Charles Fenwick, the son of John Fenwick, a miner, was born in a colliery house in Cramlington, Northumberland, on 5th May, 1850. After attending a colliery school for a few years, at the age of nine he found employment in the local pit. The following year he was working between twelve and thirteen hours a day, underground.
In 1869 he married a local girl, Jane Gardner and over the next few years had two sons. He was active in the Northumberland Miners Association and by 1875 was serving as branch delegate and took part in negotiations with employers. He was also their delegate to the Trade Union Congress in 1884.
In the 1885 General Election Fenwick won the Wansbeck seat for the Liberal Party. Fenwick's biographer, Norman McCord has argued: "When the redistribution of 1884–5 created a new Wansbeck constituency dominated by the mining vote, Fenwick was elected its first MP, and he held the seat with little difficulty for thirty-two years. Despite his moderation, and his open opposition to the concept of a separate Labour Party, he was secretary of the TUC parliamentary committee from 1890 to 1894... Never a socialist, Fenwick steadfastly maintained the principles of Gladstonian Liberalism in his political and union activities, even when this meant conflict with other leaders of the labour movement."
An opponent of socialism, Fenwick rejected the ideas of people like James Keir Hardie, who wanted to establish a political party to represent the interests of trade unionists. These eventually became a minority view and in 1894, he was defeated in the election for the secretaryship of the parliamentary committee. Fenwick refused to join the Independent Labour Party when it was formed in 1893.
In 1907, the Northumberland Miners' Union voted to affiliate to the Labour Party, Fenwick, together with his colleague Thomas Burt, refused to accept this directive and in 1910 General Election they were still elected as members of the Liberal Party. Charles Fenwick held Wansbeck until his death on 20th April 1918.