Posts Tagged ‘ragged trousered philanthropists’

We recently featured a post about Robert Tressell, author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, who died in the old Liverpool Infirmary and was buried as a pauper. During this centenary year of his death Liverpool sees twelve months of activities around the theme of City of Radicals. In our group we have, over the past  year, looked at some of the major radical figures in Liverpool’s history and many of the historical events that will receive coverage in 2011. The City Council has published some details of what we can look forward to:

Organisations across the city will host a series of events to mark a century of cultural, social and political radicalism in Liverpool.

And the city council will be kicking-off the celebrations by marking the centenary of Robert Tressell’s death – one of the great socialist figures of the twentieth century, who inspired generations with his novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Tressell, born Robert Noonan, died in Liverpool on 3 February 1911 when he and his daughter were en-route to Canada.  He was buried in a cemetery in Walton, which is today on the same site as Rice Lane City Farm.

Working with the Bluecoat, Liverpool City Council has commissioned prestigious artist David Jacques, shortlisted for this year’s Northern Art Prize, to produce artwork which will reflect Tressell’s importance.  David has received critical acclaim for his work around trade union and memorial banners and will draw on twentieth century posters, adverts and press cuttings which focus on industrial struggles.

As part of the anniversary, a banner showcasing the work will be erected on the side of a prominent terrace of listed buildings on Dale Street.  The banner will also help in protecting the external façade of the terrace as well as improving its appearance.

David said: “Tressell is often seen as a rite of passage if you’re in any way involved with politics of a Leftist slant.

“The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was significant for me because it addressed economics among other things and it did this in an accessible way, by weaving the subject into a story.  For the most part its analysis still stands up and it’s a useful point of reference given the economic crisis we’re living through now.”

Other plans to honour Tressell include a series of special events on the 3 February including a wreath laying at the Tressell plaque located at the former Liverpool Infirmary, a ceremony at his graveside and an evening at the Town Hall where the impact of Tressell will be debated.

Public readings of the book will take place in Dovecot, Walton, Sefton Park and Toxteth libraries, and in March, the John Moores University Roscoe Lecture Series will dedicate a session to the author.

Liverpool  city council’s cabinet member for culture and tourism, Councillor Wendy Simon, said:  “The significance of Tressell’s book cannot be underestimated and has been described as one of the greatest English novels which highlights class conflicts.

“As he’s buried in Liverpool it’s important the city marks his cultural contribution.  The planned series of events will be thought-provoking and bring this influential character to the attention of the next generation who will be able to get an insight into life 100 years ago.

“And the Tressell events just mark the beginning of an exciting year which will look at Liverpool’s century of radicalism, including workers’ uprisings and struggles.”

Visit the Council website for more. The City of Radicals theme runs alongside the Year of Social Justice which was referred to here.



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Ian from the group is doing work on the old Liverpool workhouses leading up to the building of the new Royal Liverpool Hospital. On his travels he came across the plaque shown here on the wall of the old redbrick infirmary. “Tressell” was the pseudonym of Robert Noonan, who died a pauper in the hospital. Only after repeated efforts by his sister did his famous book find a publisher. Set in a fictional “Mugsborough” but based on Hastings and the painting and decorating jobs he worked in, the philanthropy of the ragged trousered refers to the generosity with which they give so much to the rich while remaining poor themselves. The Liverpool actor Ricky Tomlinson described it as a book that changed his life: he was given it while serving a prison sentence in the 1970s after taking part in a picket dispute on a building site. A play version of the novel was shown in Liverpool earlier this year, and Tomlinson talks about it here. Copies of the original text have been displayed in Liverpool’s Central Library, currently undergoing rebuilding. By the way, the name “Tressell” was chosen to resemble the trestles used by painters and decorators. You can read an extract from the novel below.


The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

by Robert Tressell



Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.’


‘Prove it,’ said Crass.


Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.


‘All right,’ he replied. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’ (more…)

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