Following on from my previous post, where I discussed Norah Fearon Knight’s experience of leisure and recreation growing up in a large, working class family during the 1910’s, I now turn to a related theme: fun and festivities! Jeremy Seabrook explains how many working class writers ‘recall beautiful moments of childhood which pierce the habits of living’ and this can be said about Norah, any financial hardship faced by her and her family not stopping them from celebrating and partaking in annual festivities and these ‘beautiful moments’ playing a prominent role in her memoir ‘Nostalgia’ (1982, 118)
As a family orientated person, which I discuss at length in this post, it comes as no surprise then that Norah describes memories of annual festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Halloween spent with family with great fondness and excitement. Norah explains how each festival was celebrated traditionally whether that be with games, food or specific rituals. She talks of playing ‘duck apple’ and ‘bob apple’ at Halloween with her youngest siblings and supervised by her father, showing how the family were able to make their own fun and games without spending huge amounts of money (17).
‘The winter months were always exciting. Duck apple night, on Hallow’ene was the starting point so to speak, & dad would bring in the big galvanised bath from the wash house & Terry, Kath & I would fill it with water & in would go the apples. Then, with our hands tied behind our backs, we would endeavour to catch an apple with our teeth! The one who caught the most, was the winner. Bob apple followed & you were lucky if you finished that game without getting [two words illegible] all over your face, but it was all part of the fun.’ (17)
She explains how after the fun of Halloween, ‘the next event was Bon fire night’ (17) and that although ‘we were not particularly well off, had little money to spare for such luxuries as big fireworks like rockets & norman candles’, the neighbouring family ‘the Robertsons always had a lot, so we pooled them & shared in with the experience’ (18). Norah’s view of fireworks being ‘luxuries’ and her declaration of being ‘not particularly well off’ firmly establishes the Fearons as a working class family and in this way, Norah’s memoir should be viewed as a valuable piece of working class history, telling us things that no other records can, such as: what went on inside working class homes, the struggles faced by working class families and the ‘sharing’ and community spirit in working class neighbourhoods.
Ronald Hutton explains how: ‘the main development of the twentieth century was that Christmas spread outwards from the wealthier third of society to take in the whole of it’ (2001, 20) and we see this in ‘Nostalgia’, Norah telling that ‘once the fifth of November was over we knew that Christmas was on the way‘, suggesting that the celebrations were quite grand and required a lot of preparation (19). For Norah, Christmas was all about the food and cooking together, in ‘Nostalgia’ telling how ‘exciting smells began to invade the house’ and ‘we all had a hand in’ preparing whatever ‘seasonal dish’ Amy Fearon, Norah’s mother was making. (19). In fact, Norah explains how ‘there was a period of time when we kept a few chickens to fatten up for Christmas’ (19). This suggests that certain foods, such as fresh poultry, were viewed as a luxury and a treat, saved for only the ultimate celebration – Christmas.
‘The house had to be decorated for Christmas, & weeks beforehand, our evenings were spent making paper chains & hangings from brightly coloured strips of tissue paper’ (20-21), tells Norah, suggesting that although her family may not have been able to afford expensive, lavish decorations such as glass baubles like the ‘wealthier third of society’, they were able to celebrate Christmas in their own way and create their own decorations, again reaffirming Hutton’s idea about Christmas becoming a celebration that transcended social class in the 20th century (2001, 20).
And the festivities did not end at the traditional holidays for Norah and the Fearon family. Events such as galas and carnivals that took place in the local area around Seacombe are remembered by her with just as much fondness as the likes of Christmas and Halloween:
‘There was the carnival each year when the local shopkeepers & others decorated cars & horses & carts & all the usual trimmings of a procession. People on foot dressed as clown etc, rattling the collecting boxes, and of course the bands. There were always three or four really good bands marching, & as one lot of music faded away as the procession moved on, another would take its place, & the air would be filled with the sound of it. The fire engine was last & a splendid sight to see with its gleaming brasses and bright red paint. (63-64)
She talks of how ‘the annual Gala was a treat enjoyed’, explaining that ‘it was the only day in the year that the Central Park put up side shows, had racing competitions, & bands’ (63). As someone who grew up in the same area as Norah, but a century later, it is incredibly interesting to see how back then you didn’t have to travel far to attend such fun events, as there certainly hasn’t been anything of the sort in Central Park during my lifetime, or at least that I can remember.
Still talking of the Gala, she explains how ‘you had to pay to go in. We didn’t often have money to “get in” but I do know that we were always there to see the fireworks at the end. The King & Queen “George & Mary” all lit in beautiful colour & then the final GOOD NIGHT.’ (63). This shows how just like I discussed areas of recreation and leisure often being segregated by class in my last blog post, so were events and festivals. Yet this did not stop Norah and her family from making the best of such events taking place in the local area, revealing Norah’s positive, grateful attitude to life that she seemingly inherited from her parents and which can be seen throughout ‘Nostalgia’.
Fearon, Norah. Nostalgia. (1964) Unpublished Memoir: Brunel University Special Collection.
2:457 KNIGHT, Norah Fearon, ‘Nostalgia’, MS, pp.73 (c. 10,000 words). BruneI University Library.
Hutton, Ronald. (2001) Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Seabrook, Jeremy. (1982) Working-Class Childhood. Oxfordshire: Littlehampton Book Services Ltd.
Image 1 – Portrait of a French working class family with their Christmas tree in 1910s. Retrieved from:
Image 2 – Photograph of the events field in Central Park, Wallasey, during times gone by. Retrieved from
Image 3 – Photograph of the annual carnival in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, 1910. Retrieved from:
Image 4 – Photograph of the entrance to modern day Central Park, Wallasey. Retrieved from: