Robert Tressell was the pseudonym of Robert Noonan, an Irish house-painter, who came to England from South Africa at the turn of the century. With his daughter Kathleen and his sister Adelaide, he settled in Hastings, where he worked as a signwriter for various building firms. Tressell played a large part in local politics, joining the Social Democratic Federation (one of the forerunners of the Labour Party), and was often seen preaching the word from a soapbox on Hastings beach. His experience of English working life and his subsequent political awakening were to provide the material for The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, his one and only novel. Tressell intended the book to be a ‘socialist documentary’ based on real people and real events, a work which he hoped would convert his fellow workers to the creed. However, Tressell never lived to see his book in print: his manuscript was rejected by several publishers and, dispirited and disillusioned, he decided to emigrate to Canada in 1910. Unfortunately, Tressell was taken ill en route in Liverpool and died from TB the following year, aged forty. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was published three years later.