George Tomlinson

This blog post was written by Barry Mills, a volunteer at Bolton History Centre.

The Labour candidate in the 1938 Farnworth by-election, George Tomlinson, speaks during a Labour Party rally at the Empire Cinema. Labour party leader Clement Atlee (third from left) came to Bolton to support Tomlinson who went on to win the election. Copyright Bolton Council Image ref. 1993.83.15.21 Bolton Museums Print ref. 1993.2.1
The Labour candidate in the 1938 Farnworth by-election, George Tomlinson, speaks during a Labour Party rally at the Empire Cinema. Labour party leader Clement Atlee (third from left) came to Bolton to support Tomlinson who went on to win the election.
Copyright Bolton Council
Image ref. 1993.83.15.21 Bolton Museums
Print ref. 1993.2.1

George was born at Rishton near Blackburn on 21 March 1890, the youngest of 4 children. Both parents were weavers and he became a half timer in the mill at the age of 12 years. At the age of 22 he became President of the Rishton Weavers Association and 2 years later he was elected for Labour to the local urban district council. George was a strong Wesleyan (Methodist) but like his father he believed that politics was inseparable from Christianity.

On 14 September1914, George married Ethel Purser and next year they moved to Farnworth, where they both worked for his brother in law, a herbal brewer with a temperance bar in Darley Street.

From the outbreak of World War I, Tomlinson proclaimed his pacifism from the pulpit as a lay preacher, ‘often to the annoyance of his friends’. In 1916 when called up for military service, George as a Christian Socialist pacifist successfully appealed as a conscientious objector (CO). He was recognized as genuine and exempted subject to obtaining work of national importance away from home, with market gardeners at Didsbury. He found the unfamiliar work hard and tiring. As a CO, he was initially resented by the other workers, but when they realised what a hard worker George was, they came to accept him and allowed him to eat with them. One said “I have been watching him with those chrysanthemums and have come to the conclusion that he has got 3 bloody consciences”. Despite all his hard work, George still had the energy to walk miles to preach at chapels on Sundays.

After the war, George went back to working for his brother in law in Farnworth and at the age of 35, he was elected for Labour as a councillor on Farnworth Urban District council in 1925, by just 3 votes. After the death of the sitting MP, George won the Parliamentary bye-election at Farnworth in January 1938.
At the time of his election to Parliament, Tomlinson was still a Christian Socialist pacifist, supporting disarmament and the League of Nations. He held World War I to be an imperialist war which could have been averted, but took a different view of World War II. He had believed that: ‘the moral forces of the world’ would protect a nation which disarmed. ‘The rise of Hitlerism demonstrated the impracticability of my theories … there was nothing else to do but fight for the things in which I believed, even if fighting appeared contrary to my Christian principles’.

Tomlinson became Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Labour in the war time Coalition Government in 1941, then Minister of Works 1945-47 and Minister of Education 1947 – 51 in Attlee’s Government. He was already ill when re-elected at the 1951 General Election, which the Labour Party narrowly lost. George Tomlinson’s health continued to deteriorate and he died on 22 September 1952.

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