‘My father had eight rows of allotments, and grew chrysanthemums and mint. My eldest sister and I used to have to go round the “posh” houses of Thorton Heath and sell these from an old pram. Mint was 1d a bunch and chrysanthemums were 4d for six.” (Vere, 2)
Percy describes fondly the memories of his childhood, despite working from a young age. His father was a flour miller and he describes how his family would travel to Epsom for Derby Day, and how he would hide among the sacks of flour when his dad did deliveries in a wagonette, drawn by four horses. In regards to the way autobiographers depicts their fathers, Julie-Marie Strange believes that,
‘Autobiographers tend not to express their feelings directly but rather signal their affectionate relationship with their father by talking about the things he did for them & the things he made them.’ (Strange, 2014)
Never directly describing the affection he feels for his Father, Percy’s language speaks of a admiration, describing the wagon as ‘exactly the same as you see in Western films.’ (Vere, 2) He also describes his father’s strength as he lifted flour sacks up a ladder with no handle. It is clear that his father taught him the importance and fulfilment of hard work and possibly, why his memoir focuses so much on the labour that he undertook throughout his life.
Although looking back on his childhood with fondness, he mentions the poverty that his family lived. ‘When my boots were worn through I had to cut a piece of cardboard the shape of an insole, put it in my boot and walked on that.’ (Vere, 2) He describes the importance of the few coppers that his sister and he made supplemented against his ‘dad’s meagre income.’ However, school was still the most important part of Percy’s childhood. As Anna Davin describes, it was becoming common for children to be in full time work in the early 20th century.
‘As school enforcement became more effective, fulltime work was impossible for children who had satisfied the school authorities. Some found regular part-time jobs…it was a small part of children’s contribution to the domestic economy, especially as it became easier for adult and teenage earners to supply family needs.’ (Davin, 175)
Despite the poor grammar and spelling throughout the memoir, I have no doubt that this was because of Percy’s many strokes that debilitated the use of his arms and not because of a poor education. He confidently declares, ‘I went to school at 5 years of age and progressed to standard 7 which was the top class in those days, at 14 years of age.’ (Vere, 1) Although he gives very few details about his education and schooling, from what he does say, he seems proud of what he achieved when he was in school. Despite having a big role within his family to provide an income, he stayed at school around a year or two longer than the usual working class child did.
JM Strange. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014
Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783
Anna Davin. Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London. 1870-1914. London: Rivers Oram P
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