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Robert Tressell Society - Preserving the memory of Britains most influential working class novel - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Over a hundred years ago Robert Tressell wrote "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists", a tale of the destitute and poor of Mugsborough. He took his scenery and characters from the real town of Hastings, on the south coast of England. The message of the book itself, that working people had to change the capitalist system, of which they were the direct victims, has served as an inspiration to many people worldwide, and it is also thought that "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" was partly responsible for the original outline of the Welfare State.

Hastings people are proud of their strong connection with Robert Tressell and his famous book, and as a result the Robert Tressell Society was set up to provide an archive and information point for all those interested in Robert Tressell and his work.

Gary Smith

GMB General Secretary.

"Very few novels have the power to transform lives and the aim to change the world. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is one of them. It is powerful and compassionate, bitter, and funny. It deals with the big themes and the small. It is a slice of social history and an optimistic promise made to the future.

If we think that we have got it hard, today, and that the odds are stacked against unions and the Left: then, just look at this account of the battles waged by these pioneer Socialists. Their fight, belief, and principle is encoded in every page. 

One of the first, and best, working class novelists, Robert Tressell encapsulated all that was - and is -best and most vital in our movement. We owe it to him - and all those other nameless trade unionists who spent "a year in hell" alongside him - to deliver upon his vision of "the great change" and a bright, Socialist future". 

Gary Smith - GMB Scotland Secretary
Jo Brand - Comedian, writer, presenter and actor

Jo Brand

Comedian, writer, presenter and actor

It is fascinating historically and it gives, I believe, an accurate picture of a society in which there are no safety nets: health service, benefits…only charity and family to literally stop people from starving. 


One of the first truly left wing, working class novels. 

Frances O'Grady - General Secretary of the TUC

Frances O'Grady
General Secretary of the TUC

I first heard about Ragged Trousered Philanthropists from my Dublin grandad who worked the season as a labourer here in England but loved painting and decorating back home - so, all in all, he probably felt he had a fair bit in common with the author.

Len McCluskey

General Secretary, Unite

It was my dad who introduced me to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in my early teens, telling me that he had read it during the War. I later learned that this book had been passed around in the trenches and is commonly regarded as one of the reasons why the returning soldiers voted en masse for the Labour party and a brave new world. 


 "But to my mind, the best celebration of Robert Tressell is to enthuse individuals, new generations, to read and be inspired by The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.


© David Fowler /

Neil Kinnock

Neil Kinnock, Baron Bedwellty, Leader of the Labour Party, 1983-92.

"I first read the book when I was about 14 or 15 and then, with more comprehension, during a University vacation in between shifts in Ebbw Vale steelworks. By that time it was basic reading for several Labour Party comrades, some of them introduced to the book by me. It went alongside Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Jack Jones’ Biden to the Feast, Jack London’s political thrillers and The Citadel by A J Cronin (he was a GP in Tredegar in the 1920’s).

Wayne David

Labour MP for Caerphilly

Wayne David labour MP for Caerphilly since 2001 discovered the RTP as a young man at a Labour party bookstall in Port Talbot. He was surprised and pleased to see how the socialist message and the experiences in the novel tied in with his own values and background. So later as tutor with the WEA in South Wales he was able to use the book to relate to his students, many of whom saw themselves in Tressell’s decorators. 


 "A book that always has been and remains relevant to everyone and particularly the labour movement


Ian Hernon 

Journalist Deputy Editor of Tribune, born and bred in Hastings.

"As a kid I was aware of the RTP titles as my father had described the battered, abridged version being passed around by fellow soldiers on active service in Normandy, Belgium and Germany, but did not read it until as a 17-year-old cub reporter on the Hastings Observer I covered efforts to save part of Tressell’s last known mural in St Andrews  churchin Hastings which was about to be demolished. It was then that I met biographer F.C. “Fred” Ball and later Tressell’s daughter Kathleen.


The Robert Tressell Society

4 Church Road,

St. Leonards on Sea,

East Sussex, TN37 6EF

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