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Alfred James Teare

Epithet: JP, MHK, MLC, freeman of Douglas and founding father of the Manx Labour Party (1879-1969)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

In his foreword, in October 1962, to Alf Teare's Reminiscences of the Manx Labour Party, Deemster Ramsey Gelling Johnson wrote:

In 1919, Alfred Teare was the most powerful figure in the Isle of Man, for during the previous year he had led the workers with such success that the Government had been compelled to accede to their demands.

It is more than merely interesting to look at this modest, quiet, family man and consider how such words came to be written.Alfred was the third of four children. He and his younger brother Tom were born in Barrow-in-Furness where his father, a masterin the art of graining and marbling, was working in the shipyards. Little is known of his early life, though in old age he said that he had suffered hardships when left an orphan.

The family returned to the Island where Alfred attended Tynwald Street School. He left in 1892 and was apprenticed as a printer with the Mona's Herald and later the Manx Sun. He ended this career as a linotype operator with the Isle of Man Times. From 1899 to 1902, during the Boer War, Alf was also a part-time member of the Isle of Man Volunteers.

In 1917, with the object of improving the conditions of the workers - labourers' wages averaged 4d per hour - he formed, along with ten other founder members, a local branch of the Workers' Union. He called the first meeting and for a few years carried out the duties of Douglas branch secretary in his spare time. In 1920 he was persuaded to relinquish his printing job and become the full time organiser of the union on the Island. He continued in this position after the Workers' Union amalgamated with the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1929. In his memoirs he wrote that he thought it a strange coincidence that those associated with the printing trade have always been in the lead in trade union and political life in the Island'. Alf Teare lived through the time when this sustained activity from both printing and editorial staff gave a voice to the urgent demands being made for both social and constitutional change.

He also recorded - endorsing his own beliefs as a lifelong member of the Baptist Church -that many of the founders of the Manx Labour movement were driven by Christian principles in their:

'revolt against the appalling social injustices as they existed at the time. The misery, poverty, cruelty and inefficiency of society drew forth a protest and led to the formation of a new movement dedicated to the task of building a new society. Its ideals were simple and compelling. They believed in the brotherhood of all men, and in the ideal of service, and in the doctrine that the resources of the community should be used for the benefit of all.'

To paint a background to his life's work, it is worth listing some of the 'social injustices' he fought to remedy. Unlike the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man did not provide state old age pensions - despite a tax on food-stuffs, liquor and tobacco having been imposed to provide them. The sticking points were the Legislative Council, which refused to endorse a unanimous resolution from the House of Keys for a pensions scheme, and the obstinacy of the Governor, Lord Raglan. He twice refused to pass on petitions about the plight of the elderly, in the name of the Joint Labour Associations of the Isle of Man, to the Home Secretary (Winston Churchill); and the Home Office perpetuated the stalemate by refusing to consider any petition unless it came through the Governor.

In 1918 All Teare reluctantly called the memorable 'Bread Strike'. His own account states:

Our campaign for pensions for our aged folk was temporarily halted by reason of our attention having to be given to the removal of yet another injustice which was being born by Manx workers - the failure of our Insular Government to grant to Manx bakers a flour subsidy similar to that given to English bakers to enable a reduction to be made in the price of a loaf of bread. By the subsidy, English bakers were enabled to reduce the price of a loaf from one shilling to ninepence. Without the subsidy, Manx bakers were compelled to charge one shilling.The time I speak of was early 1917, when the cost of living figures were 78% above 1914.

After pressure from the Labour movement and others, Lord Raglan and the Legislative Council did cave in and money was found for a six-month subsidy. Then it was back to a dearer loaf, but, as Deemster Johnson noted in 1962, Alf's 1918 'Bread Strike' lasted just two days. It involved all local trades unions and even schoolchildren.The strikers won the day, and the return of the 9d loaf was the reward. Alfred was chairman of the strike committee, whose actions were extremely well organised; they even caused the 5th July Tynwald ceremony to be cancelled. The subsidy was paid for by the introduction of income tax to the Island, and when the need for it ceased income tax revenue was used for paying old age pensions. It is a measure of the respect given to Alfred Teare by all strata of society that in 1919, the same year that Lord Raglan left the Island, Alf was appointed the Island's first ever working-class JP.

