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'George Garrett' to Lead Liverpool Mayday Parade!

Mayday in Liverpool will be like no other before as it will be led by a five-metre high model of George Garrett! The model, being built by Liverpool model maker brian Hanlon, will be based on when Garrett led the Liverpool contingent of the 1922 Hunger March to London, something Garrett's deals with extensively in his autobigoraphy, Ten Years On The Parish. The parade, which is supported by the Mayor's Office and the Nort-West TUC, will celebrate the launch of Ten years On The Parish by Liverpool University Press, and a chance for people to celebrate working-class life and culture, as well as give a voice to issues affecting people today, such as low-pay, benefit cuts and unemployment, in much the same way as they affected Garrett and the people of Liverpool in the 1920s and 1930s. The parade begins at Toxteth Library (assemble 12.30pm), right next to where Garrett lived on Windsor Street, and will end with a rally outside the Walker Art Gallery, where Garrett was arrested for his role in the unemployed demonstration, which becmae known as the Walker Art gallery Riots, after the demonstrators were attacked by the police in September 1921. Bring your banners!


Garrett's Autobiography Ten Years On The Parish to be Published by Liverpool University Press

The George Garrett Archive Project are proud to announce that Ten Years On The Parish, by George Garrett will be published on the 1st May 2017 by Liverpool University Press, following Writing on the Wall’s four year George Garrett Archive project, which has collected, collated and preserved Garrett’s work for future readers, which began after two suitcases of his memorabilia, including original writing, was presented to us by his family.
Garrett was an extraordinary figure, one of the giants of Liverpool’s literary, cultural and radical history. Yet his legacy up until a few years ago was almost forgotten. Given his radical outlook and activities, as well as the high quality of his literary output, it’s prescient at this time of political and social turmoil that we will be bringing out his autobiography, and coordinating a series of events to continue to revive and celebrate his legacy.
       Garrett was born in Seacombe in 1896, but grew up among the slum, dockland areas of Park Road, just a stone’s throw away from where Writing on the Wall’s office is based in Toxteth. At the age of seventeen he stowed away on a tramp ship and ran away to sea. What followed was an adventure worthy of any ‘boy’s own story’; a year tramping round Argentina; signing up as a stoker in the engine rooms of ships at the beginning of WW1; torpedoed twice, captured by the Germans, held prisoner of war and interned in Argentina, from where escaped to return to sea to serve throughout the war. He married Grace in 1918 (their marriage lasted until his death 1966 and they had seven sons), then spent a year unemployed before going to America because there was work and better pay on their ships. Whilst in America he took part in the big strikes around the White Star liner The Baltic, but returned to Liverpool because he couldn’t get Grace through customs. Between 1921 and 1922 he led the unemployed struggle of ex-servicemen who couldn’t find work, which included massive demonstrations that brought Liverpool city centre to a standstill, and resulted in his arrest after the Walker Art Gallery riots, which were precipitated by an attack on horseback by the local police. In 1922 he led the Liverpool contingent of the First Hunger March to London. Garrett was one of the speakers at the mass demonstration in Trafalgar Square. ‘We don’t want to come here and…’ he said. And although the Tory Party leader Bonar Law refused to meet them, the march and the movement extracted reforms and led to the creation of a universal benefits system, which meant parity across the country rather than the locally decided payouts of the ‘Parish Councils’.
In 1923 Garrett returned to America and stayed there until he left under threat of deportation in 1926. During his second spell in New York, working part-time to fund himself as a writer, he wrote two plays to add to the one he had completed in Liverpool, and was in contact with Eugene O’Neill’s Province Town Playhouse. While there is now evidence of his plays being performed, he roomed with jobbing actors and devoted his time to writing. His plays are well-worked, completed manuscripts; working manuscripts he used to send his plays to theatres to read.
But in 1926 the cry, as the country headed towards the great crash of 1929, was ‘jobs for Americans’ (sound familiar?), and he returned home again, his dream of emigrating to America shattered. Upon his return to Liverpool he found there weren’t enough jobs to go around, and so here begins his ‘Ten Years On The Parish’; ten years in which he had little more than five months work, when he and Grace sold even the children’s bedding to survive, and there were often ‘crazy thoughts of murder and suicide’.
But Garrett, although often starving, and fretting for his wife and children, kept himself active and optimistic. He documented the period in sharp reportage and short stories, which were published alongside WH Auden and Stephen Spender, and in 1936 was a founder member of Merseyside Left Theatre, which still exists today as Unity Theatre. He wrote and co-wrote plays and scenes, acted as part of the troupe or in one-man shows across the region.
