John Bull (1899-): Biographical Entry

114 BULL, John, ‘Early childhood’, and other recollections, TS, pp.238? (c.80,000 words). Extracts printed in various trade union journals (copies of which are attached to the typescript). BruneI University Library.

Born 1899? in London. Mother worked as a bookfolder. Father seldom at home due to long periods of imprisonment. 2 sisters. Educated at St. Peter’s School; Canonbury Road School; Amwell Street Church School. Married, with 3 children. Moved home (midnight ‘flits’) frequently as a child. Moved to Burley, Hampshire, in 1958.

As a young boy he earned pennies by running errands and as a part-time milkboy, doctor’s boy, lather-boy (for less than a day), and street seller’s assistant (tooth powder); unable to get work as a van-boy so became a full-time errand-boy, the only other option (aged 13); started work for the Post Office in 1914 in the Factories Department, remaining for 44 years; appointed Welfare Officer for the Department in 1944; retired in 1958 to become a milkman.

Member of the Labour Party; member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers; member of the Post Office Engineering Union; chairman of a group of the hard of hearing; voluntary hospital car driver.

Absorbing accounts of childhood struggles in London at the turn of the century, painting a graphic picture of the poverty then existing but set against a colourful street life and a sense of dignity and pride which characterised the inhabitants. The author recalls walking from shop to shop with his mother as she tried to sell a mirror in order to pay the women who attended the birth of her daughter, the squalor of overcrowded and bug-ridden houses, and his experiences of various childhood jobs, including a lather-boy to an Italian barber for half a day. Other topics discussed include hop-picking holidays; dress; schooling; ‘flitting’; domestic outwork (book folding); street games; shops and retailing; street traders and entertainers; pawnbroking; diet; Dr. Jelly, the ‘Threepenny Doctor’. The memoirs, written chiefly in the period 1979-80, do not form a continuous narrative and the intervals between writing lead to some repetition.

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