Edwards, Ebenezer

First name/s: Ebenezer
Last name: Edwards
Known names / nicknames: Ebby
Date of birth: 30/07/1884
Year of birth: 1884

Life before Ruskin

Date and place of birth: 30 July 1884 Chevington, Northumberland

Family: One of 11 children. Father – William Edwards, president of local miners’ lodge.  Mother – Esther Fish

Work: Left school aged 12 to work in the mines, mainly at Ashington, Northumberland.

Politics/Trade union activity: Trade Unionist.  1906 joined Independent Labour Party. Left in 1909 to concentrate on union politics

Trade Union membership (at time of entry to Ruskin) NUM

Life at Ruskin

Dates at Ruskin: 1908 Left after 10 months

Source of funding: Took up Northumberland Miners’ Scholarship but left after 10 months

Campaigns/political activity:

Subjects studied at Ruskin:



Life after Ruskin

Education: 1909 joined Plebs League.Was a leading advocate and practitioner of adult education in the Northumberland Coal Field.Persuaded Union to send students to Central Labour College

Work: miner

Politics/trade union activity: 1912 elected President of Ashington Miners Lodge – identified with politics of Scottish miners’ leader Robert Smillie.He was an opponent of WWI.1920 elected financial agent and secretary of Northumberland Miners’ Association.1926 elected as their agent on the committee of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB).

Elected Labour MP for Morpeth (Robert Smillie’s old seat) in May 1929 election – his sole concern being labour aspects of the coal industry.  He lost the seat in October 1931 general election and did not stand again, concentrating instead on union work where he was elected president of MFGB 1931-2 and secretary 1932-1946.

1935 nominated to the Royal Commission on safety in mines. In WWII strongly supported coal production drive serving on Coal Production Council from 1940. Central in establishing the National Union of Miners (NUM) which came into being in 1945, serving as the first General Secretary. Chairman of the TUC in 1944 and 1945, receiving the Gold Award in 1946. Member of the National Coal Board from 1946 until retirement in 1953

Family: 1911 married Alice Reed in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Place & date of death: Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 6th July 1961

Date of death: 06/07/1961
Year of death: 1961

Achievements / Publications

Central in establishing the National Union of Miners (NUM) which came into being in 1945, serving as the first General Secretary. Chairman of the TUC in 1944 and 1945.

Material in archives or already published articles

  • Dictionary of Labour Biography.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • R. P. Arnot, The miners, one union, one industry: a history of the National Union of Mineworkers, 1939–46 (1979) ·
  • A. Horner, Incorrigible rebel (1960) ·
  • A. Moffat, My life with the miners (1965) ·
  • A. J. Taylor, ‘“Maximum benefit, minimum sacrifice”: the miners’ wage campaign of 1935–1936’,Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, 2 (Sept 1996), 65–95 ·
  • Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain, reports and proceedings
  • National Union of Mineworkers, reports and proceedings



Notes on Image/s

  • Image: The Times Obituary 8 July 1961 p.12 “A Great Leader of the Miners” and R.P. Arnot The Miners: a history of the Miners’ Federation  1961 p.33

Comment of contributor/s and sources


1.       “Ebby Edwards – A Great Leader of the Miners” The Times: Obituaries Sat July 08, 1961 p.12 via The Times Digital Archive Gale Doc No. CS201548008

2.       ODNB – Ebenezer Edwards 1884-1961 written by Andrew Taylor in 2004 seen on-line ref: odnb/32978

3.       DNB –   Edwards, Ebenezer 1884-1961 written by P.E.H. Hair in 1981 viewed online from ODNB.

Comment: There are different reasons given for why Edwards left Ruskin after 10 months:

1.       Obituary says “At 23 won a miner’s scholarship to Ruskin College but finding the teaching of economics there too academic and remote from the realities of the coalfields he left after 10 months and helped found a number of educational classes which were to be forerunners of the National Council of Labour Colleges.”

2.       Taylor 2004 says “In 1908 EE left Ashington Pit to take up a Northumberland miners’ scholarship at Ruskin College…left after 10 months because of economic hardship and returned to the mines…EE sympathised with 1909 secessionists and influenced by Marx joined the Plebs League becoming one of the foremost advocates of radical socialism among Northumberland miners…”

3.       Hair 1981 says “1904 EE worked in the collieries at Ashington.  In 1908 went on a miners’ scholarship to Ruskin College but left after 10 months out of sympathy with socialist criticism which led to the 1909 secession.  Back in Northumberland Edwards joined the Marxist Plebs League, from which sprang Central Labour League, and encouraged the spread of radical socialist views within the coalfield.”


Denise Pakeman

created 01/11/2013 at 2:42 pm, updated 13/10/2014 at 4:55 pm

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