Thomas Birtwistle

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Thomas Birtwistle, Thomas (16 October 1833, Great Harwood, Lancashire – 22 March 1912, Accrington) was a trade unionist and factory inspector. From the age of six, he worked in a cotton mill becoming a power-loom weaver at the age of fourteen. In spite of limited education he had a flair for mathematics and was skilled at working out the complicated the way cotton workers were paid. This led to involvement in the early trade union movement[1] where he worked to enable British trade unions to gain recognition, respectability, and responsibility in the second half of the 19th century.

Union activity[edit]

He was a leading figure during the 1858 lock-out at Great Harwood. When there were strikes at Padiham in 1859) and Colne in 1860, he was elected to the council of the new North-East Lancashire Powerloom Weavers' Association. This enable co-operation between works in different towns. In 1861 he became its full-time secretary, and held the post until 1892.

He represented the North East Association at the Trades Union Congress from 1872 and was on its parliamentary committee from 1875-1889, and was its chairman in 1881.

In 1885, he became one of the country's first working-class JPs.

In 1892, however, he was appointed by the government as a factory inspector (duties now carried out by the Health and Safety Executive), responsible for implementing parts of the Factory Act 1891.

Personal life[edit]

He married a fellow weaver, Ellen Butterworth, who predeceased him, when he was 20. He died at his home, 17 St James's Street, Accrington, on 22 March 1912 and was buried in Accrington cemetery. He was survived by his second wife, Mary.


Trade union offices
Preceded by
William Crawford
Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC
1881 – 1882
Succeeded by
John Inglis
Preceded by
New position
Secretary of the North East Lancashire Amalgamated Weavers' Association
1861 – 1892
Succeeded by
E. J. Holmes
Preceded by
New position
Secretary of the Amalgamated Weavers' Association
1884 – 1885
Succeeded by
William Henry Wilkinson
Preceded by
New position
Secretary of the United Textile Factory Workers' Association
1889 – 1892
Succeeded by
James Mawdsley