Frederick William Jowett

Pioneering Socialist, founder member and President of the ILP, Member of Parliament for East Bradford from 1922 to 1924, and 1929 to 1931, Frederick Jowett, attended evening classes
in Weaving and Design at Bradford Technical College during the 1880s.

Frederick William JowettFrederick was born in Bradford in 1864. Although he would later be inspired by the ideas of William Morris, his Socialism stemmed from witnessing the constant struggle of his hardworking parents against poverty and insanitary conditions, which saw 2 of his 7 siblings die in infancy. The family only survived because Fred and the other 2 eldest children started work at the mill where their father was foreman when they were only 8.

Fred was made overlooker when he was 22 and studied Weaving and Design in the evenings at Bradford Technical College which enabled his promotion to manager of William Leach’s mill. But a different sort of leadership beckoned.

Following his support for the Manningham Mills strikers, in 1892 he was instrumental in setting up the Labour Church in Bradford, was the first Socialist to be elected to Bradford council and along with Margaret McMillan, was one of the founder members the Bradford Branch of the Independent Labour Party in 1892. The urgent needs of reforming work on the Council conflicted with his employment and the mill’s owner promised to double his salary if he would give up politics and devote himself to the mill. ILP members contributed to a fund that paid Fred £2 per week to support his family so he could give up his textiles career and devote all his attentions to the necessary work in Bradford for the next 15 years.

In the 1900 General Election Fred was narrowly beaten as an ILP candidate due to his vocal opposition to the Boer War, although as a councillor he made significant improvements locally which became national models, introducing free school meals and council housing in place of the city’s worst slums. Fred was elected MP for Bradford East in 1906 and used his maiden speech to argue that free school meals should be extended throughout the country. JB Priestley was such an admirer of Fred that many years later he wrote “I wish I had known Fred Jowett intimately,” recalling his father’s close acquaintance when Fred set up the country’s first ever school meals at Green Lane School where he was head. Priestley described Fred as a great but underestimated man of great integrity.

He stuck fast by his principles, never clinging to power if it meant compromising his deeply held Socialist beliefs. He was elected Chairman of the ILP in 1909, though he later resigned following a dispute about policy with Ramsay McDonald. He lost his seat at the General Election in 1918, when his opposition to WWI proved unpopular, although he had always supported the troops but argued against the war. He was re-elected in 1922 and became First Commissioner of Works in Britain’s first Labour government in 1924 but lost his seat in the General Election later that year.

His report Socialism in Our Time produced in 1926, called for a national minimum income and full Socialism but this was not endorsed by Ramsay MacDonald, generating a rift. Although Fred was re-elected in 1929 he was not given a cabinet position. Jowett opposed the formation of the National Government and as a result lost his seat in the 1931 General Election. The following year Jowett and the Independent Labour Party broke with the Labour Party.

Fred and the ILP opposed Britain’s involvement in WWII. Fred had devoted so much of his political career to arguing against war but did not live to see the end of hostilities, dying in February 1944.

Copyright picture courtesy of the Telegraph & Argus, Bradford