The Ragged Arsed Philanthropists



noun: philanthropist; plural noun: philanthropists

  1. a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

‘Ragged Arsed,’ sounds much more authentic. Robert Tressell or Noonan on his mother’s side left a legacy of a book first published in 1914 but credited by some with ‘helping win the election for Labour in 1945.’ Whether that is true or not, the book was shared for decades in Trade Union circles throughout the UK and in Liverpool right up to the 1970s. Of course for Noonan the philanthropists were workers who allowed bosses to take the produce of their labour. I’m not sure how many of you have read the book. If you haven’t you can download it free from Project Gutenberg here;

Noonan was born and raised in Dublin but Liverpool played a significant part in his life, after leaving Dublin he lived in the Everton area for several years, the city was also the place of his death.

Noonan was working in Liverpool in 1890 but after getting in trouble with the police he emigrated to South Africa, where he came into contact with Arthur Griffiths one of the founders of Sinn Fein. Marriage and divorce in South Africa saw him back in England with his daughter Kathleen by 1900. He continued his trade as a painter and decorator in Hastings but struggled to make a living.

An article in The Guardian Sat 5th Feb on the 100th anniversary of his death explains; “He left for Liverpool, determined to earn enough to book passages to Canada for them to start a new life. But he failed and died of lung disease in the Royal Liverpool Infirmary Workhouse on 3 February 1911.

An interesting side note is that together with William Rathbone, Florence Nightingale sent 12 qualified nurses and 18 probationers from the Nightingale Training School for Nurses to the Liverpool Workhouse in 1865. This led to workhouse nursing reforms across the UK.

Noonan, however, didn’t make to Canada to start a new life, he died in the infirmary and was buried in a paupers grave in Walton Cemetery. I haven’t seen it myself but the grave is now apparently marked and is in the vicinity of the Rice Lane Farm. There was a march in 2011 to mark the centenary of his death. Noonan wasn’t published in his lifetime, he lived and died as a worker, the dialogue and arguments in his book as workers sit around at tea breaks are as relevant now as they were a hundred years ago.

This is a long quote but shows the clarity and to our shame the timelessness of Noonan’s arguments, Private Monopoly is simply privatisation or private ownership.

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it’s not caused by machinery; it’s not caused by “over-production”; it’s not caused by drink or laziness, and it’s not caused by “over-population”. It’s caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air – or of the money to buy it – even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessities of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless the had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think and say so. Even as you think at present that it’s right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: “It’s Their Land,” “It’s Their Water,” “It’s Their Coal,” “It’s Their Iron,” so you would say “It’s Their Air,” “These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?” And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on “Christian Duty” in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers. And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order, and after doing your best to tear him limb from limb, you’ll drag him, covered with blood, in triumph to the nearest Police Station and deliver him up to “justice” in the hope of being given a few half-pounds of air for your trouble.” 

― Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

So if you haven’t read it yet, you have no excuse now you can get it free. Click the link above, enjoy and share it electronically, in the way it was passed hand to hand on building sites and in factories for decades.

One response to “The Ragged Arsed Philanthropists”

  1. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, the book which shaped my political & moral standpoint on life. My late father a staunch trade unionist threw a dog eared copy at me when I was about 14, and said “read this, you might just learn something from it”. He was right on both counts, a book that is as relevant today as when it was written and required reading that should have a place on everyone’s bookshelf.

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About Me

Thanks for visiting my page. The aim of this page is to let you know what I am working on and allow you to tell me what you think.

I was born and raised in Speke Liverpool, although my parents first lived ‘Under The Bridge’ in Garston, and all my family goes back to Wicklow in Ireland.

The Liverpool Mystery series will be four novels, three books; Under The Bridge, The Morning After, and Fire Next Time are finished. Under The Bridge will be published in Feb 2021 and I hope at least one more will follow later in the year. I am writing The Wicklow Boys now, and I hope to finish it next year.

My writing like my blog is about the lives of working people and how they relate to society as a whole.

My collection of short stories The One Road is available below click to see details.

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