Sing a song of England,
Shuddering with cold
Doomed to slow starvation
By the gods of gold;
See her famished children
Hunger-marked, and mean,
Isn’t that a dainty dish
To lay before the Queen?
This moving little rhyme is made all the more poignant when you find out how the poet died.
Tom Maguire was just 29 when his friends found him collapsed in his one-room lodgings, with no fire in the grate and no food in the larder. He died of pneumonia days later.
In contrast to the lonely circumstances of his last days, over 1,000 people turned out for his funeral in March 1895. Tom had worked tirelessly for ‘hunger-marked’ labourers and their families. He was one of Leeds’ pioneering socialists, trade unionists and Labour leaders, best known for leading the Gas Workers’ Strike to victory in 1890.
The council-led Gas Committee was laying off gas workers in the summer when demand was poor and then hiring them back at lower wages. The workers walked out. Their employers responded by hiring workers from London and Manchester to replace them. But thanks to Tom’s leadership, these ‘blacklegs’ never really accessed the gasworks, gas supplies ran desperately low and the Gas Committee had to admit defeat.
Tom is buried in Beckett Street Cemetery, Leeds, with the epitaph: “Socialist, bold, cautious, true and loving comrade.”