“At Brockenhurst, I had attended a tiny private school run by an old lady in her cottage. Primarily a music teacher, she did however teach general subjects. Lessons were often interrupted by squawking’s of her ugly parrot…Permitted to walk the mown paths of her country garden during playtimes, we rebelled by planting deliberate footprints amongst the flowerbeds. Big shocks awaited me at Ludlow school, Woolston; town kids seemed like cannibals! A white starched collar, which I used to wear at Brockenhurst, did not last out the first day; it got yanked off by ‘roughs’. Poverty, very visible at Woolston, was evident in my classmates. Children were often sent home after coming to school without shoes or stockings. Headlice were not uncommon.” (Hansford, pp. 5-6).
In this extract, the author creates two contrasting images for the reader in order to depict his time at a small private school in the country against a larger, much rougher establishment in Southampton. As in many parts of his memoir, Charles uses humour in order to amuse the reader, and at many points this creates optimism in a seemingly bleak situation. Here, the writer amuses the reader with his description of the parrot, which he describes as a “featherless bird, except for a topknot, the only spot that its masochistic beak had been able to reach.” (Hansford, p. 5).
Despite this optimism, it is implied from this extract that Charles felt extremely underprepared for his move to a school in a large town as he refers to the change as a ‘big shock’ and I can speculate that Charles did not enjoy his time at school: finding his teacher and her parrot at the cottage tedious, and in the latter finding his fellow classmates almost unbearable. Generally, I think school for Charles Hansford was an overall negative experience. However, he does recall finding enjoyment once a week at visiting the cinema, despite the uncleanliness, “picture-houses were aptly named ‘flea-pits’!” (Hansford, p. 6)
Picture house/Flea Pit – Twentieth Century (Savoy Cinema, Heaton Moor)
Although later on in life Charles does begin to appreciate education, through his childhood his aspiration seems to be to leave school and begin to earn a living. He talks about his envy of the older lads, who he’d known from Ludlow school, now able to work, explaining their labour in the shipyard employed as ‘rivet-catchers’. He says, “These working boys showed off their manly hands, which had become covered in burn blisters; those of us still at school felt small.” (Hansford, p. 7) But most noteably regarding this transition is how education begins to shape his identity and class. During the summer holidays he returns with a friend to Brockenhurst, however now growing up in a world amongst rougher children in a bigger circle of pupils, it is obvious to the children from the village that he is not the same as those at Brockenhurst anymore: “I now realised I was a ‘townee’, who no longer belonged at Brockenhurst.” (Hansford, p.9)
I also think that education was not a main priority for Charles at a young age because he was brought up amongst people that worked and was taught to follow in their footsteps. Perhaps his education was not encouraged by the family because the family economy was much more important, and leaving school at age fourteen I feel that Charles did not cherish the opportunity to an education he was given because other things, such as to earn money, were expected of him. He sums up his experience of education with the statement, “Graduating from ‘Ludlow Road Boys’ to the Government Rolling Mill at the age of fourteen, my Alma Mater had prepared me for, perhaps, little else?”. By concluding chapter six, Work and Beer, in this way, it is suggested that Charles did not have a large amount of faith in the education system that was constructed for the working class.
However, in his young adult life Charles does begin to show an interest in literature, and shows willingness in wanting to further the education that he didn’t make use of when he was a boy: “Intending to fill some of the gaps bequeathed by my formal education, I now made a start on a host of new subjects through series like the Modern Home University’.” (Hansford, p.89). Unfortunately education had been built on a foundation of preparing male pupils for work, “…boys were subsequently apprenticed at the age of 14, and whilst they were in the school they wore the traditional ‘blue coat’ uniform of the apprentice” (Hansford, p.70) but by the beginning of the twentieth century, the working-classes slowly began to realise that knowledge meant freedom, and when Charles was old enough to realise this notion, he embraced it.
Hansford, C. Memoir of a Bricklayer. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:745
Hopkins, E. (1979) A Social History of the English Working Classes 1815-1945. Great Britain: Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd
Fig 1. Manchester Evening News [Photograph: Savoy Cinema, Heaton Moor, Stockport: Twentieth Century Picture House] At: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/savoy-cinema-faces-last-picture-1040253 [Accessed 5th January 2014]