Following on from my first post on ‘Habits, Culture & Belief’, I’d now like to take a closer look at how ‘leisure’ is discussed in Adeline’s memoir. There is a lot said about men’s social life, focusing on her father and elder brothers in particular. Adeline also writes lots about child’s play which took place on the streets around her home at the Cottages (Dawdon) and she goes into depth about the rules of games and structures of play within the group. These accounts of leisure show a gendered divide within the community with women’s leisure activities not being mentioned as such, hinting that their time was spent mostly within the domestic sphere of the home.
Firstly I’d like to examine how men spent their free time in the early 1900’s according to Adeline’s memoir. She focuses on sport that men played and the first that we come across when reading is football. Adeline writes, ‘At the bottom was the football field I have mentioned, called the ‘Stars Field’ after the name of the team which was mainly composed of Cottages men… My eldest brother was goalkeeper for the ‘star’ and he had all kinds of injuries, but it was accepted as part of the game. What rejoicing when the Stars players won a silver medal. There couldn’t have been more rejoicing or more honour heaped on them if they had won the Victoria Cross’. There is obviously great pride in playing for the local football team being expressed here and football has been described as ‘The People’s Game’. This idea of football being a sport for the working-classes is noted by E.J Hobsbawm as he writes that it was deemed by the mid 1880’s as, ‘a mass proletarian sport’ (1984, p.185). Adeline’s writing also suggests that the whole community supported the team and ‘heaped honour’ on them after a win. She also talks about a lesser known sport called ‘quoits’, writing, ‘it is a lovely Sunday morning and as I look out onto the village I see groups of men winding their way to the village green to have a game of quoits and then a free discussion afterwards in the village pub. Well, my father spent many summer Sunday mornings in the same way more than a hundred years ago and continued long after I was born’. This shows the tradition of the game of ‘quoits’ in North East mining communities being enjoyed as a pastime for men over centuries and continuing in more modern times, as Adeline writes her memoir in the late 1900’s. Richard Holt discusses ‘quoits’ in his text Sport & the Working Class in Modern Britain (1990), he writes, ‘The undimmed popularity of both these sports in the late nineteenth century despite the advent of football is most striking… The combined support for fives, quoits and bowling among the Northumbrian miners around the turn of the century was as great as their love of football’ (pg. 4).
Both football and quoits are ‘organised sport’ and recognised as ‘respectable’ pastimes for working-class men especially as Adeline highlights the community spirit and respect involved in each of them. In comparison to this she writes about the perhaps less ‘respectable’ forms of leisure that men took part in. For example; ‘They used to box, bare fists and wrestle, all in fun but there were many black eyes and bloody noses when they were finished’, and, ‘The men would all go off to the pubs after the meal and then return late to end up in a punch up’. Adeline also makes the statement that, ‘men were always drunk at weekends’. This theme of drinking and fighting as a pastime for men in the community is merely seen by Adeline as a normal feature of society, as she suggests it was ‘all in fun’. Though she neither condemns nor praises this behaviour, she does not focus on it a lot throughout her memoir which suggests she chose to stay away from it and turn a blind eye.
‘Boys and girls all played together. We played with balls and skipping ropes and hitchy dabbers and diablos… We played rings, choosing the boys we wanted to kiss and we played boy’s games as well’.
Adeline’s memoir is filled with accounts of her childhood spent playing with her friends and siblings in the streets of her small village. She mentions some toys, such as skipping ropes and diablos, but never anything extravagant that would cost a lot of money. This suggests that play was centered more on improvising with what materials they had. For example Adeline writes, ‘The girls played buttony. We had bags of buttons round our necks and we would play each other or in teams. We had to throw a button up against the wall and then your partner would follow suit. If you could span the distance between the two buttons you were the winner and took your partner’s button’. We can also note that Adeline makes a distinction between ‘boy’s games’ and ‘girls games’ showing the gendered difference within the children’s playtime. But she does say that she took part in the stereotypically boy’s games which suggests a breakdown of these gendered structures in early years of childhood. This traditionally gendered boundary between ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ pastimes can be seen carrying on into adulthood as it is always men who are out enjoying sport while the women of the family clean the house. I mention this in my earlier blog post on ‘Home & Family’. This does not seem to inflict on Adeline’s enjoyment of her childhood as she knows this is a ‘way of life’ and accepts it. She reiterates often throughout her memoir how money and her working-class status do not affect her happiness. She writes, ‘you see, our pleasures cost us nothing’, and, ‘you must have noticed by now how little our games cost us’. Nearing the end of her memoir she lists the rules of many games, going into great detail about them. She then exclaims, ‘Oh! How I wish I were a child again’. There is a real sense of nostalgia throughout the text which I believe shows how times have changed in terms of leisure and fun as Adeline provokes thoughts of how money often doesn’t buy happiness.
Hobsbawm, E.J. Worlds of Labour: Further Studies in the History of Labour. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984.
Holt, Richard. Sport and the Working Class in Modern Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.
411 HODGES, Adeline, ‘I Remember’, MS, pp.250 (c.42000 words). Brunel University Library.