St Leonards project for memorial to Robert Tressell

Nigel Sales with the bust stone
Nigel Sales with the bust stone

A St Leonards-based master stone carver and a seafront retailer have brought together their passion for Robert Tressell to launch a project to create a permanent public memorial to the author in the town.

The Tribute to Tressell project was conceived after an event in 2014 to mark the centenary of the first version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists being published.

Nigel Sales, who will be carving the portrait bust of Tressell the project is commissioning, said: “Like many people before me I came to Robert Tressell through reading his book, but apart from finding that fascinating I was immediately intrigued to find out more about the author and why he was moved to write it.

“Though doing my own research on him and then living in the same town as he did when he was writing, I came to think that he really does deserve to be immortalised with a public memorial, and what can be more appropriate than being immortalised in stone?”

Tressell – real name Robert Noonan – wrote the novel while working as a decorator and sign-writer for Adams & Jarrett and completed the manuscript while living in London Road, St Leonards in 1910.

Now regarded as the first socialist novel written in England, it only appeared first in abridged form in 1914, three years after his death from tuberculosis in Liverpool in 191, and not in its full intended version until 1955. Although two of the houses he lived in are marked with modest plaques and Hastings Museum and Art Gallery has a display about his life in St Leonards and Hastings, there is no visible memorial to Robert Tressell other than having student accommodation in Warrior Square named after him.

Clive Gross, of St Leonards Central, based at Marine Court, also felt the author deserved a higher profile within the town, and the idea to commission and create the portrait bust was born.

He said: “Although aware of the novel, I did not read it until after I moved to St Leonards in 2008, and it was a real lightbulb moment for me in having a new insight into the area and the problems it still faces a century later than when Tressell lived here.

“His themes and observations are as relevant today as they were in Edwardian England, and so I wanted to see a memorial created to a man whose ideas and experiences are very much still alive today.”

With the block of deep bed Portland stone that will become the bust now delivered and marked up, the project is launching its crowdfunding campaign to complete the commission and then look to tour the piece to other places with a connection with Tressell, such as Liverpool and Dublin, where he was born in 1870,– before finding a permanent public home for it in St Leonards.

Nigel said: “I use a very traditional technique called direct carving, which means I do not use scale models or any kind of preparatory carving but work directly onto the final stone. I really want people to engage with and be able to follow the creative process and so we will be filming each stage of the work from block to completion.

“I have chosen to use the best known portrait photograph of him wearing his hat as the basis for the bust, and I am already being asked how I am going to carve that – well, now you will be able to see!”

The crowdfunding campaign launches on on Monday, April 25.

More information about the project, links to their videos and to the funding campaign can be found at from where you can also follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

Nigel and Clive are both planning to attend the forthcoming Robert Tressell Festival in Liverpool on April 28 to talk about the project.

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