Robert Tressell Society Newsletter  – EDITION THREE , AUGUST 2000.


The Second Robert Tressell Event 27th - 28th May 2000. click
And so to 2001! click
And Now For Something Completely Different. click
News of Meek. click
Goodnight and Farewell. click

This, the third edition of the Newsletter opens with the news that the Second Robert Tressell  Event was a great success and has inspired the Organising Committee enough to have  already started arranging next years' Festival. More news of this year's activities and next years' plans later. Robert Tressell seems to be popping up all over the place at the moment, most recently on a Saturday evening programme on ITV about the actor Ricky Tomlinson  (Jim in the Royle Family). Ricky is well known as a fan of the book and during this edition of "Stars and Their Lives" he related the story of being introduced to The Ragged Trousered  Philanthropists" by the prison Governor during his stay at Her Majesty's Pleasure for actions  relating to Industrial Action. Ricky has a collection of copies of the book signed by a selection of celebrities, the most recent having been presented to him on the night – one signed by the cast of the Royle Family.

On the subject of signed copies, we have raffle tickets for our own draw to win the edition signed by the 1997 Cabinet; please return any stubs and money to the usual  address as soon as possible as the date for the draw is drawing very close. We really need most of them back by the 15th September at the very latest. However, because the Labour  Party Conference is during the last week in September we will accept stubs back up until the morning of the 29th. If you are going along to Conference and are willing to sell tickets please contact us on the usual number. All the money raised will go towards Projects for the forthcoming year, including the Arts event we hope to hold with local schools. If by chance you would like more tickets to sell, please do not hesitate to ring Dee or Susannah on 01424 460735 and we will send some on to you. If there is no answer just leave your name and address on the answer phone and how many books you would like.

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Trevor Hopper's "Tressell's Hastings" also gets a review in the latest edition of the Journal of the Irish Labour History Society. We have already had some contact with the ILHS and hopefully a more detailed article about our work will be put together for publication in their Journal at some point in the near future. It would be wonderful if we could make some closer contact with the Dublin end of Tressell's story.

The beautiful Robert Tressell badges we have had made by Just Badges are selling like hot cakes, at £3 each; we have a few left if you are interested - contact Dee or Susannah. If you are generally interested in badges of this nature do get in touch with John Breen, from Simply Badges, on 020 8300 5352 who has a large selection for sale, including Tolpuddle Martyrs and Peterloo Massacre commemorations. We are currently talking to John about the design for a special Robert Tressell commemorative presentation badge. We hope that this may be ready in time for next years Event. Particular thanks are due to John who kindly agreed to sell our Tressell badges for us at the Tolpuddle Festival; due to his sterling work £58 was raised whilst certain members of the Committee lolled in the sunshine next to the GMB Beer Tent! It has to be said, if you have never been to the Tolpuddle Festival it is well worth attending, it is invariably hot and it is an opportunity to hear some wonderful speakers and some excellent music. It is also a great chance to meet up with old friends and to make new contacts. It is generally on the third Sunday of July but contact the TUC for more details closer to the time.

The Second Robert Tressell Event 27th _-28th May 2000.  top of the page

Alas, one of the Committee was feeling less than enthusiastic about the great event at 5.30am on the 27th May when she dragged herself towards the bath in preparation for the first day of the Festival! I can only admit that this was due to your correspondent having spent the previous day at one of her oldest friends weddings in London and perhaps over-indulging a little in the freely flowing wine and having had to get the last train home to Hastings!

Strangely enough however, once the first three bottles of Lucozade kicked in I started to feel really quite human again. Our Event was opened by the new Mayor of Hastings, Jackie Dowling and Richard Stevens the Leader of Hastings Borough Council and himself a former painter and decorator. 

Our keynote speaker, John Edmonds, General Secretary of the GMB then took to the stage. John is an imposing figure both physically and vocally and he spoke passionately about the importance of the social responsibility of the employer to the employee. He spoke with particular reference to Rover and to Marks and Spencer and related the experiences of workers in the last decade of the Twentieth Century to that of the workers that Tressell describes in the first decade of the same Century. He made the point eloquently that in many ways we have not moved on that far really and what Tressell was fighting for then is just as relevant now. We hope that John is willing to come back and speak at another of our events in the future as he always leaves his audience with so much to think about and hopefully so much to go away with and act upon. Indeed his comments were still being ardently discussed in the pub that evening – always a sign that a speech was inspiring and thought provoking!

