Bernard Newbold, 1929-2018

Bernard Newbold, who died in February 2018, had a lifetime of activity in the labour movement – in South Wales, Lancashire and for the last forty years in the North East. His first experience was in the Communist Party League of Youth, in Manchester as a teenager. His father Horace, a Party member, was for many years a full-time officer for the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and Secretary of the influential Manchester Trades Council in the 1940s and 1950s. After leaving school at 14, Bernard had gone down the pit after a brief time in an office. He would say that his mother was horrified and though she had never seen the inside of a colliery, she was right to be appalled. His recollection of life below ground in the late 1940s was of complete shock at the scant attention to coal mining safety by management, and sadly the carelessness of many miners themselves. He was fired by this experience to try to do something himself. He became strongly interested in safety, especially dust control. This led to a new job in the NCB Scientific Department after qualifying as a mining engineer. In 1970 this brought him to the North East. He was in the area during the great strikes of 1972, 1974 and 1984-85. He resolved never to cross a picket line without the express permission of the local lodge secretary. This was rarely given, but when it was, he saw those occasions as it as an expression of the miners’ responsibility to keep the plant in safe working order for when there would be a return to work, much in contradiction to the media’s attacks on the union. While a young pitman, Bernard was taken to Sheffield to hear and meet Pablo Picasso. The artist drew his famous symbol, the dove of peace, on a table napkin, which was auctioned for party funds. Bernard also heard Paul Robeson, a lifelong hero, sing in Manchester. He had more excitement as a young man visiting Eastern Europe, as a member of delegations visiting coal mines and factories. He was impressed at the time by the advanced safety measures he saw, beyond those in British workplaces, but later in his own life he came to understand that he had only been shown model pits and factories. His early enthusiasm for Russian communism was lost in the 1950s, after the suppression of the Polish and Hungarian risings. However. Bernard always considered himself to be a Marxist, placing class struggle at the centre of his practice. He joined the Labour Party in the 1950s, and was elected to North Tyneside Council in the 1970s though he was not comfortable with what he saw as the right-wing policies of the local leadership. He chaired the Housing Committee. He had a strong belief in public housing and a mission to keep private developers at bay. This, he admitted, was a very difficult task, especially after the victory of Margaret Thatcher. He and his life companion, his wife Jean whom he married in 1955, were both members of NELHS. Both attended regularly, except when they were on their world travels, which took place several times and included South Africa, where they met Desmond Tutu and visited Robben Island and Nelson Mandela’s cell. In the last few years Bernard was plagued by deafness and ultimately blindness which to his great frustration restricted his movements and closed down his formidable life of activity.

This appreciation was first published in North East History Volume 50, 2019