The Second World War brought relief – an irony as others have pointed out, with Garrett recalled to serve the country that wouldn’t feed him. He signed on the ships again, and then served out the rest of the war as a watchman on the Bootle Docks, one of the major targets at the height of the blitz.
Still busy, though less publicly active following the war, he maintained his involvement with Unity Theatre until the late 1950s, and continued his fight as part of the Seaman’s Vigilance Committee to reform his beloved National Union of Seamen.
He died at the age of seventy, not long after speaking at the first official national seamen’s strike in 1966.
Ten Years On The Parish, and the accompanying letters between Garrett and his editor John Lehmann should be taught on Liverpool school curriculums. There is little better that gives a clear history of working class people in the early parts of the twentieth century. Garrett doesn’t deal with misty eyed ‘poor but happy’ tales of poverty; his is an honest, often humorous eye-level account of what it’s actually like for those living on the bottom line. The difference here is Garrett’s persistent attempts to combat, undermine, and particularly through his advocacy on behalf of others in the same boat, or often worse of than him, push back against a system he understood to be cruel and unfair.
Like any writer, Garrett mined some of his own ‘real-life’ material in Ten Years On The Parish and used it creatively. The Hunger March and Liverpool 1921-22 were both published separately as reportage, and his short story The Pianist is based on events recounted in his autobiography. But it is as a complete work that Ten years On The Parish comes alive.
Encouraged by George Orwell and his editor John Lehmann to write his autobiography, the ‘fashion’ of the day was the lives of the unemployed, and Garrett wanted to write something that really showed the reality of what it was like living ‘on the parish’. Therefore he either skims over or leaves out entirely some of the areas unique to him alone, particularly the time he spent in America. As frustrating as this is for our research, it doesn’t take away from On The Parish itself; it leave us hungry for more, and myself and the other editors Tony Wailey and Andrew Davies have taken the time in the introductions to On The Parish and the letters between Garrett and Lehmann to fill in as much as we could about Garrett’s time in America and how that influenced his outlook on life generally.
Garrett Garrett lived a life like few others; although Liverpool was home to thousands of seamen, and some too who wrote about their lives and about the experiences of being unemployed, Garrett’s uniqueness lies in the combination of his talents, experiences, interests and activities; a syndicalist and lifelong member of the American Industrial Workers of the World, which preached unity rather than the sectarianism of the popular Communist Party, a writer, dramatist, actor, stoker, activist, advocate, and almost universally respected within the trades union and political movement, and much loved husband, father and grandfather.
There is much in Garrett’s life and work that tells us about the stifling, demoralising effect upon the individual of unemployment, and subsequently the effect upon society; while writing Ten Years On The Parish Garrett was also touring the region with Merseyside Left Theatre with their plays about the Spanish Civil War and the dangers of fascism spreading across Europe. They chalked walls with the warning, ‘Madrid Today – Merseyside Tomorrow’. How right they were. Garrett could teach us a lot; the lessons are all ours to learn.
Mike Morris, Co-Director Writing on the Wall.
Ten Years On The Parish, the Life and Letters of George Garrett, will be published by Liverpool University press on Monday 1st May. The book will be launched as part of a Mayday Parade in Liverpool, and available form all bookshops and online outlets. You can pre-order it here.

Old Boy 'returns' to St Vincent's to Celebrate with Pupils

One of the great joys and achievements of the project is the enthusiasm we meet when spreading the word of George's incredible life. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the work with St Vincent's school in Liverpool. Several of our garretters worked over a few months with the teachers with 90 children in years 4,5 and 6. Using the archive they  encouraged the children to imagine what it was like for George as a young lad from Liverpool sailing as a stowaway to New York. To say it was a success is an understatement! The children took to it with imagination and enthusiasm, producing some wonderful written work. This culminated in the production of a book of all their efforts and a prize giving ceremony on Tuesday 8th December.
The ceremony took place at the Woman's Organization, preceded by the children reenacting the hunger March of 1921 with their own banners, walking from the school. It was great to hear them chanting "More food Dude!" among others as they walked along!  Upon arrival they were greeted by George, played wonderfully by Paul Duckworth. The ceremony itself was great fun and the feedback from the Headmaster and teachers and pupils was excellent. Thanks to the Woman's Org for hosting.Congratulations and huge kudos to Mike, Tony, Ray, Sean, Rochelle and Sue of the Garretteers for all their amazing teaching and input, and special well done and admiration for all the children for their fantastic work.
I am proud to work with such a great project that just keeps on giving!
Will Reid

