Keir Hardie was the son of Mary Kerr, a Scottish farm servant. The father was probably William Aitken, a miner from Holytown. However Mary brought him up alone until she met David Hardie, a ship's carpenter, whom she married in 1859.
Not only was Hardie illegitimate however. He was also illiterate. He was working as a baker's delivery boy by the age of 8 and down the mines as a trapper -opening and closing doors- by the age of 10. It was only in his teens that, with his mother's support, he went to night school and eventually learnt to read.
He helped establish a union at his colliery and in 1880 helped the first ever strike of Lanarkshire miners. This got him the sack and he moved to Old Cumnock to work on the local paper. His union work continued however and he rose to become Secretary of the Scottish Miners' Federation.
He was also increasingly politicised. In 1888 he stood as an Independent Labour candidate in Mid Lanark. He came bottom of the poll but in 1892 he won at West Ham South. The ILP was formed -with Hardie as Chair- in Bradford the following year. And Hardie was soon making his mark in the House.
For a start he wore not a top hat and tails but rather a cloth cap/deerstalker and tweed suit. He argued for radical policies including genuine Home Rule for Ireland, Scotland and Wales. But most notorious of all was the incident in June 1894 when he suggested that a message of condolence be sent to the relatives of 251 coal miners killed by an explosion near Pontypridd and that it be added to an address of congratulations being sent regarding the birth of a royal heir. The House bayed for his blood.
He lost his seat in 1895 but he won Merthyr Tydfil in 1900 -the year the Labour Representation Committee was formed. Labour went on to win 29 seats in 1906 and Hardie had two brief unhappy periods as Leader of the ILP.
He died in 1915 devastated by support for World War One -he had wanted to organise a General Strike against it.