As we can learn in the Crime and Punishment exhibition currently at Abbey House Museum, in 1890 a major conflict occurred between the Liberal controlled City Council and the gas workers at New Wortley.
Towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, we can begin to see that the existing elected officials weren’t very popular with the working class. The newly formed Labour Party was increasing in popularity across the city.
A group of postcards relating to this political shift have recently been catalogued into the museum collection. The first of these three postcards (pictured above) depicts ten oval portraits of Municipal Labour Candidates in November 1906: these were John Brotherton, Walt Wood, Owen Connellan J. P., Frank Fountain, W. Morby, I. Brassington, G. Gale, Joseph Knipe, G. Clay and R.M. Lancaster.
Unfortunately for the party, despite 10 Labour contests across various wards only Owen Connellan J. P. won his seat for New Wortley,:unsurprising as this had been the location of the gas riots previously!
The second (pictured below) is a single portrait of John Brotherton, the candidate for Holbeck.
The third (see below) depicts nine oval portraits of the 1906 elected Leeds Labour councillors: James O’Grady, Arthur Shaw, John Buckle, J. H. Barraclough, T.C. Wilson, George Thaxton, John Badley, George Layton and J.D. Macrae.
One of the most famous faces on the postcards is James O’Grady who was elected in the 1906 general election as representative for Leeds East, a seat for which he sat for 12 years (1906-1918) and then Leeds South East for a further 6 years (1918-1924).
Politicians rise and fall
James O’Grady wasn’t the only famous Labour politician representing Leeds in the turn of the 20th century. John Buckle, initially a councillor for Armley & Wortley, soon became the leader of the Labour Party and was the first Labour leader in history to sit on Leeds City Council. Buckle resigned from his post in 1908.
There is also John Badley who became to Council Group Leader in 1894 and replaced John Buckle as the leader of the Labour Party from 1908-1913. Badley was forced to resign from his position as Labour Leader and Alderman due to his acceptance of a directorate of the Royal Liver Insurance Company and the salary that when with this, which was seen as incompatible with his position as a representative of the working class.
By Becky Cooley, work placement student from Leeds Trinity University