Subterranean Theatre: The Maurie, June 2 – June 13, The Cunard Building, Liverpool

‘Hi Mike, at the risk of repeating myself I just wanted to reiterate once more how much I enjoyed the play. It's concept, imagery and execution was breath taking; the venue inspired. How clever too to incorporate three Georges! It worked on every level. It was a privilege to have been there and will stay with me for a long time.  The whole experience deserves a wider audience which I hope, in the future, you will be able to secure. 
Please pass on my congratulations to all involved. It was SUPERB!!’
Kind regards
Suzanne Garrett
Audience reviews for the two-week run of ‘subterranean Theatre: The Maurie’, as demonstrated in the comments above from Suzanne Garrett, were nothing short of sensational. The twelve performances were sold out each night, with audiences revelling in the journey we took them on through Liverpool’s iconic Cunard Building; entering the opulent ground floor through the original doorways used by passengers in the 1920’s, and mixing with First-Class passengers and busy clerks, before stepping below decks into the dark and thunderous world of the engine room and the stokers to witness incredible performances by our motley crew of talented actors.
Jenny Higham ‏@jenkhi  Jun 12
Loved 'The Maurie' play in the Cunard Building last night- powerful & evocative story of the ship's stokers
Just two weeks earlier the city witnessed the magnificent spectacle of the three queens – Queen Mary 2, Victoria and Elizabeth gliding effortlessly across The Mersey; a hint of how busy the river would have been in the 1920’s, when The Mauretania was in its heyday and the liners the only way to travel. In the 1922, the year ‘The Maurie’ is set, it would take 5000 tons of coal to power the ship from Liverpool to New York, one way. These ships didn’t sail themselves, a crew of over three hundred were employed to keep the furnaces below burning twenty four hours a day, and the symbolism of having the play in the basement of The Cunard Building, added to the impact of the production.
Not a Spam Bot ‏@googlyeyecat  Jun 12
@jenkhi@pmhigham@garrettarchive@wowfest@movverit's brilliant isn't it.


Subterranean Theatre: The Maurie - Rehearsals

This week the team behind the new play; Subterranean Theatre: The Maurie, held a read through and rehearsal as they work towards the opening night on June 2nd. 

Director of the play; Carl Cockram brought together the group of actors that will make up the stokers in charge of running the Mighty Scouse Boat; The Mauretania. Carl, who previously worked with Mike Morris on his last piece; Waiting for Brando, was looking forward to bringing together a great group of actors and immersing himself into the play.  

The cast features well known Merseyside actor; Paul Duckworth who appeared in Dave Kirkby's football inspired film Red and Blues: The Ballad of Dixie and Kenny, and also as Ringo Starr in Backbeat. Whilst on the stage, he has worked with both writer; Mike Morris and Carl Cockram in their show, Waiting for Brando. Paul has also been on stage in the fantastic show; Beating Berlusconi, a one man comedy; 'covering forty years, forty characters and the greatest football night ever.'
Alongside Paul Duckworth will be Joe Shipman, Nick Birkenshaw, Ben Worth and Graham Hicks. All fantastic Liverpool based actors who are looking forward to getting to grips with Subterranean Theatre: The Maurie, and beginning to understand what the life of a stoker would have been like.
As the final last minute edits to the script had been made, the cast gathered this week to start work on bringing the piece to life. A read-through was held and the actors threw themselves into their characters.
Subterranean Theatre: The Maurie is set in the engine room of The Mauretania, one of the 'huge Scouse Boats' from Cunard precursor The White Star Line. The piece explores the lives and conflicts of the Stokers, the below
the deck crew who powered the ship across the Atlantic. 
Conditions were incredibly tough and the pressure on the crew was intense. This shows clearly th
rough the plays actions, but thankfully the cast were entertained as the read the piece and laughed out loud and the interspersing comedy that Mike Morris has peppered throughout the play.
As the cast begin their intensive rehearsals, ready for opening night on June 2nd, it is set to be a fantastic piece of theatre. With such a great spacelike the Cunard, all the actors are looking forward to working in the untouched basements which so closely mirror the claustrophic and dark stokehold of The Maurie.
The play is set to be immersive as the audience will be guided around the space and see through the eyes of the actors what life was really like for a Scouse stoker in the 1920's and 1930's.
Keep your eyes peeled for more updates on the rehearsal process, and make sure to book your tickets quickly for the show!

