A WIRRAL sexton gravedigger has launched an appeal to raise cash for a new headstone to mark the burial place of an inspirational campaigner for dock workers' rights.

Dad-of-one Luke Agnew, 32, from Wallasey, works in Flaybrick Memorial Gardens and tends to thousands of graves within its 30 acre area.

A keen history lover, Luke has unearthed many stories of the people buried there however he recently came across the story of Edward McHugh.

Luke is now launching an appeal to honour and mark Edward's final resting place as his original headstone was damaged during an air raid in World War II.

Born in County Tyrone in 1853, Edward was the co-founder of the National Union of Dock Labourers and a radical activist in the Labour and trade union movements.

He led long and bitter dock strikes in Glasgow and Liverpool defending exploitation of the poorly-paid and badly treated workers before he settled in Birkenhead.


(Left) Luke by the unmarked grave of Edward McHugh. (Right) Victorian social reformer and trade unionist Edward McHugh

In the mid 1890s, Edward spent time in New York where he organised the American Longshoreman's Union and also went to Australia and New Zealand to help unionise the dock workers there.

He became active in fighting for peoples’ rights with the Irish Land League and as secretary of the Glasgow branch he led a mission to help Scottish crofters being evicted in the Highland Clearances.

He died in 1915 at the age of 62, and was buried literally overlooking Liverpool Bay and the docks. The dock workers’ union of his time eventually became part of the Transport and General Workers’ Union which is part of Unite the Union.

Luke is also the Unite workplace representative at Flaybrick and became fascinated by Edward's story, he said: “It literally is just a patch of grass.

"It would be fantastic to see it restored with a headstone and for such a great man to be remembered properly."

There will be a special event to mark the appeal launch at Unite the Union’s headquarters Jack Jones House in Liverpool on Friday, November 16 at 5.30pm.

An expert on Edward's life Helsinki-based Andrew Newby will also attend the event.

Luke told the Globe: "What I love most is locating plots for the many visitors on site.

"The maps and layout of Flaybrick are confusing at best, and non-existent in the worst cases.

"I’ve made a personal pact to help anyone who asks, regardless of how inconvenient it may be. I also instruct the staff to do the same.

"It can make a great impact when you can link somebody to a forgotten patch of grass containing their own family’s struggle or story."