According to the TUC's History Online
, by 1849, 40% of Liverpool's population were estimated to be living 'below the poverty line', and 'This converted 'gypsy' caravan travelled around Liverpool in the winter selling bowls of soup for a farthing to the poor and unemployed.' Let's hope that our current crisis doesn't reach such depths, nor men ever again feel the need to wear those crazy Mark Lawrenson moustaches.
Besides R.T. Manson, organiser of the Liverpool Unemployed Association, another man behind this van was Robert Blatchford
, editor of Clarion and author of Merrie England (1895), which reveals that there was far more than mere charity to their works. 110 years on, this vision still has legs:
So now let me tell you roughly what I suggest as an improvement on things as they now are.
First of all I would set men to work to grow wheat and fruit and rear cattle and poultry for our own use. Then I would develop the fisheries and construct great fish-breeding lakes and harbours. Then I would restrict our mines, furnaces, chemical works, and factories to the number actually needed for the supply of our own people. Then I would stop the smoke nuisance by developing water power and electricity.
In order to achieve these ends I would make all the land, mills, mines, factories, works, shops, ships, and railways the property of the people.
I would have the towns rebuilt with wide streets, with detached houses, with gardens and fountains and avenues of trees. I would make the railways, the carriage of letters, and the transit of goods as free as the roads and bridges.
I would make the houses loftier and larger, and clear them of all useless furniture. I would institute public dining halls, public baths, public wash-houses on the best plans, and so set free the hands of those slaves - our English women.
I would have public parks, public theatres, music halls, gymnasiums, football and cricket fields, public halls and public gardens for recreation and music and refreshment. I would have all our children fed and clothed and educated at the cost of the State. I would have them all taught to play and to sing. I would have them all trained to athletics and to arms. I would have public halls of science. I would have the people become their own artists, actors, musicians, soldiers, and police. Then, by degrees I would make all these things free. So that clothing, lodging, fuel, food, amusement, intercourse, education, and all the requirements for a perfect human life should be produced and distributed and enjoyed by the people without the use of money.
Now, Mr. John Smith, practical and hard-headed man, look upon the two pictures. You may think that mine represents a state of things that is unattainable: but you must own that it is much fairer than the picture of things as they are.
... ask yourself two questions: -
1. Is Modern England as happy as it might be?
2. Is my England - Merrie England - a better place than the England in which we now live?
Pic: Clarion Soup Van - dispensing soup and socialism from the 1890s.
Photo of 1906 reproduced in the Nerve Merseyside Resistance Calendar
'by kind permission of Merseyside Museums and Galleries'