Book your tickets here


The Man Who Can’t Be Bought and the Election That Never Was

The Man Who Can’t Be Bought and the Election That Never Was
Given the opportunity to choose from the plethora of artifacts and literary material in the George Garrett archive, of which, I’ve been enthusiastically involved in, for the best part of eighteen months. Without hesitation I chose the party political flier promoting George Garrett as an Independent candidate, contesting the Brunswick Ward in South Liverpool in the Municipal Elections of Thursday 1st November 1928.
The reasoning behind this choice for my blog, is to try and understand George Garrett the politician. It’s a well-known fact George had tinkered with politics, in a party political context, through his engagement and active involvement in the establishment of the Communist Party in Liverpool, in the early 1920’s, along with his long standing ‘comrades’ messrs Bessie and Jack Braddock, who later on in life became stalwarts in the Labour Party, and shifted their politics so far to the right they were now bordering on the cusp of the Conservative and Unionist Party! Nevertheless, Garrett remained lifelong friends, with them both.


No Friends of State; Port City Writers and The Sea.

When George Garrett entered New York harbour as a stoker aboard the Franconia in 1917, he signed the ‘aliens’ (crew list) register, not as an English national but Irish. This was not altogether surprising, although born on Merseyside, both his parents were from Ireland, he was brought up in a heavily Irish and dual heritage neighbourhood in the middle of Liverpool’s Sailortown and the firemen he was working with came mostly came from the North end of the City and consistently returned an Irish Nationalist member of parliament.  This sense of dual identity returned me to other aspects of port cities which Steve Higginson and myself had been working on for some time, the result was small article entitled The Temps Manifesto which was published ten years ago.
George Garrett was ahead of the game. He formed part of the classic ‘meteque,’ looking both to ‘home’ and ‘away’, and inhabited the same, in between, world of other port city writers. He was defining himself by what he felt culturally as opposed to his ‘identity being foisted upon him by the imposition of state borders. Reading the work of other Liverpool Irish Seaman writers notably James Hanley over the last thirty years it seems important to understand how some of the characteristics of their work, particularly how the context of   ‘place’  played such a feature in their writing as much as the social, cultural and economic issues that surrounded them. The problem is what if that ‘place’ is not stable and built upon movement?
The Temps Manifesto (2005)) asks why Liverpool like most port cities differs in major characteristics to its own Nation State. It describes a typology of the city’s defining features which includes concepts of time, employment, movement, markets, music and poetics. It concludes with the seamen and writers that began publishing in the inter-war period.  The poetics interweaves the idea of the sea across other features of the typology. This essay attempts to show how these sentiments were shared by other writers in European port cities who also had difficulty with their nation states, at distinct moments of a post war world.


New York - Drama and Paper

This application card for the Workers Dramatic League in New York seems a small item, 6inches by 4, asking for details of name address, contact details and desired area of activity – Actor, Electrician, Stage manager etc. The League address was at 64 South Washington Square in New York City. However its size belies what it reveals about George's history and way of working.

The fact that George had one of these cards signals his desire to get involved in the radical theatre scene in New York, and his strong attachment to the city. The WDL itself reveals a history of the period and the ideas that were prevalent in that scene....and a puzzle!

 Research seems to indicate that the WDL in NYC was actually another organisation –The Workers Drama League , a small difference but one that opens up a fascinating history. This organisation was founded in New York in 1926 by John Lawson, John Dos Passos and Michael Gold, and lasted for just under two years, though staging a range of productions from dram to concerts, with the emphasis on socialist ideas and arts. It saw the forging of what was a strong friendship between the three including supporting the Proletarian Artist and Writer League with Soviet support in the 1930s. However that friendship ended in 1939 during a bitter dispute over Soviet actions during the Spanish Civil War.

Research also shows there was a worker drama league based in Chicago.

The card also highlights a perspective of the times George lived in and his constant need to write down thoughts, ideas, contacts and notes. George wrote wherever he could and with whatever was handy, and this card is no exception. There are notes and contact details and a quote on both sides of the card.

