‘There was never any problem to find something to do.
There were about four boys in our gang… It was easy to play in those far off days, the only traffic was a farm cart or a tradesman’s horse and trap’ (6).
In his memoir, ‘Down Memory Lane’, Cecil George Harwood commemorates the Christian beliefs instilled in him through his church schooling. However like most children, he didn’t take this too seriously! As Cecil relives his younger days spent in Welwyn, Hertfordshire, he turns towards the acts of tomfoolery that regularly landed him ‘in the soup’ (4).
Aged six years-old, Cecil joined the choir at Ayot St. Peter. ‘Choir practice was every Friday evening. There were about 10 boys and 8 men’ (3) The Rector’s wife and daughters are frequently mentioned in relation to Cecil’s schooling, and were also present at choir practice ‘to see [they] behaved’ (3). The Rector’s family appear as respected figures of authority, emphasising the importance of religion in Cecil’s upbringing, and the disastrous consequences of getting the giggles in church.
As Cecil explains, during the summer there were two services per day, ‘at 11 o’clock in the morning and 6-30 in the evening’ (3). During the Winter, there was one service ‘at 3-30pm’ (3). Cecil relates a ‘mishap’ (3) that took place in early Autumn, when it was still ‘quite bright and no lamps were lit and when the last hymn was given out it began to darken and the hymn “The people that in darkness sat” had hardly begun when it became quite dark and no-one could see their books’ (3). Even at the young age of six, Cecil had a keen sense of irony. He continues, ‘it struck me as funny and I began to giggle’ (3), but the Rector certainly was not amused. As ‘punishment’ (3) for causing a disruption, Cecil was ordered to ‘blow the organ for the next few Sundays, also for the choir practice’ (3). The organ required a great deal of lung power, so needless to say, young Cecil learnt his lesson the hard way. He didn’t cause a ruckus in Church again.
Cecil captures the community spirit of life as a country boy. Between staging pranks on the locals, Cecil and his ‘gang’ (6) dedicated their summer to helping to prepare for the Autumnal Harvest. He writes, ‘as we had a full six weeks holiday we used to give a helping hand to the farmer’ (6). The boys and their family were duly rewarded for their efforts, as ‘when the harvest was gathered in the farmer gave a Harvest Supper to his employees and their wives and their older children’ (7). The community gathers to recognise their hard work, with food taking centre stage of the festivities. Cecil fondly recalls indulging himself on a plentiful banquet, with ‘dishes of potatoes peeled and others baked in their jackets, dishes of brussels sprouts and cauliflower… cold meats, beetroot and pickles as well as jellies and trifles’ (7).
However, Joanna Bourke is suspicious of the social patriotism that Cecil implies. She states, ‘social relations are often recalled through a golden haze: conflict is forgotten in favour of doors that were always open; the neighbour who was never seen is neglected in favour of the neighbour who always shared’ (Bourke, 137).
Cecil remembers the Harvest Supper as a collective effort, ‘everyone who could helped carry the food to the tables and when all were seated Grace was said’ (7). Bourke asks that we consider the effects of this ‘golden haze’ when reading working-class autobiographies, raising questions as to whether Cecil’s memory has been distorted by a sense of working-class solidarity.
There is a definitive community spirit at the heart of Whitehill Cottages; Cecil upheld this compassionate outlook long after leaving Welwyn. By 1934, Cecil and his wife Gladys were living in Wigmore and had welcomed two sons, Douglas and Brian. But despite their growing family, the couple did not neglect their commitments within the community.
When the boys were in their early teens, they ‘joined the Scouts movement’ (81). Cecil commends the club for offering an ‘outlet’ (81) to children, ‘apart from their own circle of friends’ (81). Showing their full support, Cecil and Gladys started fundraising for the movement, and became members of the ‘parents association’ (81). A social evening was organised, to be held ‘every other Saturday and the takings to be given to the new Church building fund’ (81). As mentioned in Life and Labour II, Cecil uncovered an exciting business opportunity in 1950, when he was approached by a Youth Club adviser ‘regarding a Summer Camp in Dorset’ (90-91). The camp was more than a success. They were ‘lucky for weather’ (91), able to enjoy ‘a real holiday and no tight strings’ (91).
Considering Cecil’s jampacked life, it is no surprise that neither he nor Gladys, had the time, nor the ‘inclination to go out drinking’ (7). But Cecil explains that he had no scruples about alcohol, his abstinence was a simple matter of personal preference. ‘We did not set ourselves above those who did, for so many it was relaxation at the week-end’ (69).
Even in their later years, Cecil and Gladys were prominent figures in the local social scene, with Gladys joining the ‘Townswomen’s Guild [and] also the Mothers union at St. Lukes’ (103), in Bath. Although only briefly mentioned by Cecil, the Townswomen’s Guild was first established in 1926, as means of women uniting to campaign on social issues and form friendships. Gladys’s involvement suggests that she desired to be actively involved in civic engagement in matters that would directly impact the community. Cecil too played his part, joining ‘the band of sidemen’ (103), through which he was elected for a position on ‘the Church council’ (103).
The closing line of Cecil’s memoir, ‘I am thankful my wife lived and died a Christian, trusting in the Lord’ (104) concludes his writing on a religious note. This resonates with Jonathan Rose’s analysis that within working-class writing, there is a sense of ‘hope that death would not come, and some would find consolation in religion when the blow fell’ (Rose, 244). For Cecil, Christianity offers the comfort of a redemptive aftermath, providing him with the strength to confront Gladys’s death in his memoir. Whilst acknowledging that it is not uncommon to turn to religion for solace, Cecil’s writing conveys the endurance of his Christian faith.
‘How beautiful to hear [the Church bells] peal out their message of goodwill… All turn to God to protect them from harm and prosper them in their daily lives, and afterwards almost forget him’ (79).
Click here for more on Cecil’s upbringing, working life, and time in the forces.
309 HARWOOD, Cecil George, ‘Down Memory Lane’, TS, pp.104 (c.65,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain 1890 -1960. London: Routledge, 1994.
Harwood, Cecil. ‘Down Memory Lane.’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 1:309. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10964
Kennet, Lauren. ‘Frank George Marling (1863-1954): Habits, Culture and Belief’ 12th April 2018. Writing Lives. Web. Accessed. 18th April 2018.
O’Sullivan, Jonny. ‘Mary Bradbury (b. circa 1900): Habits, Culture and Belief’ 7th April 2017. Writing Lives. Web. Accessed. 19th April 2018.
‘The Townswomen’s Guilds’ N.d. The-T-G.com. Web. Accessed 20th April 2018. https://www.the-tg.com/
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247.
- Ayot St. Peter Exterior: Ayotstpeter.com
- The Organ Inside Ayot St. Peter: Hertfordshirechurches.wordpress.com
- Harvest Supper: Redraggallery.co.uk
- Westbay Esplanade: Westbay.co.uk
- Emblem of The Townswomen’s Guild: The-tg.com
Featured Image. The Interior of Ayot St. Peter (2008): Hertsmemories.org.uk/