William Ferrier: Steelworker and trade unionist who served Labour in Scotland for decades

For 48 years, William Ferrier worked in the same foundry – the Atlas in Armadale, West Lothian. The Atlas was a rather special steel foundry. It produced much of the heavy armour for the fleet at the Battle of Jutland, and was a vital producer of steel and specialist iron for the navy and tanks in World War Two. Its kilns were the biggest in Britain and Ferrier was the influential leader of a loyal workforce over four decades.

A very political person, bitterly opposed to fascism, a fervent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, he was disappointed to be rejected by the navy on the grounds that he must remain in his reserved occupation as a steel moulder. He became, in lieu, a most active member of the home guard.

For many years, Ferrier was the right-hand man in Scotland of Willie (later Sir William) Simpson, who had gone from being secretary of the foundry workers in Scotland to the general secretariatship of the British amalgamated union of foundry workers based in Manchester. Simpson was contemporaneously immersed in the national affairs of the Labour Party, culminating in the party chairmanship at the critical national conference of 1973, which laid the basis of Harold Wilson's unexpected victory in the general election of February 1974.

William Ferrier was born into a steel family who lost many members during the First World War. It was this, perhaps, that engendered his deep passion on political issues of peace and war. He was educated at Armadale Primary School, where there was a particularly fierce old-fashioned Scottish dominie to whom Ferrier was retrospectively grateful, and Armadale Junior Secondary School. Becoming an apprentice at the Atlas steel factory, he was to remain there for nearly half a century.

In 1962 John Taylor, then Labour Deputy Chief Whip, unexpectedly died after a visit to Tanganyika, as Tanzania then was. There was a vacancy in the West Lothian constituency. On account of his high personal standing and support throughout the trade union movement, where the foundrymen and the miners were on good terms with each other, Ferrier might well have romped home. As it was he came fifth during a selection conference in which I squeezed in as Labour's candidate.

The reason for Ferrier's vote – fifth out of sixth, and second out of the contest – was very unfair. Ferrier had been Provost of Armadale in the mid-1950s and as a councillor was associated with Armadale Town Council. However, in 1961, unknown to him, the Provost and the chief executive had authorised the sale of the town piano for a crate of whisky. This was heaven's gift to the Scottish press. Delegates of the selection conference simply shook their heads and said that if they had Willie Ferrier as a candidate the whole of Scotland would be laughing at them.

It is a testimony to Ferrier's loyalty to the Labour Party that during the subsequent by-election no unsuccessful candidate at the selection conference could have given me more support – and one of my memories of him in the 1974 elections was how he would take two buses in order to get to a meeting to speak for me, spluttering with cold when I drove him home at the end of the night. He was the most generous of men.

In his work in the trade union, on the health clause and on the regional council, he campaigned tirelessly to help the victims of silicosis, the particular disease which afflicted pattern makers and steel moulders, combined with the threat of emphysema, pneumoconiosis and chronic bronchitis.

Ferrier was a talented cornet player and promoted musical education throughout his public life. He would take his daughter Muriel to cornet practice twice a week, and with the help of Willie Simpson, who found her digs in Manchester, encouraged her successful musical education.

Tam Dalyell



William Ferrier, steel foundryman, trade union official and politician: born Armadale, West Lothian 4 June 1913; Atlas steel foundry 1930-78, Provost of Armadale 1954-1956; married Jane McLean (died 1999; one daughter); died Aberdeen 11 December 2009.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week