Items like this are truly fascinating in their origin and relevance. I have been in touch with two archives in the USA to try and track down details on the WDL, so watch this space...
Will Reid


George Garrett Archive Deposit Event. Saturday 28th May 2015. Central Library, Liverpool

A proud and historic week for the George Garrett Archive project was tinged with sadness at the death the previous week of Derek Garrett. Derek was the youngest, and the last surviving son of George Garrett. Derek was a great supporter of our project; his daughter Eloise told me her ‘dad was extremely proud of the project and the renewed interest in granddad’s works.’ Derek, along with his brother Roy, gave us one of our greatest moments of magic during the project when they spontaneously broke into singing the old Wobbly song, ‘Hallelujah I’m a bum’; proof if ever there was of George’s links to the United States, the union movement and the Industrial workers of the World (IWW, also known as The Wobblies’), as who else’s sons would have been taught ‘Hallelujah’ as a child? We are grateful to Derek, and Roy, for their support for the project and for being so generous, particularly when fighting serious illness, with their time. We were particularly touched that, as at Roy’s funeral, the George Garrett Archive and the pleasure it brought him, was also mentioned during the eulogy at Derek’s funeral. It was a pleasure getting to know them both and are sorry for their family’s loss.
On Saturday 28th February the family formally presented the George Garrett Archive to the Liverpool record office at Central Library. This is both a major achievement and a major addition to the city’s archives. It is also a key contribution to the record of working class literature and radicalism in the city.
Project Leader and writing on the Wall Co-Director Mike Morris introduced the afternoon events, which included time for the family to have a look at the archive before it was deposited. This led to much reading and discussion, with our ‘Garretteers’ on hand to discuss various aspects of the archive with the family. WoW Co-Director, Madeline Heneghan, spoke on the impact of the archive on WoW’s work, and how it has led to a new heritage Lottery funded project concerning a series of documents relating to Black seamen, soldiers and workers stranded in Liverpool and suffering racial abuse following WW1. Course tutor and project worker Tony Wailey spoke about the new writing developing from the project, and we were delighted to welcome Liverpool City Council Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism, Cllr. Wendy Simon, who complimented the work of the project and welcomed the archive in to the city’s records.
It is just over two years since we won Heritage Lottery Funding to start the project, which was launched after one of Michael Garrett, George’s  Grandson, brought WoW a suitcase full of material which included among other things his Merchant Seaman’s his discharge books, marriage certificates and original writing.
Since then we have delivered a range of events and activities linked to the archive:
  • •  A 16 week course on Garrett’s Life and work attended by 20 people
  • •  A short film narrated by Alexei Sayle
  • •  A book – an introduction to George Garrett
  • •  An Installation designed by Liverpool John Moores University Students that has been placed in various parts of the city, and was in the Albert Dock for two months, and seen by thousands of people
  • •  A two month exhibition of his archive at Central Library, again seen by thousands of people
  • •  Staged the debut of two of Garrett’s plays – Two Tides and Flowers and Candles
  • •  Held a series of public talks and visited schools and history groups
  • •  A comprehensive website
A key part of this project has been the engagement with and the support of a number of volunteers. They have taken part in the taught course and thereby gained knowledge of Liverpool’s maritime history and Garrett’s life, worked on the archive and gained skills in research, writing, curation, preservation, cataloguing and display, and have delivered the public workshops, and have gained skills and experience in public speaking and presentation. They have been a key part of the project and have earned their own collective moniker, ‘The Garretteers’. Without them we would not have been able to achieve all that we have done.
Although the Heritage Lottery funding has ended, we plan to continue the work on the archive. In May 2015. With the support of Culture Liverpool, we are:
Holding a series of Public talks about Garrett and his links to America, and then in June, in the basement of The Cunard Building:
Staging an adaptation of his short story, ‘the Maurie’, set aboard the Cunard White Star Liner, The Mauretania.
We also are working to get financial support to publish his completed but as yet unpublished autobiography, Ten years On The Parish, which is an outstanding account of his life and that of the Liverpool unemployed in the 1930’s. More details on these activities will follow shortly.
The handing over of the archive to the Liverpool Record office was a very satisfying day for all involved – WoW, the family, the ‘Garretteers’, and all those who worked on the various aspects of the project. We feel privileged to have played a part in preserving and disseminating the memory of the work and life of this this great writer, playwright and radical activist. Though George Garrett was a humble man, who, though proud of his achievements, went out of his way to avoid the limelight, we feel sure he would approve of the work of the George Garrett Archive Project. 
Mike Morris, Project Manager and Writing on the Wall Co-Director.

View the embedded image gallery online at:

Letter from George Garret to John Lehman July 1937

John Lehman was a poet who was also the editor of New Writing. He took a particular in interest in George Garrett, and published a number of his stories. This letter, from a series written between Garrett and Lehman between 1934 and 1938, reveals a lot about their relationship and Garrett’s attempts to complete the autobiography that Lehmann was pushing him to finish.

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