t hesitate to vote contrary to the orders of his party whips, he was never given a ministerial post (which can enhance the reputation of an MP who, for instance, is seeking re-election).
So it would seem his popularity in the Hartlepools was achieved principally through his long-term, consistent interceding with Ministers on behalf of constituents, irrespective of their political sympathies about which, of course, he would never enquire. One of his claims was that he was the first MP to initiate what have long since been called ‘surgeries’ where, apart from being able to be lobbied at Westminster, an MP has an ‘open door’ at a certain time within his constituency to listen and attend to constituents’ problems.
This text has been kindly donated by Mr John Gritten. More information about Howard Gritten can be found in the book
'Howard and Son: Rebels of a Kind' by John Gritten
published by Matador, 2012; ISBN 978 1 78088 063 1More detail »