Tommy Burns – champion of the unemployed

In February 1895, times were extremely hard in Liverpool where unemployment was high, partly due to severe weather, and many people were destitute and starving. In the afternoons, hundreds gathered outside St George’s Hall in Lime Street where soup, bread and beef were handed out from vans.

Tickets for bread, cocoa, coal and lodging were also handed out from police stations and the Liverpool Mercury (16th February) reported: ‘The central police office, and indeed every district office, were besieged all day long with applicants for assistance’.

Tommy Burns offered to help by completing a 100-mile walking tour of Lancashire towns collecting money for Liverpool’s unemployed.

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph report of 28th February told how he stepped out of a soup van outside St George’s Hall wearing tight woollen pantaloons and a jersey with the words ‘For the Liverpool Unemployed’. It continued:

He was preceded by a large crowd of the unemployed, one of whom carried a red banner, the words inscribed on which gave out to the world that the Liverpool unemployed “demanded work”. Thousands of spectators assembled in Lime Street, and for a considerable distance lined London Road, along which proceeded Tommy amid the cheers of the crowd.

He pushed a collecting box in the form of a small wheelbarrow on his journey through Liverpool, St Helens, Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Manchester, and Prescot.

The Yorkshire Evening Post of 1st March described Tommy’s return to Liverpool:

An immense crowd escorted him with bands to the Pierhead where Burns dived into the Mersey at the back of the Landing Stage.