Alfred Teare voiced the Labour movement's views on indirect taxation on consumables accompanied by no direct taxation when, looking back in 1962 to those momentous times, he wrote:

The incidence of this form of taxation was that the widow whose income was a pittance (and it was a pittance, no mistake) received in the form of poor relief, paid more in taxation in relation to her income than the well-to-do, by reason of the fact that the teapot and sugar basin was more often on her table than on the tables of those in more affluent circumstances.

Alfred Teare was a member of the Manx Socialist Society or Manx branch of the Clarion Fellowship, founded in 1895; he refers in his memoirs to a group meeting in Christian Road, Douglas, to which he was attracted as a youth. In 1908 this was largely superseded by the newly-founded Manx branch of the UK's Independent Labour Party, with Teare as its secretary. However it was not a great success; in 1918 he was largely responsible for founding the much more durable Manx Labour Party, of which he was general secretary and/or treasurer for many years and president in 1932-1933.

Their 1918 manifesto was enthusiastically embraced by many people who were not members of the Labour movement. It called for old age pensions at 65, national health insurance, a national sanatorium and hospitals, abolition of the poor law, a national housing scheme, industrial councils and one education authority.

Standing for South Douglas, Alfred Teare was defeated in the August 1919 House of Keys by-election. However, in the November General Election - the first with full adult suffrage - he stood again for South Douglas and was elected. He was re-elected in 1924, 1929, 1934 and 1946, topping the poll each time. In 1951 he was elected to the Legislative Council and remained a member until 1962, having then served in the legislature for an unbroken period of 43 years.

A member of the Douglas Town Council from January 1933 until 1965, he was elected Alderman in April 1951. During World War II he was a member of the Lieutenant Governor's War Cabinet. He was awarded the MBE in 1946 and in September 1964 the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Douglas. He was presented with an illuminated address and a handsome silver casket, and Alfred Teare Grove in Willaston was named after him.

He had married Annie Blackburn in November 1902 and they celebrated their Golden Wedding with their daughters Annie and Eileen and their families. In his younger days Alfred was a keen athlete and also played rugby. He possessed a fine bass voice and sang in several choirs including that of Mr J.D. Looney, whose choir won the Morecambe and Blackpool Challenge Shield in 1907. Music played an important part in Alfred's family life. He loved nothing better, though, than working in his garden, and this he continued to do almost to the end of his life.

Alfred Teare devoted his life to the cause of the workers, but in fighting for them he was always fair-minded. Amongst criticisms of the social conditions which he recalls in Reminiscences of the Manx Labour Party are scattered remarks which exemplify this fairness, such as `So much is taken for granted nowadays', `So different from the spirit so often in evidence today', or 'It would be well to remind today's younger generation ...' and, quoting an old coalman trade unionist, 'while the worker had an undisputed right to wages for his labour, so the employer had a claim on reasonable service in return. The holder of such views did not sit easily with those of a more confrontational nature. In 1935 there was a general strike in the Island and, as full-time organiser of the TGWU, it was Alf's task to lead it. He was certainly at odds with the militant Liverpool-based district secretary, Harry Pugh. The particular bone of contention has not at the time of writing been discovered but shortly after the strike, Alf 'retired on the grounds of ill health'. However, an intriguing extract from a Peel branch minute of 22nd August 1935 states that Alf had been 'dismissed' for a rea-son which seemed to the Peel members to be 'a paltry one for such drastic action to be taken. Alf himself later claimed that the strike had been unnecessary.

In his reminiscences Alf pays glowing tributes to non-Labour people with whom he worked in public life. It is easy to see why he was respected by employer and employee alike.

Deemster Johnson, who knew Alf as a magistrate and had served on numerous committees with him, wrote, 'Alfred Teare is a delight to work alongside. He is human and loveable, able and modest, tactful, loyal and conscientious and he is trusted by everyone'.

This was indeed a fitting tribute to a man who always put the needs of his fellow man first. He celebrated his 90th birthday enter-taining family and old political adversaries, while lying in Noble's Hospital with a broken leg. He died seven weeks later and is buried in Douglas Borough Cemetery.

Biography written by Ann Fletcher (granddaughter) with additional research from Robert Fyson.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.437-40.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 31 October 1879

Date of death: 17 December 1969

Name Variant: Teare, Alfred J.


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