We rounded the morning off with the first of our now traditional walks, this one led by Trevor Hopper. Now the strange thing about all the walks during the weekend was that up until about five minutes before each of them started the sky was either a most unsavoury grey colour or the heavens were actually opening. As soon as each of the walks started it stopped raining and the sun came out! We can only put this down to divine intervention or the fact that the weather Gods are also fans of RTP! With this sort of luck we may even try and rerun the Great Socialist Picnic on the West Hill next year! (For those of you that don't know, we had planned this event for last year but at the appointed time a positive typhoon let rip over Hastings so in the interests of staying dry we abandoned the idea!)

Following the sterling efforts of the walkers and a brief halt for lunch we introduced John Nettleton to the audience. John is from Liverpool and is the man principally responsible for the raising of a gravestone on the last resting place of Robert Noonan and other former inmates of the Workhouse in which he died. When John was asked to speak about education he said that he doubted that he had much to say that anyone would want to listen to – how wrong he was. The room fell silent and stayed completely entranced while John spoke about what a real political education is and how Tressell and his book had travelled with him throughout his political education and his political journey around the world.

John had also managed to completely stun us all earlier in the day by appearing with a first edition of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists which has been in his safe keeping for a number of years. John had very generously decided that this valuable piece of history belonged in Hastings with Fred Ball's archive. If you have access to the Internet do pay the site a visit where Ion has placed a selection of pictures of both the book and the presentation of it to the Museum.

Following John's talk we were once again treated to a talk by Clive Griggs from the University of Brighton. Clive is a mine of information about working class and labour history, particularly in the Sussex area and on this occasion he spoke in fascinating detail about working class education in Sussex during the period that Noonan was living here. Clive is also responsible for the entry on Tressell in the Dictionary of Labour Biography – this is a very large and really rather expensive tome so if you want to have a look at Clive's entry you will probably have to contact your local library. Having read the piece however it is well worth seeking this out.

Once again, the weather threatened to intervene in our final event of Saturday, Steve Peak's guided history of Hastings from the wonderful vantage - point of Ladies Parlour on the top of the West Hill. With marvellous luck once again though the weather cleared just before the start and despite the wind a fascinating time was had by all.

As we explained in the last Newsletter we decided not to have a formal social event this year so instead we were made very welcome at the FILO pub in the heart of the Hastings Old Town. I can reassure readers who were not able to attend that a very good night was had by all! The committee are all very grateful to Mike Bigg for making us so welcome, Mike is a Labour Councillor and a stalwart supporter of the Tressell ventures as well as being the landlord of by far the finest pub in Sussex!

Sunday morning broke bright and early – a darn sight too early in the view of your correspondent! This very special morning at the museum was always going to be one of the highlights of the weekend as it is such a rare event for the complete Fred Ball archive to be opened to the public, but we really had no idea exactly how well attended and thrilling it would be. We were particularly happy to welcome two of Fred Ball's daughters to this event, which commemorated the memory of both these two remarkable men. Kathy Walling of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery and her dedicated staff presented a truly wonderful display, many of the things on display are very old and fragile and it was a wonderful privilege to be able to view them at such close quarters. The morning was rounded off with a marvellous performance by a group of young actors from Brighton, who entertained us all extremely well with dramatised excerpts from the book. I think that anyone who was present would agree that they really captured the spirit of the book, particularly the humour – this is an area of Tressell's masterpiece that is often overlooked, some of it is truly witty with a wealth of irony. Our actors interpreted the text in a very exciting and innovative way and impressed us all so much that we have invited them to come back next year. Quite whether it will be a full performance of the play or some different excerpts we don't know yet but we will let you know when things are more definite.

