and the Liverpool Docker
George Orwell took the road from Wigan to
Liverpool in February 1936, to meet an unemployed Liverpool docker whose
essays on Shakespeare's play The Tempest, and Joseph Conrad's novel The
Nigger of the Narcissus, had recently been published in literary journals.
The docker was Seacombe-born George Garrett, an important and almost forgotten
figure in the social and cultural history of Merseyside.
Orwell was impressed not only with Garrett's ability as a literary critic
and writer of short stories, but also with his considerable knowledge
of literature, especially the novels of Dostoyevski, Melville and Jack
London, and the plays of Ibsen, Strindberg and Eugene O'Neill.
Orwell and Garrett had much in common besides their love of literature.
As the Old Etonian mingled with the down-and-outs of London and Paris
in the 1930s, so the ex-elementary schoolboy Garrett had mingled with
the down-and-outs of South America and the United States in the years
prior to the outbreak of the Great War. In 1936, Orwell was busy researching
the effects of unemployment in the mining communities of Wigan. By then
Garrett had published Liverpool 1921-22 - a graphic analysis of the effects
of unemployment among Liverpool's ex-servicemen. Both writers wrote under
assumed names. 'George Orwell' was the pseudonym used by Eric Blair, while
Garrett frequently used the pseudonym 'Matt Low', an obvious pun on his
seafaring days. The Spanish Civil War provided both writers with outlets
for their mutual fears about the rise of European fascism. In December
1936, Orwell volunteered for the Republican army in Spain. Garrett became
a founder member of the Left Theatre (now the Unity) in Liverpool.
George Garrett's family moved from Seacombe to the Park Road area of Liverpool,
where he attended St Vincent's School. In 1911 - the year of the Transport
Strike in Liverpool - George was already involved in radical politics,
much to the concern of his parents.
Eventually he ran away to sea, jumped ships in Argentina, become a 'hobo'
and led a rough life tramping around the USA.
In August 1914 he returned to England and to seafaring. His ship - the
SS Oswald - was captured by the German navy, but the crew were rescued.
In 1918 he married, but remained unemployed for long periods, due to his
membership of the Communist Party. He returned to New York, became a member
of the Industrial Workers of the World ('The Wobblies') and completed
his political education.
Garrett wrote short stories dealing realistically with seafaring, working
class family struggles, social conditions and confrontations with authoritarian
institutions - social, political and religious. His unfinished autobiography
- Ten Years on the Parish - is an insightful and moving account of working
class life in Liverpool between the wars.
His account of the first hunger march (1922) is a unique record of this
historical event, and contains some comical descriptions that show the
resilience and determination of that body of mainly ex-service heroes.The
struggle of the unemployed in Liverpool - again mainly ex-service men
- and the formation of the Unemployed Workers' Movement is another unique
event described movingly by Garrett.
Garrett, sadly, is relatively unknown and unacknowledged in Liverpool.
He should be celebrated because he remains one of the finest working class
writers to have come from the city, especially as we approach 2008.
George Garrett’s works have been collected and republished in a
single volume, The Collected Works of George Garrett, published by Nottingham
The following was sent to us by Nick Bailey.
He says the George Garrett article reminded him of it.
The Hungry Mile - A poem by Ernest Antony
They tramp there in their legions on the morning dark and cold
Could not open file
To beg the right to slave for bread front Sydney’s lords of gold;
They toil and sweat in slavery, ‘twould make the devil smile
To see the Sydney wharfies tramping down the hungry mile
On ships from all the seas they toil, that others of their kind
May never know the pinch of want or feel the misery blind
That make the lives of men a hell in those conditions vile
That are the hopeless lot of those who tramp the hungry mile.
The slaves of men who know no thought of anything but gain
Who wring their brutal profits from the blood and sweat and pain
Of all the disinherited who slave and starve the while
Upon the ships beside the wharves along the hungry mile
But every stroke of that grim lash that sears the souls of men
With interest due from years gone by shall be paid back again
To those who drive these wretched slaves to build the golden pile
And blood shall blot the memory out - of Sydney’s hungry mile
The day will come, aye, come it must, when these same slaves shall rise
And through the revolution’s smoke ascending to the skies,
The masters face shall show the fear he hides behind the smile
Of these his slaves who on that day shall storm the hungry mile.
And when the world grows wiser and all men at last are free
When none shall feel the hunger nor tramp in misery
To beg the right to slave for bread, the children then may smile
At those strange tales they tell of what was once the hungry mile.