Thomas McLauchlan (1888-1979): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Thomas McLauchlan (1888-1979): An Introduction

“I do not want people who read this to think I am any different to any other man that has reached the same number of years. This writer is a very ordinary man, who has tried to live his life to the best of his ability. One thing I know is that my name will not appear in the history books. I will be satisfied if my friends know I lived, and tried in a very humble way, to make a living a little better for them and others…”  Thomas McLauchlan in his introduction to his memoir.

The life of Thomas McLauchlan has proven a fascinating read as a student contributing to the Writing Lives project. In this first post, I wish to introduce you all to Mr McLauchlan, where he was born, his childhood as a young lad born into a mining family as well as an insight into his passion for politics and the life he led as a trade unionist, active member of the Labour party, and Methodist lay preacher. From his introduction to his memoir titled “The Life of an Ordinary Man” we see how Thomas had a seemingly humble life, utterly dedicated to the causes he believed in. I hope to discover that this “ordinary man, in fact, led an extraordinary life.

Lithograph by J D Harding of the Hetton colliery which was started in 1819, and opened in 1822.

Once he turned five, Thomas started to attend the local school where he learnt the usual lessons of reading, writing and mathematics. He takes time to recalls various memories from school, painting a colourful picture of the life of the average schoolboy. It was at this time that Thomas mentions joining the school Boy Brigade, which doesn’t sound too different from modern day Scouts. In many ways, Thomas’s schooling days aren’t dissimilar to the average modern-day youngster attending school. Always time for mischief!


Coal Screeners hard at work


Like most boys of his age, Thomas left school in 1901, aged thirteen, and began working at the mine as a coal screener and as time progressed, worked his way up the mining ladder . He would remain in the coal industry for the majority of his working life, later becoming a lecturer at the National Board of Coal School (NCB). Like many working class from around the North East, mining was a fundamental part of life. However, it was not mining alone that occupied Thomas’s working life. He also had an active role in the Labour Party. Becoming the Secretary in 1929, Thomas worked throughout the Second World War within a large local party. He recalls his experience arranging talks, meetings and speakers. He spends time recalling the lessons he learnt whilst canvassing too. “You had to face all sorts of things and be thick-skinned and take the kicks and insults without offence”(27) A valuable lesson perhaps.

Labour Advertisement Poster

Alongside all of this, Thomas was a Methodist Lay Preacher in 1912, a time when religion was still very much a fundamental pillar of society. Thomas recalls his musings, thoughts and ideas for preaching, and travelled far and wide with the Methodist church. He also discusses the way his preaching influenced many others. I think this short chink of the biography tells us a lot about Thomas’s character. He seemed a man committed to helping others’ happiness in one way or another. He seems a wise man, reflecting on his life. In the final stages of the memoir, he intermittently disperses short reflective chapters, musing over his escapades growing old. He seems to write them as though the thoughts have spontaneously flowed from his mind. I found when reading these reflections, I was moved. We are given a small window into the mind of an old man, coming to the end of a colourful and happy, full life. I hope over this process I will learn some lessons myself, with the help of Thomas’s rich account of his life. Over the next few week, I will go into detail outlining the many areas of Thomas’s life, and I very much look forward to sharing this ‘ordinary man’s’ extraordinary story.


1:475 McLAUCHLAN, Thomas, The Life of an Ordinary Man (privately printed, 1979), pp.109. BruneI University Library.

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