The Robert Tressell Day
at the Brass Monkey 5th February,

Celebrating the Centenary of Robert Tressell's Death, February 3rd 1911 in Liverpool

A personal view from Ion Castro.

Based on an article Ion wrote for 'Hastings Town' - March 2011

 

I’m a member of the Robert Tressell Society and most years we try to produce a local event to celebrate the life of the man writing as ‘Robert Tressell’ – the pseudonym for Robert Noonan an Irish signwriter, painter and decorator whose ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ was inspired by the awful conditions that he and his generation had to endure, over a hundred years ago in a fictitious town called Mugsborough – in reality Hastings.

I won’t go into the full story of Tressell (Noonan) in Hastings or the publishing of the book because it has all been amply covered by others in complete detail elsewhere but briefly Tressell came to Hastings in 1901 or 1902 looking for work, and lived in various parts of the town and it’s not clear when he started the book but it was finished by 1910 when, in August, he said goodbye to his daughter Kathleen when he left from Warrior Square Station on his way to emigrate to Canada by way of Liverpool. He was never to see her again because he was admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary on 26th November 1910 with bronchial pneumonia and died there on February 3rd 1911. He was buried in a pauper’s grave a week later. The manuscript of the book remained with his daughter in Hastings. The Ragged Trousered Philantropists was finally published in 1914 in a much-abridged form but still went on to inspire many of our Labour politicians until they sold out to ‘New Labour’. The book was eventually published in full in 1955 and is still in print.

The Society didn’t put on an event this the centenary year because Liverpool had picked up the reins and a lot of events were taking place there –but this didn’t stop the indefatigable Tony Streeter of Hastings Bonfire and Beach Concert fame from staging a tribute. We could have been back in 1910 because the event was originally supposed to take place at the St.Leonards Assembly Rooms, home of the Freemasons where, allegedly, the rug was pulled by the rolled-up-trouser brigade at the last moment and the venue had to be switched to the Brass Monkey in Havelock Road instead.

Tony had managed to assemble an impressive lineup –

Steve Peak, local Historian and Tressell expert,
Bob Shaw with a song about soup kitchens!
Mike Howard highlighted Alf Cobb, a Hastings contemporary of Tressell,
Bob Tipler - Capt Dawg delivered Dawg Protest Songs, Cajun style,
Megan Dobney (Regional Secretary, TUC) explained her role
Graeme Knights with trade union & working songs,
Professor Chris Knight (University of Bratislava) - Talked about 'Back To The Future'. Chris was the Organiser of the 2009 Alternative G20 World Summit, founder The Radical Anthropology Group, and produced the video - The Government of the Dead.
Attila The Stockbroker regaled us with his trademark political satire, social commentary, and poetry
Tom Kelly delivered trade union & working songs,
LSW’s Terry Jackson,
Tracey Curtis from South Wales entertained with political songs,
Sam Buckley was there from Hastings Trades Council,
Tony O'Brian Justice for Shrewsbury Pickets Campaign gave us his interpretation of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists,
John McDonnell fiery left wing Labour MP, that I worked with in the GLC 25 years ago showed that he’s lost none of his fire nor ditched his principles,
Jeremy Birch Labour Leader of Hastings Boro’ Council delivered some stirring rhetoric, Jeremy Corbyn MP, showed that he too hadn’t lost his way to New Labour,
Another colleague from my GLC days, Ivan Beavis, now with the ‘Morning Star’ delivered a stirring speech.

All in all an entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring mix of fiery rhetoric, appropriate music and information – the organisers are to be congratulated as is the Brass Monkey for stepping in at the last moment.

Robert Tressell at  Brass Monkey

all photos (c) Ion Castro except where stated. Please don't reproduce them without permission.

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