AS today’s politicians fail abysmally to cover themselves in glory – and suffer the electorate’s wrath in consequence – these early activists of a very different time were full of hope and high expectation that there were better times ahead and that their party could make a difference.

The Independent Labour Party, founded in Bradford in 1893, was a British political party of the left, established following dissatisfaction with the Liberals over their apparent reluctance to get behind working-class candidates in the elections. The Scotsman Keir Hardie became the ILP’s first leader and its first MP; in Cleator Moor, Keir Hardie Avenue has been named after him since 1942.

If some of your ancestors were early Labour activists around these parts then they may be in this picture. It was of a gathering of West Cumbrians who supported the ILP’s aims and was taken, we think in Whitehaven, in the 1930s.

Among those pictured is Tom Stephenson of Moresby (centre front with a child, Elsie, on his knee) who was selected as the ILP candidate for Whitehaven at the 1935 general election. Though he took only 3.3 per cent of the votes cast, he remained loyal to the ILP and would focus his work thereafter on the unions and the Labour movement. He was chosen as the north-east representative on the ILP’s National Council.

Stephenson (1895-1962) had been born at Moresby and left school at 14 to follow his father down Walkmill pit. He would become active in the Cumberland Miners’ Association (CMA) rising to prominence during a lock-out of miners in 1921. He was also a leading figure in a 15-week strike in 1923 and during the general strike of 1926 he called for nationalisation of the mines. He was sentenced to one month hard labour after being convicted of intimidating strike-breakers.

He won a seat for Labour on Whitehaven Borough Council in 1923 and served as the general secretary of the CMA between 1939 and 1960, succeeded by Maurice Rowe, then Harry Hanlon, and lastly William S Proud. Stephenson died in 1962.

The Cumberland Miners’ Association was originally the West Cumberland Miners’ Association, founded in 1872 with the aim of an eight-hour day and improved safety for its members. ‘West’ was dropped from its title in 1906 and by 1910 it had 6,326 members and its executive was dominated by members of the ILP.

In July 1873, the West Cumberland Miners’ Association held its own miners’ gala at Maryport with around 12,000 people attending, 2,000 of them union members. It was a big day out with a large marquee erected for picnicking, a platform for the various speakers and a large procession marching through the streets to the music of local bands, which included Wigton Rifle Band, Cockermouth Mechanics Band, the Buffalo Ironworks Band (Dearham), Maryport and Ellenborough Brass Bands, Seaton Brass Band and the band from Wyndam Row (Broughton).

Many of the lodges carried large colourful banners aloft which bore inscriptions such as “Have faith in one another” and “Unite to assist”. Afterwards sports events were held, with £4 and a silver cup to win for the men’s race and £1 and a cup for the youth’s race.

In 1945 the CMA became the Cumberland Area of the National Union of Mineworkers, the NUM, and by the 1970s it was the smallest area of the union.

By the end of the national miners’ strike in 1985 it had only 150 members and only one pit remained in the Cumberland Area, Haig.

Among those alongside Tom Stephenson in this picture are Billie Bennett of Parkside, Ned Murray of Whitehaven, Alf Senogles of Cleator Moor and Bill Boroughs of Hensingham, William Rowe of Workington, S Taylor of Kells, Mrs Horsley of Lamplugh, Mrs Dodds of Carlisle, Mr Latimer of Kells, Mrs Johnson of Egremont, Joe Hamill of Cleator Moor, J Morris of Whitehaven, Mrs MacLean of Egremont, S Stephenson and Miss L Stephenson of Moresby, Miss V Benson of Broughton, Mrs McLean, Kells, Mr McAleavy and J Carvill of Kells, Bert Johnston, Mr Stewart of Cleator Moor, Mrs Murray of Whitehaven, Archie Rowe of Workington and Mrs Parkin.