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William Philip Clucas

Epithet: Labour leader and MHK (1856-1933)

Record type: Biographies

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

‘Everything of value that has ever been produced in this world has been the creation of a passionate persistent minority. Here I am for the fourth round.’

William Clucas wrote these words in his election manifesto in 1924. At the age of 68 he was elected to the House of Keys as the third member for Glenfaba after three previous unsuccessful attempts, in 1913, 1917 and 1919.

Born and brought up in Peel, Clucas spent his early working years as a fisherman, and became a skipper. In his mid-20s he left the Island, embarked on a career in the Liverpool police force which lasted from 1882 until 1908, and attained the rank of first-class sergeant. He was said to be a courageous policeman, and prominent in movements for better conditions for the police. In 1908 he gave evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons in favour of all policemen having the right to one day off a week. His years in Liverpool laid the foundations of his socialism. His radical leanings hampered his promotion prospects and may have influenced his decision to resign, with a police pension, at the age of 52.

Returning to Peel in 1908, he was now free to pursue his political, social and religious interests. He was a staunch Methodist lay preacher, teetotaller, member of the Star of Mona Rechabite Tent and a sabbatarian, but it was said that he rather resented church authority, and his socialism also distinguished him. By 1913, when he first stood for the Keys, he had attracted the unfavourable attention of Colonel Henry William Madoc, the Island’s Chief Constable, who, clearly suspicious of a radical ex-policeman, recorded in his official diary, ‘I am writing to Liverpool about him to see on what terms he holds his pension’.

During World War I Clucas became prominent as an open-air speaker to large meetings, especially in the marketplace of Peel where he was now an elected town commissioner. In January 1916 he addressed a meeting of 500 people, arguing against conscription in the Isle of Man unless approved by Tynwald; he deplored the draining of youth from the Isle of Man, which he argued was especially unfair because old people in the Island, unlike those in England, had as yet no old age pensions to support them. That July he was a speaker at the Tynwald Day demonstration organised by Samuel Norris, again highlighting with down-to-earth humour inequalities of wealth in the Island, the absence of income tax and the need for pensions, as well as attacking the Governor, Lord Raglan, and demanding his resignation. He spoke in similar vein at open-air meetings on the shore at Douglas and at the meeting held in October to protest against Norris’s imprisonment.

During 1917 his energies were chiefly devoted to helping Alfred James Teare of Douglas and his Peel comrade Christopher Robert Shimmin to spread the gospel of trade unionism in Peel and throughout the Island, recruiting support for the new Manx branch of the Workers’ Union. As the oldest Manx labour leader, it was appropriate that at the founding conference of the Manx Labour Party in September 1918, Clucas was elected as the first chairman of the new party. In the same year he was also chairman of the Peel Commissioners.

The postwar years. Especially until 1926, were years of hope for socialists in the Isle of Man, as in Britain, and despite his age Clucas’s efforts did not slacken. He continued as chairman of the Peel Workers’ Union branch until his death, remained an active public speaker for the union, and in 1923 was nominated as a Workers’ Union delegate to the TUC, an election he failed to win by only a narrow margin although he was virtually unknown to unionists in England. His strong identification with his native town and Island did not exclude an interest in British and world politics. In 1920 he prophesied revolution and a British general strike if the grievances of coal miners were not remedied; he took a particular interest in the miners, whom he strongly supported, especially in 1926 when he declared in the Keys that he would oppose any measures taken against the General Strike in Britain.

He was fond of travel and an enthusiast for emigration to Australia and, especially, Canada, where two of his daughters lived for a time, one of them marrying a Canadian. He visited Canada in 1926 and 1927, and was moved on by the police in Sudbury, Ontario, when addressing an open air meeting on the subject of health and unemployment in the British Isles.

Despite his reputation as a left-wing firebrand, Clucas proved to be a practical and capable politician. He was four times chairman of the Peel Commissioners, a long-standing member of the Peel Licensing Court, and a JP. In 1920 he was elected as one of the first directors of the Manx National Health Insurance Society, representing Peel, and became a founder member of the management committee of the Manx Cooperative Society, both positions he retained until his death.

Elected to the Keys in 1924, and re-elected in 1929, he was at various times a member of the Agriculture, Forestry, Harbour and Local Government Boards, and of the Governor’s Consultative Committee. With his bluff geniality and independence of mind, he was popular with his fellow legislators. Samuel Norris described him as ‘one of the hardest hitters and breeziest socialists in the Manx Legislature’.

Clucas became seriously ill in the summer of 1933, but remained in good spirits and with high hopes of recovery until shortly before his death. He was buried at Peel Cemetery on 1st August, the large funeral being well attended by the people of Peel and by members of the labour movement from all over the Island. His estate, including his house at 52 Glenfaba Road, was valued at £400. He left his fruit orchard, poultry run and furniture to his sister Margaret, who was his executor, his shares in the Manx Cooperative Society and his library of books to his two grandsons William and Clucas Merritt, and everything else to his two surviving daughters Alice Merritt and May Harrison.

The ’passionate and persistent’ Manxman made a substantial contribution to the great social and political changes which occurred in the Island during and after World War I. In so doing, he reached the crowning fulfilment of his life in his 60s and 70s.

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.95-7.)

Culture Vannin


Nationality: Manx

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1856

Date of death: 29 July 1933


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