Miss P Wilson (b.1918-) Family : Early years

Family had always played a role of vital significance to Miss Wilsons story. In fact she talks more about her family within her own autobiography than she does about herself. It is only fitting then that some time is taken up to focus solely on the lives of the countless family members she refers to.

She was born on 12 Burton Street  in January 1918. Her mother was killed by the influenza epidemic at the end of the war so she was taken to live with her aunts, their husbands and her two cousins. Due to her father fighting in the war, she remained parentless for the first few years of her life.

“The shop was 65 Burnley Street, Ancoats, & the house, although next-door, was 18 Bellinge Street, Newton. In the cellar was a moulded mound going diagonally across the floor, & this covered a part of Shooters’ Brook which was the boundary between Manchester and Newton”

One of her Auntie’s we learn the most about is her Aunt Emma. The eldest of her siblings, it often fell on Emma to make an example for the other children to follow. Like all Wilsons she had an innately strong work ethic to help the family and their struggling finances was placed into services of a rich house in Plymouth when she was only twelve years old.

Michael Lavallette in his Journal, “A Thing of the Past? Child Labour in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” examines the affects child labour can have on a society and tries to discover if any positive development could be made in such scenarios.

Michael Lavallette suggest that there is “no basis for introducing the distinction between the concepts of ‘child labour’ and ‘child work’. He suggests that although Miss Wilson came ot direct harm from her actions that the only distinction between labour and work “is used to justify a set of ideological beliefs about the nature of children’s employment.” (pg.284)

It could be argued that just like her childhood home, which lay on the cusp between two counties, Miss Wilson also lay at the cusp between two different worlds. Her father once he had returned from the war would spoil her. For all she came from true working class routes Miss Wilson always had more than her average friend, displacing her from the true hardships faced by ‘true’ working class children.

After her uncle who owned the shop she was living in died, she and her cousins took on the responsibility of helping their aunt keep the business afloat. They never made a lot of money, but “just enough to keep

heads above water.”

Hugh Cunningham in his journal ”Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500” highlights the how common children working in post-industrial Manchester really was. He states, “in Manchester and Salford, 76 percent of all fourteen-year-old girls and 61 percent of all fourteen year0old boys were employed in mills, In the words of the foreman, ‘Factories cannot be carried on without children.’”  A common consequence of having children work in these types of environments is they often would take the jobs of their fathers. In this sense, working class hardships had a cyclical nature, with many children, just like Miss Wilson adopting the professions of her immediate family.

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