ARTHUR HENDERSON'S Nobel Peace Prize has been stolen from the Guild Hall in Newcastle. Henderson is one of my heroes: the Barnard Castle MP and Darlington mayor who became the first member of the Labour Party to sit in a British Cabinet.

In 1998, I helped open part of a nursing home in Cockerton that bore Henderson's name. Here's the piece I wrote at the time about his life:


FOR the past five years, Echo Memories has been wondering why it is that South Durham in general, and Darlington in particular, does not remember one of its most famous political sons.

From tomorrow, the oversight will be put right. Arthur Henderson's name will be attached to a nursing home in Cockerton.

Arthur - or "Uncle Arthur" as he was familiarly known - deserves it. He was the town's mayor in 1903 to 1904, MP for Barnard Castle from 1903 to 1918, the first Labour minister to become a Cabinet member in 1916, co-author of the Labour constitution, including the infamous Clause IV in 1918, Foreign Secretary in 1924 and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1934.

He was also never far from controversy.

Henderson was born in Glasgow in 1863, but moved with his parents to Newcastle when he was aged about eight. There he became an apprentice moulder with Robert Stephenson and Company, a job he left in 1892, because his interest in industrial relations and trades unions had become full-time.

In 1895 he was appointed agent for the Liberal MP for Barnard Castle, Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease. The following year he moved to Clifton Road, Darlington, to be nearer the constituency, which took in all of Teesdale and Weardale.

This meant he had to relinquish his seat on Newcastle City Council, but he made up for it by being elected to Darlington Council in 1898. In 1903, he became mayor. His year in office is best remembered by the opening of the town's electric tram system, with his wife driving the first tram.

It was a momentous year in Arthur's career. His employer, Sir Joseph, died from stress brought on by the collapse of the banking arm of his famous family's many firms. That collapse marked the beginning of the end for the Pease dynasty.

There was now a Parliamentary opening for Henderson. From a distance of nearly a century, it is difficult to know how open Arthur was about his political leanings. The Barnard Castle Liberals, thinking he was one of them, initially asked him to be their candidate, even though he sat on Darlington Council not as a Liberal, but as a "Progressive".

A "conference of elected workers" in the two dales also invited him to stand, and there is little doubt that his leanings were towards them. He had been involved with the fledgling trades unions for 20 years as leader of the North-East branch of the Friendly Society of Ironfounders. The society had decided it would like an MP to argue its case in the Commons and it, too, asked Henderson to stand for a seat.

Henderson was also coming to the end of a struggle with his conscience. In 1895, when he had teamed up with Sir Joseph, he had undoubtedly been a Liberal. But by 1903 he believed that the political future of the working man lay away from the established interests of people like the Peases.

His coming out as a Labour man at the 1903 by-election made it a bitter contest, especially as his main opponent was the Conservative Colonel WL Vane, whose brother was Lord Barnard of Raby Castle, the dominator of the dale.

It was a very tight, three-cornered fight, and Henderson scraped through with a majority of 47. The result was not well greeted in the more Conservative Barnard Castle, with most of Henderson's support coming from the working-class of Weardale.

In the 1906 General Election, Uncle Arthur did rather better, beating his sole challenger, a Unionist called Captain Eustace Bell, by 1,652 votes. Feeling secure, he decided it was time to leave Clifton Road, Darlington, for London.

"I do not think I will forget my ten years in Darlington," he told a presentation evening organised by the Darlington Temperance Society, of which he was vice-president. "No matter how long I live, I will always look back upon them as being a most interesting and eventful part of my life." He became leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a was a hugely influential organiser in the infant movement. When the First World War broke out he was Labour's most senior politician, and so was asked to join Herbert Asquith's National Coalition, which put aside party differences to pursue the war. Ironically, he became chairman of the Board of Education, replacing Joseph Albert Pease - Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease's son.

But Henderson's time in government was short-lived. In August 1917, the Labour Conference, of which he was chairman, voted with his backing to send delegates to the Stockholm Conference. This was an unofficial meeting of socialist workers, including Germans, to negotiate a peace.

The decision threw Henderson into immediate conflict with his colleagues in the War Cabinet and the new Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, who informed the Barnard Castle MP of his dismissal through the columns of the press.

A very angry debate raged in the House of Commons. Henderson claimed he was the victim of a "shameful attack", and said: "It would be impossible to find a precedent in all the history of ministerial resignations for the conduct pursued by the Prime Minister." Lloyd George replied that it would be impossible to have in his Cabinet someone who was encouraged British subjects to break the law by meeting with the enemy in wartime. He said: "When peace comes to be made, it must be made by the nation as a whole." In 1918, Henderson left Barnard Castle for a seat more in tune with the socialist thinking of the Labour Party he was designing. He found it first in Widnes, then Newcastle, and finally Burnley.

But, it was not just in Britain that he was working to forward his principles. He became increasingly internationalist in his outlook - one of the reasons he was appointed Foreign Secretary by his great friend, Ramsay MacDonald, in Labour's first government in 1924. That government lasted just ten months.

Henderson took over from MacDonald as Labour leader for a couple years in the early 1930s and devoted his energies to pursuing the one thing he thought would help the workers most: peace. For his international efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize months before his death in 1935.

His legacy was immense, internationally, nationally and locally. But until now, all Darlington has had to show for this man who shaped the political party that became a major force in 20th Century Britain was a street named after him near where his family lived in Clifton Road.