Conveniently when our morning in the Museum was complete, the next walk, with Maire McQueeney commenced at Warrior Square station, covering the St Leonards sites of interest. In particular the London Road area is of great appeal at this end of the town as it is where Noonan spent so much of his time in this area and where Michael Foster MP unveiled a plaque during the 1999 Event.

Our final speaker for the weekend was Cllr Jeremy Birch, Lead Councillor for Education on East Sussex County Council who talked at length about the comparisons between education in East Sussex at the turn of the last Century and now at the beginning of the new Century. We had a great number of teachers and parents present so a lively discussion ensued!

The weekend was completed with a brief discussion about future plans and ideas – we would be delighted if any of you have any bright ideas or would like to become more involved in the planning for future events. We are led by yourselves as to what you would like us to do, we have lots of ideas but we would love even more. Do contact us if you have a flash of inspiration!

All in all we were delighted with the way the weekend went; most people that came to join us seemed to enjoy it and lots of good ideas were forthcoming as well as new friendships made. I think if we were all brutally honest, by the week before the Event we were all heartily sick of it but once it was underway we remembered why we decided to make it an annual celebration and came away inspired to do even more for next year. Certainly one of the aspects that makes the whole thing so enjoyable for me personally is meeting so many other enthusiasts and hearing about the effects that The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists has had on their own lives. Certainly on the Saturday evening in the FILO there was a lovely feeling of comradeship and common interest, thank you to all of you who came along to the weekend, you make it all worthwhile.

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And so to 2001!

Yes we really have started planning next year's event; some of it was actually arranged prior to this year. A big issue that we needed to confront as a matter of urgency after this year's festival was the matter of a venue. When we first thought of the idea of a Robert Tressell Event nearly three years ago we really had no idea how many people would attend so we tended towards the smaller venues available. The Bourne Hall has served us very well for the last two years but the capacity is very limited and our attendance is clearly growing on a year by year basis. On a couple of occasions both this year and last we have come very close to exceeding the capacity laid down by fire regulations. We therefore are having talks with Hastings Borough Council about alternative venues in the town with a larger capacity. The most sensible option would seem to be the Sussex Room at the White Rock Theatre; this room is beneath the Theatre itself and has been used for similar events in the past. The principle advantages of it are that it is bigger, it has excellent disabled access, the Theatre has it's own café/restaurant (with stunning views over the Channel out towards Eastbourne) and there is dedicated parking in the underground car park opposite. Although the White Rock is not in the Old Town it is well placed for easy access to Hastings Town Centre and St Leonards as well as being well served with public transport. As I mentioned earlier this plan is in the early stages of negotiation so things may yet change. On the subject of venue, we are also planning to hold a social event on the Saturday night in the stunning surroundings of St Mary in the Castle. For those of you who do not know Hastings well, this is a nineteenth century church built into the rocks in the centre of Pelham Crescent on the seafront. After lying derelict for many years a group of very dedicated local people banded together to plan it's restoration as an Arts Centre. After many years very hard work this has been achieved and Hastings now boasts one of the finest Arts venues in the South of England. The auditorium itself is semi-circular with the original pews and a gallery above. The performance takes place on the same level as the audience in the pews giving a very different perspective. We have a number of ideas for what will be happening during that evening, some of the suggestions have included a performance of the play, a rendition the Brass Band version of the story and a slot for young local bands to perform. Whatever our final plans are be sure that you are in for a treat if you come along, St Mary in the Castle is a true gem and any event held there is a unique experience.

We are hoping to run some sort of Arts competition in the lead up to the 2001 Event which will involve local schools and colleges, if you have any expertise in this area and would like to assist please contact us at the usual address / on the usual phone number. 

We have put out some tentative feelers for speakers but it is obviously too early for us to confirm anyone at this stage – I will say however that some of the combinations of speakers that we could have are eclectic to say the least. Watch this space for details.

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And Now For Something Completely Different.

As you know, we are always delighted to receive articles for this Newsletter – even I get fed up of the sight of my own prose! If you have anything that you would like to contribute please send it to the usual address or e-mail it to the Tressell site and it will reach me. As you will see from what follows it doesn't have to be directly about Tressell or The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, something that you are interested in or something you want to say may well be of interest to other Tressell enthusiasts.

