Samuel Mountford’s depiction of education was not so much on the education itself, but rather the impact of being poor whilst in school. He mentions a lot of instances where his life was made worse because of the class he was in, and how this affected his self-esteem and confidence throughout school.
“The teacher who ran the sporting side came round to the classroom and said, “Will the boys who would like to go to football, please put up their hands”. Yours truly did just that. “MOUNTFORD. You cannot go, you have no football boots”, (Well, did I feel small. WHAT A MAN)”
Many of Mountford’s writing of his school days are depictions of his poverty compared to the other children, and perhaps this is what affected his need to seek work rather than stay in education. In 1913 the school compulsory education age was raised from ten to thirteen, which was an improvement in the education of young people at the time. It seems that class was an unavoidable factor though when Mountford left school to find work and help support the family.
Just as Mountford has recollected his time spent at soup kitchen’s as a child, Anna Davin testifies the commonness of this in the early 1900s in her book Growing Up Poor (1996): “Children were major clients of the soup kitchens set up in winter. Some fed them on the spot, but many served take-away helpings” (184).
The first chapter of Mountford’s memoir addresses his school days, however this is very short and he quickly moves on to the next subject in his life, the First World War. Even whilst talking about his school days, he only focuses on the poverty of his family and how he worked throughout school to add to the income of the family. Mountford ends the schooling chapter of his memoir telling how he collected horse manure to sell to the men on the allotments, and how on a good day he would make threepence or more, which would always go into the household.
“How grim this has been, and what an experience so early in life. […] All the schools in the country could not help me as regards to this kind of experience. It is in fact an education on its own.”
This was an early sign for Mountford that he learnt from labour, and he shows in his memoir that education served no purpose for him as a child, and even whilst under education he worked in an attempt to provide money for his family. He clearly blames the class system and appears to become angry at the memory of his low welfare during his schooling days. This is perhaps why education did not take much prominence in the memoir as a key theme, because what he does remember of it was negative experiences and only serves as a recollection of his poverty. The entirety of the chapter dedicated to his school days is rife with stories and accounts of experiences he had with poverty, rather than depicting any learning, friendships, or any positive experiences of any kind. It highlights the way that Mountford’s memoir is dedicated to mentoring the younger audience, and he tries to show that things were much worse in his day with no welfare system to help out the lower classes.
Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.
Davin, A. ‘Growing Up Poor’ Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914. London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996.