Sussex

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists centenary marked

A cover from the book Image copyright BBC Sport
Image caption The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists has been made into a play and a film

A 1914 novel that inspired socialist activism is being celebrated on the centenary of its publication.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell, follows the struggles of 20 decorators in the fictional seaside town of Mugsborough, which is based on Hastings.

It was published in 1914, three years after Tressell, a sign writer, died penniless.

Campaigners hope a statue of him can be put up in the East Sussex town.

'So important'

An exhibition is being held at Hastings Museum and includes a mural panel which is the last piece of the author's work as a sign writer.

Mayor of Hastings Bruce Dowling said: "The book has been transcribed into about 30 or 40 different languages around the world and has sold thousands and thousands of books.

"He is a very important man and I think the book itself is something that people need to read to understand why it is so important."

The central character, Frank Owen, is a socialist who tries, unsuccessfully, to get his fellow workers to stand up to a capitalist system.

'Inspired people'

The novel is set in the early 20th Century and much of the story is thought to be based on Tressell's experiences as a worker in Hastings.

Cathy Walling, from Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, said: "It has been very influential and inspired people to be involved in trade unionism and political activism ever since its publication."

Actor Ricky Tomlinson said the book "changed his life" after it was given to him when he was in jail for offences relating to his union activities during the 1972 builders' strike. Tomlinson is still trying to clear his name.

Tressell, whose real name was Robert Noonan, wrote the novel while living in London Road but it was rejected by publishers.

He died in the Royal Liverpool Infirmary in poverty and obscurity.

Image copyright BBC Sport
Image caption Robert Noonan used the pen name of Robert Tressell to write the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

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