South Ayrshire’s first Labour MP remembered at 150

Pictured are (left to right) Brian Donohoe MP, Hugh Gaffney (Keir Hardie Society), Rev. Margaret Shuttleworth, Councillor John McDowall, Councillor Billy Crawford, Richard Leonard (Keir Hardie Society)
Pictured are (left to right) Brian Donohoe MP, Hugh Gaffney (Keir Hardie Society), Rev. Margaret Shuttleworth, Councillor John McDowall, Councillor Billy Crawford, Richard Leonard (Keir Hardie Society)

The Keir Hardie Society teamed up with Annbank Parish Church to celebrate the life of James Brown earlier this month to to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.

At the 1918 General Election he became the first ever Labour parliamentary representative for the county when he was returned for the constituency of South Ayrshire. Although born in Whitletts, he lived almost all his life in the mining village of Annbank.

It was at Annbank Church that he taught generations of youngsters in Sunday School until his death at the age of 77 in 1939. He also rose to national prominence by becoming the first commoner to hold the office of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: a post he held on three occasions.

James Brown was warmly remembered during a special morning service at Annbank Parish Church led by Reverend Margaret Shuttleworth.

In her Sermon on Sunday, December 16 Reverend Shuttleworth said: “It is appropriate that we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Brown, not just because he was a great servant of his local community, his people, his party, his church and his faith. But because he was a great servant to all of these things at once and together.”

The service was attended by descendants of Brown who still live locally. It also included James Brown’s favourite hymn, Charles Wesley’s “Oh for a thousand tongues to sing.”

Following the service tributes were paid and flowers laid at the James Brown Memorial in Weston Avenue, Annbank. Leading the tributes was the current Labour MP for Annbank and Central Ayrshire, Brian Donohoe, South Ayrshire Council Labour Leader, John McDowall and ex-miner East Ayrshire councillor Billy Crawford.

Keir Hardie Society Secretary, Richard Leonard, who initiated Sunday’s celebration said: “We were delighted that over a hundred people took part in Sunday’s events. As Faith shaped James Brown’s politics much as it did Keir Hardie’s, it was fitting that the Keir Hardie Society, local Labour representatives in Ayrshire today and the church worked so well together.

“We did not want this important anniversary to pass without marking the outstanding contribution of someone who gave his life to the service of others: in the trade union movement, in Parliament and in the church.

“James Brown always acknowledged the tremendous influence which Keir Hardie had on his life and politics. Both of them left school early and were largely self taught, both had direct experience of the pit and then the Miners Union, which led them into the Independent Labour Party. Both were prominent supporters of Temperance and influenced by the Bible as much as any other book.

“They were not just socialists, but ethical socialists. And both of course made their home in the welcoming communities of the Ayrshire coalfield.

“The James Brown Memorial in the village of Annbank was a fitting place to pay tribute to him. Figures from working class history like James Brown are inspiring. They serve to remind us of the importance of keeping faith in the people and of the value of public service.”

South Ayrshire Councillor John McDowall said: “James Brown was made a Freeman of Girvan in 1931 as well as being Secretary of the Scottish Miners Union. I am delighted that this historic link with Girvan and the trade union and labour movement has been celebrated at this commemoration today.

“I am proud that today, 150 years after the birth of South Ayrshire’s first MP the Labour Group of South Ayrshire Council continue to implement the socialist principles he epitomised, most recently the introduction of the Living Wage for all Council employees.