Frank George Marling (1863-1954): Fun and Festivities – Part One

Frank’s memoirs include a range of different events and activities that he witnessed or took part in during his childhood. In particular, he provides us with many different stories about childhood games and playing outdoors. Games that Frank played as a child include: “Snap”, “Playing Shop”, “Tag”, and “Follow my leader” (pp.99-102). “Follow my leader” was a game in which Frank and his friends had to walk across a plank of wood to “show their skill” (p102). Frederick Charles Wynne, from Portsmouth, also discusses examples of games he played as a child. However, unlike Frank, Frederick was “confined to the streets in which he lived” when playing games (Daish, 2018).

James, Robert; Boys Playing Duckstones; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries;

Another game that Frank played, was with horse-chestnuts in the Autumn with his friends, or as Frank calls it: “Hobbley – Onker” (p.113):

[…] the threading of a horsechestnut on a string and aiming blows with that of another boy, he doing the same with yours alternately, to see whose chestnut would survive. To obtain chestnuts you either begged off someone or went on a quest for them (p.113).

Festivities such as the “passage of the seasons” in rural areas or the countryside, were held in order to bring people together who lived in solitude or had minimal “opportunities to socialise” (Horn, p.71). Frank’s memories of playing games with horse-chestnuts, could be described as a type of seasonal festivity because it was a traditional game played during the Autumn. Reading this account, I too, remember times during the Autumn months where I would play the exact same game as a child. It is fascinating to read about a game that is still played by children today.

Previous to this, Frank writes about a time in the Autumn when he and his friends went out to collect nuts from trees (p.111). He was eleven years of age at the time and unfortunately the keeper of the grounds found them! We were ordered down, made to deliver up our nuts (Pollie kept hers! He evidently had a weak spot for little girls!) and soundly noted us for the damaged hedge! Then he demanded the names of us boys (nothing said to Polly) and said he should see the Police! (pp.111-2). Luckily for Frank, the Police did not come for Frank and his friends!

“A sheet music cover from 1862 showing the dance platform at Cremorne Pleasure Gardens in west London.”

The Victorian era had seen a great increase and interest in leisure. However, the amount of time spent doing leisure activities depended upon personal funds as well as actual free time to do things (Horn, p.2). The Great Exhibition of 1851, was also a very popular event that brought many to go for days out to see it (O’Gorman, 2010). As Frank mentions in his memoirs, his father also went to see it for himself! This is detailed in my first introductory post, as well as my Reading and Writing post!

The introduction of better train travel also led to opportunities for everyone to go on days out to the “seaside or the country” (Horn, p.1). When Frank was a child, he went for a day out to the “Montpelier Gardens” with his mother, and watched the “swans on the lake” (p.54). As Frank explains in his memoirs, this was when he and his mother went to Cheltenham to see his Aunt Emily (p.53-4). Another day during the same time, “Aunt Emily’s ‘young man’” took Frank, Frank’s mother, and Aunt Emily out for a “drive” to “Cleeve Hill”:

Cheltenham lay at our feet and the hill seemed to fall away so steeply that I wondered what would happen if the horse ran away and we all toppled over!” (p.54).

Montpellier House Gardens Imperial Cheltenham; Georgi Evans-Phillips; June 28, 2013.

As this was before motor cars were invented, going out for a “drive” as Frank writes, meant to go out in your horse and cart! Thus, the reason why he writes about “wondering what would happen if the horse ran away” (p.54).

As a child, it was very exciting for Frank to watch bands play outside where he lived, marching around the streets. He describes the joy of hearing the sound “of a brass band out in the street” one summer evening:

[…] Allan and I spent many hours playing together. One summer’s evening he and I were playing at the top of the garden when we heard the sound: of a brass band out in the street coming nearer and nearer. We […] discovered that a number of horse drawn brakes [carriages] returning from Sharpness Pleasure Grounds to Stroud with a large party of trippers had drawn up in the Market Square for a brief rest. In the front brake was a brass band which was playing the tune ‘The Girl I left behind me’. The square was seething with excitement! We ran about and looked on until the party drove off down Canonbury Street. I never hear that tune without the whole scene rising up before me.” (pp.19-20).

During this time, and even more so into the late nineteenth-century, leisure was considered a “right”, rather than a luxury (Beaven, pp.44-8). The “trippers” that Frank had seen as a child, were examples of “pleasure-seeking citizen[s]” (Beaven, p.44). Pleasure Grounds and Music Halls were examples of public spaces that became popular in the late-nineteenth century to the working-classes (Horn, 1999).

Victorian Children playing in Roker Park, Sunderland; English Heritage;

Many people may have still not been able to afford to spend time doing leisurely activities, but there was a great interest and new found culture emerging from the working-class. They were people who wanted to improve their class identity by participating in activities previously enjoyed by the middle and upper-classes (Beaven, p.19). Frank’s recollection of the scene quoted above, is evidence of the leisure and fun of the “pleasure-seekers” that emerged at the time (Beaven, p.44).

More details about leisure and events such as “Club Days” will be included in the second part of this post.

Bibliography

  • Burnett, J. (Ed.). Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from the 1820’s to the 1920’s. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Beaven, B. Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850-1945. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005.
  • Daish, L. (2018). Frederick Charles Wynne: Fun and Festivities (Part One). 18 April. [blog]. Available at: http://www.writinglives.org/fun/frederick-charles-wynne-fun-and-festivities (Accessed:25/04/18).
  • ‘Frank George Marling’ in Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)
  • Horn, P. Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1999.
  • Marling, Frank George. ‘Reminiscences’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 1:492.
  • O’Gorman, F. (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
  • Seabrook, J. Working Class Childhood: An Oral History. London, 1982.

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