National Records of Scotland

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Keir Hardie (1856-1915)

Keir Hardie (1856-1915)

Founder of the Labour Party

James Keir Hardie worked as a coal-miner from a young age and represented miners in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire as union agent and secretary. Self-taught, he took up journalism and founded, edited and published the newspaper 'Labour Leader'. He moved to London in 1891 and served as an independent Labour MP for West Ham (South) from 1892 to 1894. In 1893 he played a key role in forming the Independent Labour Party and represented Merthyr Tydfil from 1898. He advocated an alliance between the trade unions and socialist organisations which led to the setting up in 1900 of the Labour Representation Committee forerunner of the Labour Party. Keir Hardie was elected as the first chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1906. He campaigned for women's suffrage and against the First World War until his death in 1915.

Learn more about Keir Hardie and Lochnorris, his family home in Ayrshire, in our feature Across the divide: A J Balfour and Keir Hardie in 1905.

Birth in 1856

James Kerr was born on 15 August 1856, the son of William Aitken, miner and Mary Kerr, farm servant, daughter of James Keir and Agnes Paterson. The entry in the statutory register for the district of Holytown in Lanarkshire records Agnes Kerr, grandmother, as the informant. The annotation in the left-hand margin refers to an action brought by Mary Kerr of Woodhall Row in Legbrannock against William Aitken, at or near Holytown, about paternity of the child. The Sheriff Court of Lanarkshire at Hamilton accepted that they were the parents on 14 October 1856 .The amendment to the register entry has been initialled by the district examiner Robert Gordon (RG). This entry is indexed under James Kerr and James Aitken.

Birth entry for Keir Hardie

Birth entry for Keir Hardy (42 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1856/652-2/436

1871 census

Mary Kerr married David Hardie, ship carpenter from Stirlingshire, in 1859. In 1861 they were enumerated at 23 Albert Street in Govan with their son David aged one.

In 1871 James Hardie, 14, coal miner, was enumerated at Darngaber Rows with his mother and step-father. The census record for Hamilton includes information about their four children.

1871 census record for Keir Hardie

1871 census record for Keir Hardie (45 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1871/647/24, page 20

Marriage in 1880

James Keir Hardie, 23, miners' secretary, married Lilias Wilson, 17, dressmaker, on 3 August 1880. The entry in the statutory register for Hamilton shows that the marriage took place after banns according to the forms of the United Presbyterian Church and of the Evangelical Union Church. His parents are William Aitken, coal miner and Mary Hardie, maiden surname (MS) Kerr.

Marriage entry for Keir Hardie

Marriage of Keir Hardie (57 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1880/647/123

1881 to 1911 censuses

In 1881 James Hardie, 24, secretary for the Miners' Union, was enumerated at Old Cumnock in Ayrshire. The census record shows he was a visitor in the household of Alexander Chapman an agent for the union.

1881 census record for Keir Hardie

1881 census record for Keir Hardie (41 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1881/610/3, page 14

By 1891 James Keir Hardie, 34, journalist, had moved to Old Cumnock with his wife, daughter and two sons. The census record gives their address as Barhill Road.

1891 census record for Keir Hardie

1891 census record for Keir Hardie (27 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1891/610A/2, page 25

In 1901 James K Hardie, 44, newspaper proprietor, editor and MP, was at Holmhead with his family. The census record for Old Cumnock shows that he was an employer.

1901 census record for Keir Hardie

1901 census record for Keir Hardie (30 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1901/610A/1, page 2

In 1911, James Keir Hardie, 54, Member of Parliament, was at Holmhead, Lochnorris in Old Cumnock with his wife and daughter Agnes. The household schedule shows that the couple had been married for 30 years, had four children and that three were living at the time of the census. The enumerator has added coal mining in the column for industry or service then crossed it out.

1911 census record for Keir Hardie, part 1

1911 census record for Keir Hardie, part 2

1911 census record for Keir Hardie (20 and 15 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1911/610A/1, page 1

Death in 1915

James Keir Hardie, 59, journalist and MP, died on 26 September 1915 at 8 South Park Terrace in Glasgow. The entry in the statutory register for the district of Hillhead in Glasgow gives his usual residence as Lochnorris, Old Cumnock and the cause of death as pneumonia. His father is recorded as David Hardie and the informant was his brother George Hardie.

Death entry for Keir Hardie

Death entry for Keir Hardie (35 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1915/644-12/806

Testament of 1915

The testament of James Keir Hardie Member of Parliament was presented for registration at Ayr Sheriff Court on 27 December 1915. At the time of his death his estate was valued at £426 10 shillings (s) and 11 pence (d) which would be worth in the region of £25,000 today (based on The National Archives currency converter).

In his will James Keir Hardie appointed his wife and daughter as his executors.

Detail from Keir Hardie's will

Detail from page 748 of the will of Keir Hardie (57 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, SC6/46/62, pages 748-749

The inventory provides the value of household furniture and other effects, shares in the Old Cumnock Co-operative Society, money held in his account at the Clydesdale Bank and in the London and South Western Bank, Fleet Street, London. It also lists his shares in the 'Labour Pioneer Press Ltd, Merthyr Tydvyl' (Merthyr Tydfil).

Detail from inventory showing shares

The last item is the final instalment of his salary as a Member of Parliament for the quarter ending 30 September 1915. The inventory is signed by his daughter, Agnes P Hardie, and Charles E Beckett Notary Public (NP),

Detail from inventory showing MP's salary

Detail from pages 785 and 786 of the inventory of Keir Hardie's estate (39 and 62 KB jpegs)
National Records of Scotland, SC6/44/77, pages 785-789