In that vein I would like to draw readers attention to the concept of Credit Unions. If you are not familiar with the principles let me explain further (with a little assistance from Cllr Liam Carlyle from Lewisham Council – also known as the Credit Union Evangelist!)

There are over 300,000 members of credit unions in the UK already but most people still don't have any idea what a credit union actually is. In simple terms, a Credit Union is a savings and loan society run by and for the benefit of its members. Benefits include a simple and flexible way to save, loans at a low rate of interest and loan protection. Every credit union is owned by its members. Every member is a shareholder in the credit union. Credit unions are set up around "a common bond" and anyone who shares this common bond can join. The common bond is often the fact that members live in a particular neighbourhood or work for the same organisation. For example to join the Hastings and St Leonards Credit Union you have to live or work in the Borough of Hastings. Only members of the credit union can borrow from it and this is usually on the basis of the record of savings with the credit union.

Credit Unions have existed since 1850 and the current the Government is committed to them. Credit unions have been called the unsung heroes of the mutual sector; the government is on record as saying that it fully supports the ethos of self-help and is determined to encourage the sector. It is likely that as more and more of the high street banks withdraw local branches and Building Societies de-mutualise, people will turn to credit unions.Similarly, as increasing numbers of people are being rejected by banks as customers, credit unions will address this shortfall. Banks are generally only interested in customers with a regular high income who they can make money from, credit unions are the exact opposite. If you meet the common bond requirement you are welcomed into the credit union, an organisation which is not trying to make a profit out of you. If you would like to know more about this valuable and exciting community initiative and you live or work in Hastings or St Leonards contact the local credit union on 01424 202651 or call in to their office on a Saturday morning at 41a, Cambridge Road, Hastings. For those of you living outside this area please contact the Association of British Credit Unions, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS or phone them on 0161 832 3694. 

News of Meek.

Many of you who visited the Tressell Event either this year or last will remember Clive Griggs and his fascinating talks on Education in the Sussex area at the turn of the century and his relating of the life of George Meek – Eastbourne's Robert Tressell. There is a rare opportunity o learn more of Meek's life coming up in September at Eastbourne Central Library in Grove Road, Eastbourne. An exhibition entitled "George Meek 1868 – 1921, Hard Times In Eastbourne" is being held from 7th September to 3rd October. Clive has obviously been very involved with this display and it promises to be a fascinating insight into the life and times of an intriguing man. Please contact Eastbourne Library on 01323 434206 for exact opening times.

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Goodnight and Farewell.

Well once again it is time to depart but before I sign off there are a number of thanks that the Committee would like to make. Firstly thank you to all of you for your continuing support, your letters and donations give us all great impetus. I would particularly like to thank all those individual supporters who have so kindly sent us donations over the last few months – all contributions go towards keeping Tressell's life and work at the forefront of peoples minds and introducing it to a new generation of readers. We have also received a kind donation from the Virgin Midlands Branch of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) and the Euston Branch of the TSSA, many thanks. I would also like to thank publicly Chas Stoll from Birmingham who regularly sends us small RTP treasures that he has uncovered, most of these relate to the play and they make up a fascinating collection.

As far as the Robert Tressell Event is concerned thanks are due particularly to our sponsors, the Hastings and East Sussex Branch of the GMB and the Southern Region of the GMB. As well as the financial sponsorship we received, the loan of the Minibus for the weekend was invaluable – the work of Gary Smith in driving it for the whole weekend was a sterling contribution also. I don't think Gary ever wants to see that Minibus again as long as he lives though!

Very great thanks are also due to all our speakers, some of whom travelled very great distances to join us. The Committee would also like to thank all the friends who helped us out during the weekend, similarly I would like to thank Lead who designed all our posters in exchange for me making some curtains for him! Last but not least, thanks go to Kevin Boorman and his staff at the Marketing Department of Hastings Borough Council for his unfailing support and wise advice.

Finally, thank you to all of you who attended the Festival, it was wonderful to see so many of you and we hope to meet even more of you next year. 

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