How we celebrated the life and work of Robert Tressell

Jez Stewart · 15 November 2021

Last month, Sean Jarman, Prospect rep at the Office for Nuclear Regulation, posted an open invitation for a special celebration in Liverpool of Robert Tressell, author of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.’

Prospect was a sponsor of the event and here Jez Stewart, national secretary, looks back on a terrific and poignant occasion.

Speeches by Robert Tressell’s grave (photo: David Cook)

A rainy Halloween morning didn’t bode well, but the sun came out as the event began at the graveside of Robert Tressell, who is buried in a pauper’s grave with 12 other souls, aged between 8 months and 84 years.

The site, in north Liverpool, is also where 300,000 other mostly unmarked graves lie and is now looked after by a charity, the Rice Lane Community Association.

It is a fitting resting place for Robert Tressell, a labourer and socialist writer, whose book ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ was published posthumously in 1914.

The book was a catalyst for working people to join together to press for higher wages and better working conditions.

Jez Stewart (left) with his son, Stan, and Ricky Tomlinson (seated) (photo: David Cook)

I gave some opening remarks about how important the book has been to me personally, and also to the wider trade union movement, a sentiment underlined by the fact that Prospect were delighted to have been asked by our rep Sean Jarman to sponsor the event.

Prospect’s National Executive Committee was also represented by Eamonn Guilfoyle, another rep from the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

It wasn’t just trade unionists at the event either. There was a small sprinkle of stardust.

The Rickard Sisters, who turned Tressell’s seminal book into a graphic novel also spoke, and signed copies of their book. It’s a fantastic re-imagining of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ and I highly recommend that you find out more about it at their website:

The Rickard Sisters signing copies of their book (photo: David Cook)

Roger Phillips of BBC Radio Merseyside was another speaker, as was Ricky Tomlinson of TV fame.

Ricky spoke at Rice Lane City Farm about what the book meant to him and you can watch the video on the link here.

After the speeches, we all went back to the chapel that’s on the site for the soup and refreshments that had been provided by Prospect. A ukulele band kept everyone entertained.

All told, it was a great day and a wonderful tribute to a man, whose book remains just as relevant today, if not even more so, than when he wrote it more than a 100 years ago.

About Rice Lane City Farm

  • The Rice Lane City Farm is a registered charity and provides important support to families in one of the most impoverished parts of Liverpool.
  • The 24-acre site includes fields where farm livestock graze, there are woodland walks, as well as a small play park, and a community Hall in the old mortuary Chapel.
  • It is entirely supported by donations from local residents, visitors and the generosity of Trusts.
  • More information: Rice Lane Community Association