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Thomas Gerald Bridson

Epithet: MHK and parish walker (1893-1967)

Record type: Biographies

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

Gerald Bridson, a Labour politician from a privileged background, and a friendly and flamboyant character, stood for the Keys nine times and was elected twice, over a period of 27 years.

Gerald's birth, in suburban Upper Douglas, was registered in 1893 by his father, a 29 year old doctor's son, who gave his occupation as bank clerk. Two years later, in 1895, Bridson senior described himself as an accountant, but in this year the family fortunes were transformed by the will of an aunt, Eleanor Gelling, who left two farms, Ballachrink and Ballanank, in Malew, in trust to her nephew, who was thus enabled to enjoy the rents of the two farms and appoint their tenants. The total value of her bequests to her nephew was approximately £8000, including the farms valued at £1400 each. How far Thomas John added to his wealth by his accountancy is not known, but by 1911, and probably earlier, he was resident owner of a large mansion, Harcroft (only recently demolished after years as the offices of the Manx Electricity Authority). T.J. Bridson, 'gentleman as he described himself in his will, lived a life of leisured idleness at Harcroft until his death in 1946 at the age of 82, and is not known to have distinguished himself by any public activity; his death elicited no comment and no obituaries in the Manx Press.

Glimpses of Gerald's schooldays at Pocklington, a Yorkshire public school, can be found in the school magazine. He was a pupil there for three years, from 1906 to 1909. He won the fourth form English prize, took part in debates, sang in the annual school concert and played cricket for the third eleven.

In 1909, the year he left school, his mother died. He had an unmarried sister, Beryl, who lived at Harcroft with her father until his death, and two unmarried brothers, both of whom died without issue before 1946. It is tempting to speculate that his socialism was a revolt against the moneyed privilege of his upbringing. In 1942 the Isle of Man Weekly Times drew attention to this, commenting that, although a Labour man, Gerald was from a 'long-established genteel family', his father was 'a man of means', and he (Gerald) had been described as 'a traitor to his class'.

Gerald decided to become a farmer on leaving school. He was intent on 'starting at the bottom' according to James Robinson Corrin who unsuccessfully proposed him for the Board of Agriculture in 1919, and he had wide experience of farming, both as an agricultural labourer and as a tenant farmer. He was tenant of Ballanank, one of his father's farms, before 1914, and his father gave him £600 to start him in farming. Some time after the outbreak of war in 1914 Gerald gave up his farm and offered himself for army service. He was rejected on medical grounds. Later he succeeded in joining the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, and was a lance-corporal at the time of the Armistice in 1918.

In 1919 he was back living at Harcroft, working as a farm bailiff, and was adopted as Labour candidate for the Keys in his home sheading of Middle. In a three-seat constituency the young, red-bearded, Gerald came third out of the five candidates, winning a seat by 29 votes. He had emphasised the need to provide for demobilised soldiers - speaking as one himself - which was to be a lifelong concern of his.

Gerald, at 26, was the youngest member ever in the Keys. He soon acquired a reputation as a maverick. His first independent initiative, in February 1920, was to move a resolution barring conscientious objectors from elected office or public employment on the Island. Although the previous House of Keys had voted to exclude conscientious objectors from the vote for five years, Bridson's proposal was even more draconian. Two of his Labour colleagues spoke against him, and his proposal was defeated by fifteen votes to eight.

Some of his other initiatives, however, especially outside the Keys, appealed more strongly to his party comrades. In 1920, speaking to large open air protest demonstrations about the price of bread, he advocated setting up a cooperative bakery. As a result, he became the first secretary of the Manx Cooperative Society, and was employed by them for £1 a week; his duties included van-driving.

In 1922 he was at one with his Labour colleagues in successfully opposing cuts to the wages paid to men on the Winter Work Schemes for the unemployed. In February 1924 he and Walter Clucas Craine travelled to Lancashire to lobby the new Labour Home Secretary, Arthur Henderson, to help them retain the Island's Rent Restriction Act. Henderson sent them away 'with a flea in their ear', according to Gerald, and said it was none of the British government's business.

