Skip to main content

Early life

Sir Joseph Cowen (senior)

'Newcastle-upon-Tyne', Colour lithograph by Coide, 1872 © Palace of Westminster Collection, WOA 2653

Joseph Cowen was born in Blaydon-on-Tyne in County Durham on 9th July 1829. He was born into a large family containing four other sons and one daughter. His father, Joseph Cowen senior, was a coal owner and firebrick and clay retort manufacturer. Cowen senior was elected as a radical MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1865, and would continue to serve this constituency until his death in 1873.

What was the Cowen family's background?

The Cowen family had traditionally been workers in local factories. Joseph Cowen junior's grandfather established his own factory at Blaydon Burn, which was passed down to Sir Joseph Cowen senior and, later, Joseph Cowen junior. At the time of Cowen junior's birth, the Cowen family were well on the way to possessing the capital, income and property that would enable them to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle.

What exposure to politics did Cowen junior have as a young man?

Cowen junior was exposed to working class politics and communities frequently as a young man. His father, Cowen senior, was involved with the Northern Political Union, which is often cited as having had a pivotal role in the passing of the Great Reform Act (1832). Through Cowen senior, Cowen junior experienced marches, protests and strikes including the Durham miners' strike of 1844.

Latest tweets


De Montfort project

The De Montfort Project is an outreach projectrun by the Parliamentary Archiveswhichexplores the life and impact of local MPs and Peers on both their local area and at Parliament.

Find out more