‘Come join our commemorative event for Robert Tressell’

4 October 2021

Sean Jarman, Prospect rep at the Office for Nuclear Regulation pays tribute to the socialist author Robert Tressell and invites members to join him in a celebration of the writer’s life at an event in Liverpool on Sunday 31 October.

Robert Tressel Rally 2019

Robert Tressel Rally 2019

I believe that Robert Tressell’s ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ is a key book that all trade unionists should read.

It is important for many reasons.

First, its author, Robert Tressell, was a working man doing a low-paid job in the building trade.

Second, it revealed the harsh conditions for wage earners in Edwardian times.

Third, it showed how precarious was family life when it was dependent on a wage, where illness or a fickle boss could put them into destitution overnight.

Finally, it provided the impetus for working people to join together to press for higher wages and better working conditions.

Robert Tressel bust

Robert Tressel bust

Robert Tressell

Robert Tressell, born Robert Noonan, was born in Dublin in 1870 and spent his adult life in Liverpool, South Africa and Hastings, Sussex.

Noonan adopted the pseudonym for his writing as he feared his socialist views would get him blacklisted from his labouring work. He died a pauper in Liverpool in 1911.

Several publishing houses rejected The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, during his lifetime before it was published posthumously in 1914.

The book, which is about the lives of working people and how they are exploited, would later be cited as an influence on George Orwell.

An unmarked grave

From 1911 until 1977, Tressell lay with 12 others in an unmarked grave in a poor law grave at Walton Park Cemetery.

Then some local people, led by historian Alan O’Toole, searched cemetery records and with the aid of a long tape measure found the site of the grave from reference marker stones.

From then things moved quickly.

Swedish trade unions funded a large thick slab of Swedish granite, which was engraved with a portrait of Tressell, a quote from his book and the names of the 12 others buried with him, who were aged from eight months to 84 years when they died.

The gravestone was ceremonially unveiled in 1977 by Eric Heffer, the local MP, with Jack Jones of the TUC and a host of other dignitaries.

Walton Park Cemetery

As well as my day job, as an inspector for the ONR, I am a trustee of a charity, the Rice Lane Community Association, who are the custodians of Robert Tressell’s final burial site.

Robert Tressel Rememberance 2016

Robert Tressel Rememberance 2016

This is an important responsibility, as there are other notable people buried near him, among the approximately 300,000 who are interred on the site.

These include 36 war graves as well as a Titanic victim, and whole families killed by bombing in the 1941 Blitz of Liverpool.

Until 1934, next to the cemetery, stood the Walton Work House that housed 2,500 people in poverty, with men, women and children strictly segregated.

We like to commemorate the social and historic aspects of the whole site that dates back to the mid-19th century.

Rice Lane Community Association

The Rice Lane Community Association now occupies Walton Park Cemetery, which is part of the association’s City Farm, and the cemetery itself has long been closed for new burials.

When the cemetery was originally set out, it was in the open country outside Liverpool. Since then, Liverpool has grown and swallowed it.

Now we are a bit of countryside in the middle of north Liverpool, the city’s best kept secret!

Today, our 24-acre site includes fields where farm livestock grazes, there are woodland walks, as well as a small play park, and a community Hall in the old mortuary Chapel.

As a charity we are entirely supported by donations from local residents, visitors and the generosity of Trusts. Until COVID struck one of our main sources of incomes came from educational work, both with our farm animals and other aspects of the site.

We are holding a special day to commemorate Robert Tressell’s life and his important book on Sunday 31 October, from 10am to 3.30pm.

Roger Phillips of Radio Merseyside will be reading passages from ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ and the Rickard Sisters who turned the seminal work into a graphic novel are also due to join us.

It is free to attend (as is the whole farm every day of the year) and you are all welcome to join us.

More information: Rice Lane City Farm

Prospect has made a donation to Rice Lane City Farm and is a proud sponsor of the day’s events commemorating Robert Tressell.

two energy workers


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