Benjamin Pickard

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Benjamin Pickard

Benjamin Pickard, more usually Ben Pickard (26 or 28 February 1842 – 3 February 1904) was a British coal miner, trade unionist and Lib–Lab politician.

Early life and family[edit]

Pickard was born in Kippax near Wakefield in Yorkshire the son of a collier. He commenced work as a pit-boy at the age of twelve years.[1] He earned a reputation as a studious boy and attended Kippax Grammar School. He also received religious training as a Wesleyan, becoming a local preacher and was connected throughout his life with the Lord's Rest Day Association. He was associated from an early age with the trade union movement becoming lodge secretary at the age of sixteen. In 1864 he married Hannah Elizabeth Freeman of Kippax and they had four sons and four daughters. His wife died in 1901.

Trade union official[edit]

In 1873 he was appointed assistant secretary of the West Yorkshire Miners' Association and in 1876 he became Secretary. He was responsible for uniting the West and South Yorkshire Miners' Associations into one body in 1881 and he became the first Secretary of the newly formed Yorkshire Miners' Association. In 1877 he had become assistant secretary of the Miners' National Union and was a leading player in the foundation of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, of which he was elected the first president.[1]

In 1893 Pickard led the miners in the biggest industrial dispute the country had hitherto seen. The most important result of a combined strike and lockout was the establishment of a Board of Conciliation to address problems arising in the industry and most disputes over the coming years were settled using this machinery. He played an active part in the obtaining of legislation in the mining industry including the Eight Hours Bill, restricting the length of time miners could be made to work underground, although it did not become law until after his death.

International work[edit]

Pickard was active in the establishment of the International Federation of Mineworkers in 1890. He organised six international congresses of miners from Britain, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium which were held in Paris, Jolimont (Switzerland), Brussels, Berlin, Aix-la-Chapelle and London. He also attended about eighteen Congresses of Trade Unions. In 1897 his interest in arbitration and the work of the Peace Society led to his inclusion in a peace deputation to the president of the United States, Grover Cleveland.


In addition to his commitment to the interests of organised labour, Pickard was known as an 'ardent liberal'. He served as a member of the Wakefield school board from 1881 until 1885 and in 1889 he was appointed an alderman of the West Riding County Council on which he was a co-opted member. He was re-elected alderman again in 1895 and 1901.

In 1885 the Yorkshire Miners Association came to an agreement with the Liberal Party allowing them to nominate the candidate for elections to Parliament for the Normanton division of Yorkshire, a constituency where over 60% of the electorate were coal miners. Pickard was selected and won the seat at each election under this arrangement from 1885 until his death in 1904. In return he generally supported the Liberals in Parliament.


Pickard died of heart failure in Westminster, having been ill for some time previously.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Benson, John, "Pickard, Benjamin(1842–1904)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press), retrieved 4 October 2014, (subscription required (help)) 
  • Obituary in The Times, 4 February 1904
  • Who was Who, OUP 2007

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Normanton
Succeeded by
William Parrott
Trade union offices
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the Yorkshire Miners' Association
Succeeded by
William Parrott
Preceded by
New position
President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Enoch Edwards