Robert Tressell Papers

Scope and Content

This collection is comprised of original documents relating to the life of Robert Tressell and his novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, documents detailing Tressell's family history, accounts from Tressell's family and friends about his life, correspondence and books, articles and essays about Tressell and his novel.

Administrative / Biographical History

The archive has been collected by Robert's daughter, Kathleen Noonan-Lynne, grand daughter, Joan Johnson and her husband, Reginald W Johnson over the course of their lifetimes. They established the Robert Tressell Family Papers in order to preserve the memory of Robert Tressell and promote the history of his published work, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Following Robert's death in Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1911, while attempting to emigrate to Canada, Kathleen found the original manuscript, sold the complete rights to the novel for £25 to Grant Richards, publishers, and emigrated to Canada herself. The book went on to be reprinted a number of times and the family knew nothing of the success of the novel until returning to England 40 years later. The papers have been looked after by Reginald W Johnson, documenting the activity surrounding Robert's legacy and the legacy of his book.

Robert Tressell was the pen name of Robert Croker, later changed to Robert Noonan, who was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1870. He was the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Mary Noonan. Noonan was by trade a sign writer and decorator. He left Ireland and appears to have travelled to South Africa via London and Liverpool where he earned a good living as a tradesman. He married Elizabeth Hartnell and they had a daughter, Kathleen, born in 1892.

Following his divorce in 1897, Robert moved back to England with his daughter and eventually settled in Hastings, East Sussex with his sister and nephew. He lived in and worked in Hastings, as a painter and decorator until he left for Liverpool in 1911, in an attempt to eventually emigrate to Canada.

After his death Kathleen found the manuscript amongst his possessions. She happened to be working as a governess next door to Jessie Pope, war poet, who passed the manuscript on to Grant Richards, publishers. Richards then published a heavily edited and abridged version of the book in 1914. Fred Ball, a local historian from Hastings, located the original manuscript while researching his own book on Robert Tressell's life, and gave it to his publishers. The full, unabridged version of the book was published by Lawrence and Wishart in 1955. Ball then donated the manuscript to the Trade Unions Congress Library in London, which has now been absorbed by London Metropolitan Archives. The manuscript is available to view online, in full.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to researchers.

Acquisition Information

Reginald W Johnson donated the archive to the University of Brighton, Hastings Campus in 2012.

Other Finding Aids

Full box list available at Brighton University, Hastings Campus Library.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Katy Gribbin, 2015.


No more accruals expected.

Location of Originals

The original manuscript of Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist is held by the TUC library at London Metropolitan Archives, details can be found on their website.

The manuscript is also available online in digital format, found here;