Daisy Noakes (b. 1908): An Introduction

‘I was aware of someone shaking me and saying, “get up”. I could not open my eyes because of a bright light’ (p.50)

The autobiographical work I have decided to explore, entails the journey of a persevering woman named Daisy Noakes, born in 1908 in Brighton. Daisy reflects on important moments in her life in the first third of the 20thcentury. She resided at 27, Princes Road with her parents, John and Emily and her 10 siblings until she moved away to join the working world. She introduces her memoir stating, ‘I wrote it as I thought of it… everybody should write something like this to leave to their children’ (p.3). 

Within this raw yet humorous memoir which covers the years 1910 to 1934, Daisy takes us through the happiness and the hardships of her world, going into service at the age of fourteen. Being the sixth of ten children Daisy learned the benefits of hard work and accomplishing goals from the outset of the memoir. Her mother Emily instilled the value of a strong work ethic within her children from a young age. Daisy had numerous jobs before she went into service. Emily being one of thirteen children herself held the motto ‘you don’t get anything for nothing’ (p.4). She used a severe type of parenting that was used in large families in this time which proved effective. Despite living with a certain level of strictness, Daisy’s siblings provided companionship and friendship throughout her life. Although content throughout her childhood Daisy sacrifices her teen years to build a name for herself, working around the clock to escape the realm of the working-class name. 

‘I expected she loved us in her peculiar way, but she never showed us affection, or had time to listen to us… I can never remember having a conversation with her’ (p.11)

Daisy’s mother and father and their parents were all Sussex born. Her grandfather was a tree planter and her grandmother could not resist the prospect of running her own business, therefore set up a home-made sweet shop which was open for 47 years. Even younger than Daisy, Emily was sent into service in Scotland at the age of 11. Her strict ways with her own children must have stemmed from practicing discipline so early in life. John came from a background of blacksmiths and travellers and he later went into service with his brother at Brighton’s Royal Crescent, where he met Emily.

“It’s your lot to work. Once you’re in the world, there’s no room here for you” (p.5)

Daisy’s memoir is split into two parts. This makes the chronology of her life easy to understand. It also grants simplicity to entangle ourselves in the key events of Daisies life. The first part gives us an insight into her home life, her siblings, her schooling and general activities she takes part in. The second part introduces her new job going into service at the Ovingdean school for boys, away from home. We are shown her new normal and the harsh environment she must learn to thrive in. Her many responsibilities throughout her jobs consisted of tough manual labour while she attempts to work her way up. She was constantly waiting for her time to prove herself: ‘I was next to be launched on the world’. (p.45)

“Tomorrow started a new life in new surroundings and I’d prove I was somebody instead of one in a crowd” (p.49)

Once Daisy was married, she was made to leave domestic service, since ‘maids without encumbrances’ (p.5) were favoured over those who were married and had children. This evoked my sympathy as she had dedicated most of her life to this trade. Despite her loss she dedicated her time to her favourite hobbies, her husband and her children, Geoffrey and Gladys. Furthermore, ‘The Town Beehive’ was published by QueenSpark Books. This is a small publishing company solely based in Brighton. They mainly focus on publishing working people’s autobiographies to provide them with their own history. At first Daisy was writing for herself and her family and ‘never thought it would get into print” (p.3).

This simple but eventful memoir gave me the opportunity to delve into the life of a woman who must work to create a life for herself and experience the hardships she faced. I enjoyed comparing her struggles with the struggles for women in the 21stcentury. In her memoir, she used a casual writing style yet painted a vibrant picture of a powerful women proving her worth in an arguably patriarchal society. It is interesting to explore how the patriarchy has adapted over time and see the new things women are challenged with on a day to day basis. Daisy looks back fondly in appreciation of her tough yet rewarding life which inspires me.

Bibliography 

Noakes, Daisy, 1975. ‘The Town Beehive, a young girl’s lot Brighton 1910-1934’, Brighton, QueenSpark Books.

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