27.2.36

On Wednesday (25th) went over to Liverpool to see the Deiners [1] and Garrett.[2] I was to have come back the same night, but almost as soon as I got to Liverpool I felt unwell and was ignominiously sick, so the Deiners insisted on putting me to bed and then on my staying the night.[3] I came back yesterday evening.

I was very greatly impressed by Garrett. Had I known before that it is he who writes under the pseudonym of Marr Lowe in the Adelphi and one or two other places, I would have taken steps to meet him earlier. He is a biggish hefty chap of about 36, Liverpool-Irish, brought up a Catholic but now a Communist. He says he has had about 9 months’ work in (I think) about the last 6 years. He went to sea as a lad and was at sea about 10 years, then worked as a docker. During the War he was torpedoed on a ship that sank in 7 minutes, but they had expected to be torpedoed and had got their boats ready, and were all saved except the wireless operator, who refused to leave his post until he had got an answer. He also worked in an illicit brewery in Chicago during Prohibition, saw various hold-ups, saw Battling Siki immediately after he had been shot in a street brawl, etc. etc. All this however interests him much less than Communist politics. I urged him to write his autobiography, but as usual, living in about 2 rooms on the dole with a wife (who I gather objects to his writing) and a number of kids, he finds it impossible to settle to any long work and can only do short stories. Apart from the enormous unemployment in Liverpool it is almost impossible for him to get work because he is blacklisted everywhere as a Communist.

He took me down to the docks to see dockers being taken on for an unloading job. When we got there we found about 200 men waiting in a ring and police holding them back. It appeared that there was a fruit ship which needed unloading and on the news that there were jobs going there had been a fight between the dockers which the police had to intervene to stop. After a while the agent of the company (known as the stevedore, I think) emerged from a shed and began calling out the names or rather numbers of gangs whom he had engaged earlier in the day. Then he needed about 10 men more, and walked round the ring picking out a man here and there. He would pause, select a man, take him by the shoulder and haul him foreward,° exactly as at a sale of cattle. Presently he announced that that was all. A sort of groan went up from the remaining dockers, and they trailed off, about 50 men having been engaged out of 200. It appears that unemployed dockers have to sign on twice a day, otherwise they are presumed to have been working (as their work is mainly casual labour, by the day) and their dole docked for that day.

I was impressed by the fact that Liverpool is doing much more in the way of slum-clearance than most towns. The slums are still very bad but there are great quantities of Corporation houses and flats at low rents. Just outside Liverpool there are quite considerable towns consisting entirely of Corporation houses, which are really quite livable and decent to look at, but having as usual the objection that they take people a long way from their work. In the centre of the town there are huge blocks of workers’ flats imitated from those in Vienna. They are built in the form of an immense ring, five stories high, round a central courtyard about 60 yards across, which forms a playground for children. Round the inner side run balconies, and there are wide windows on each side so that everyone gets some sunlight. I was not able to get inside any of these flats, but I gather each has either 2 or 3 rooms,* kitchenette and bathroom with hot water. The rents vary from about 7/- at the top to 10/- at the bottom. (No lifts, of course.) It is noteworthy that the people in Liverpool have got used to the idea of flats (or tenements, as they call them) whereas in a place like Wigan the people, though realising that flats solve the problem of letting people live near their work, all say they would rather have a house of their own, however bad it was.

There are one or two interesting points here. The re-housing is almost entirely the work of the Corporation, which is said to be entirely ruthless towards private ownership and to be even too ready to condemn slum houses without compensation. Here therefore you have what is in effect Socialist legislation, though it is done by a local authority. But the Corporation of Liverpool is almost entirely Conservative. Moreover, though the re-housing from the public funds is, as I say, in effect a Socialist measure, the actual work is done by private contractors, and one may assume that here as elsewhere the contractors tend to be the friends, brothers, nephews etc. of those on the Corporation. Beyond a certain point therefore Socialism and Capitalism are not easy to distinguish, the State and the capitalist tending to merge into one. On the other side of the river, the Birkenhead side (we went through the Mersey tunnel) you have Port Sunlight, a city within a city, all built and owned by the Leverhulme soap works. Here again are excellent houses at fairly low rents, but, as with publicly-owned property, burdened by restrictions. Looking at the Corporation buildings on the one side, and Lord Leverhulme’s building on the other, you would find it hard to say which was which.

Another point is this. Liverpool is practically governed by Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic ideal, at any rate as put forward by the Chesterton-Beachcomber[4] type of writer, is always in favour of private ownership and against Socialist legislation and “progress” generally. The Chesterton type of writer wants to see a free peasant or other small-owner living in his own privately owned and probably insanitary cottage; not a wage-slave living in an excellently appointed Corporation flat and tied down by restrictions as to sanitation etc. The R.Cs in Liverpool, therefore, are going against the supposed implications of their own religion. But I suppose that if the Chestertons et hoc genus grasped that it is possible for the R.Cs to capture the machinery of local and other government, even when it is called Socialist, they would change their tune.

No clogs or shawl over head in Liverpool. Returning by car, noticed how abruptly this custom stops a little west of Wigan.**

Am trying to arrange to return to London by sea if G. can get me a passage on a cargo boat.

Bought two brass candlesticks and a ship in a bottle. Paid 9/- for the candlesticks. G. considered I was swindled but they are quite nice brass.

*presumably 3 – living room & 2 bedrooms [handwritten footnote].

** It is said by everyone in Wigan that clogs are going out. Yet in the poorer quarters 1 person in 2 seems to me to wear clogs, & there are (I think) 10 shops which sell nothing else.

[1] May and John Deiner ran the Liverpool branch of The Adelphi circle. Orwell was introduced to them either by Middleton Murry or Richard Rees of The Adelphi. John was a telephone engineer. Orwell arrived very ill and because of this he saw less of Liverpool than he had hoped. He spoke to them of wishing to return to London by ship in order to experience conditions at sea. There is a charming memoir of Orwell by May Deiner in Orwell Remembered, pp. 134 – 6. She concludes: ‘he was such a real man…We didn’t feel any embarrassment at all with him. Just that he hadn’t much to say unless he was talking about his books or the things that interested him, about the depression…and yet you felt the warmth there; you felt the concern if you like’.

[2] George Garrett (1896 – 1966) was an unemployed seaman with whom Orwell got on very well. He wrote for The Adelphi and short stories under the pseudonym ‘Matt Lowe’ (i.e. matelot). He had spent much of the 1920’s in the USA and was a member of ‘the Wobblies’, the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary industrial union. His ability to imitate an American accent won him small parts at the Merseyside Unity Theatre.

[3] Of the four or five days Orwell stayed with the Deiners, Orwell was, at their insistence, kept in bed for three days (Crick, p. 285).

[4] Chesterton-Beachcomber: G. K. Chesterton (1897 – 1925), Roman Catholic apologist, editor, and prolific writer, creator of the priest-detective, Father Brown. He had published Orwell’s first professional article in English (‘A Farthing Newspaper’, 1928, CW, X, pp. 119-21). The ‘Beachcomber’ column in the Daily Express was started in 1924 by J. B. Morton (1893 – 1979), also a Roman Catholic. The column was mildly satiric and the object of frequent pejorative reference by Orwell. For a more considered comparison of Chesterton and Morton by Orwell, see ‘As I Please’, no 30 (23 June 1944, CW, XVI, pp. 262-5).

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