During these years, Gerald cut a dash not only in politics but as a sportsman. In 1921 he finished eighth in the Peel to Douglas road run, taking just under an hour and a half. In 1923 he challenged his namesake, the much older Harry Bridson, in the 80 mile Parish Walk, revived for the first time since 1913, and completed the course, unlike his opponent; he took 20 hours 23 minutes, dressed in a waistcoat and white shorts, and puffing on his pipe. In 1924 he repeated the feat, cutting his time to exactly 20 hours.

Perhaps such activities were thought by some to be inappropriate, undignified behaviour by an MHK. In any event, Gerald lost his seat in the 1924 Keys election by over 200 votes. The presidency of the Manx Labour Party for 1925-6 may have been a consolation prize.

Marriage to the practical Annie Watterson brought him the support of a strong-minded wife. During the '30s he showed great political persistence, standing again for the Keys in a by-election in Rushen in 1931, and then on four further occasions trying to regain his seat in Middle, in a general election and three by-elections. He was defeated every time, his best result being in 1937 when he achieved 46% in a two-horse race. The only body to which he was elected was the Lonan Poor Law Committee. He had moved from Malew to Lonan, farmed in various places, and in 1934 was concentrating on poultry.

He volunteered for the Army again in 1939 and served for two years until discharged on grounds of age - he was now about 48. He found employment in the Island as a warden for the Admiralty civil police. In July 1942, in a climate of wartime radicalism, he stood as an Independent Labour candidate in a by-election in Garff. Unfettered by a party line, he again spoke up for the needs of servicemen and women for jobs and housing after the war. More controversially, he called for the nationalisation of Manx agriculture and the setting up of collective farms. He also wanted to see an end of conscription in the Isle of Man, since there was no popular mandate for it, and the annexation of the Island to England in order to enjoy the greater welfare benefits available there through more advanced social legislation. These policies may appear contradictory, but the pro-annexation view was a line of thought now unfamiliar, but endorsed by a number of reformers and socialists in the first half of the 20th century. On a programme of what the Examiner called 'deep red politics', Bridson beat his independent farmer opponent by 666 votes to 590, re-entered the Keys after 18 years' absence, and rejoined the Labour group.

He soon fell out with some party colleagues, fighting hard for a Minimum Wage bill when other Labour members, more trade unionist than socialist, and wishing to maintain differentials, voted against it. In 1944, he left the party again.

In 1946 he contested Garff again on much the same platform as before, on behalf of the Ex-Servicemen's Association, but was swept away by the anti-Labour tide, losing by 206 votes to the newcomer, (later Sir) Henry Charles Kerruish. In the same year, his father died, and Gerald inherited half the estate. He no longer needed to farm for a living, and in effect retired at the age of 53. Gerald had been made a magistrate on his re-election to the Keys, and this was his main public activity during his later years. For a time he served as chairman of the Isle of Man magistrates. Gerald took an initiative in about 1952 which was later to be highly controversial; as chairman of the bench, he encouraged the revival of the use of birching for 'juvenile delinquents', as young offenders were then known.

He loyally supported his wife, Annie Dorothy Bridson, during her years in the Keys from 1951 to 1956. Like her, he enjoyed gardening, wine making, reading, good company and conversation, and cooking, in which he took an equal share, and also acting as an official in the Parish Walk when it was revived in 1960 after an interval of 36 years. They moved into a terraced house in Douglas, as Gerald's health worsened. He died at home from phthisis (TB of the lungs) in September 1967, aged 74, and was buried in Braddan Cemetery after a private funeral service.

Gerald Bridson was a colourful character and a well-liked man, always genial, humorous and friendly. He never hesitated to speak his mind. He had the confidence of his middle class antecedents, but identified himself with the interests of the Manx common people as he saw them.

Biography written by 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.18-21.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 18 February 1893

Date of death: 2 September 1967


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