Dora R. Hannan (1909-2011): Habits, Culture & Beliefs

“Life to me was simple but happy in spite of a lack of material possessions. What we never had, we never missed; our toys were very few and far between, we made our own entertainment” [p. 1]

A photo of the Palace cinema, which opened on Commercial Road in 1921.

Dora’s family’s economy was tight, due to it being rather large and surviving off of one income, (See Home and Family for more details), and Dora’s recreational activities reflects this. “Most of our games were perforce played in the street … We raced around with our hoops, mine being a wooden one propelled with a stick and the boys had an iron one with a metal hooked rod. Marbles, five stones, flicking fag cards, whip and top, tag, hop-scotch, conkers, all figured in our amusements, and we would play at not treading on the cracks in the pavement, pushing each other to try and cause us to go on a line, as a result of which, dire things would happen, such as falling down stairs, failing at school, or being turned out of home” [p. 4].

A photo of the Kings Theatre, Southsea, built in 1907.

Such play activities, in where they simulate the cinema experience, also reflects Dora’s family’s class: “This game was played first thing in the morning, and we called it ‘Balcony seats’. … To us, the height of affluence and luxury was the balcony at ‘The Bijou’, seen only from our lowly and cheapest seats in the front of the pit. So when we played our game, the bolsters, pillows and bedding were piled up into a high heap at the head of the bed. We took it in turns to act as commissionaire standing at the door calling out, “Balcony steats, and more for the balcony seats!” whereupon the ‘customers’ would perch up … Then one of us … would perform at, and on the end of the bed, singing, dancing, and doing tricks to amuse the others” [p. 6]. By 1914, the cinema had become the most popular form of commercialised public entertainment (Bailey, 1989), particularly with the working class audience, as there was the option to attend cheaper venues or select cheaper seats, to fit their budgets (August, 2007). The comparison of the working class audience’s pit seats to the luxurious circle seats shows the class difference and segregation that was happening at that time. There came a time in Dora’s childhood however in where she was able to experience this higher-class lifestyle.

“When dad happened to be home for Christmas once, he said, “I’ve got a real treat in store for you, I’m taking you all to the Panto”. It was a complete surprise and naturally we were very excited at our first visit to a live theatre, and our make believe game of ‘Balcony seats’ became a wonderful reality, for we went into the Upper Circle. How high up we were, almost to the ceiling, but not quite, for there was another balcony of people above us, this apparently was known as the ‘gods’.” [p. 23] 

The ‘Gods’ seating area in the theatre

The ‘Gods’ refers to the highest circle of seats within the theatre, and also the cheapest (Christiansen, 2015), and is often used by the young and poor. From this, the segregation becomes evident in theatre culture, as particular seats, are occupied by individuals with particular economic facilities. Despite Dora’s family being typical working class however, they were still able to indulge into the luxurious circle seats. It is said that through consumption, leisure and culture, one can present their class, or place themselves in a particularly class group (Bourdieu, 1996), and it is possible here that Dora’s family try to move themselves out of the typical working class group. The combination of Dora’s scholarly and musical education, (See Education and Schooling), alongside them consuming leisure typical to a higher class, shows the family’s efforts to move themselves out of the working class group and stereotype.

Dora’s family also seem quite conservative and respectable in nature, with regular attendance to Sunday school; always saying grace before a meal, and a prayer before bed; never falling into any debt; and always being a very welcoming and helpful family to the rest on the street. Their values, and those of that time are also presented through Dora’s telling of her learning the facts of life, as her mother responds to hearing that the Post office girl was due to have a baby out of wedlock, by saying that she was as a “Very naughty girl” [p. 33], whilst appearing rather coloured and embarrassed at Dora’s questioning of the situation. Dora then tells of how a neighbour helped her learn the truth behind procreation.

“Nellie Kilner knew all the details of procreation. Up till then I had believed in the story of the doctor and his black bag, and thought that mothers had to stay in bed with a new baby to keep it warm. So when I heard the true facts of the matter, I felt disgusted and horrified, sick, would be a more apt description. I just could not associate my dear, lovely mum with what seemed to be an absolutely degrading act, so I blamed my father, and saw him in an entirely new and very unattractive light. However, I didn’t say anything to anyone about what I had learned regarding birth and how it came about” [p. 33].

Dora’s avoidance on the discussion of this is very different to another Author’s, Edna Bold, approach, as her and her cousin source a medical book to learn as much as they can! (See more info here (Delahunt, 2013). With a lack of birth control however, (and the introduction only happening in the 60s (Bridge, 2007)), sex can be seen at this time as only for procreation within marriage, with many women choosing to become abstinent once the family was big enough (August, 2007). This view towards sex, and Dora’s also, expresses the repressed views of that time, following on from the prudish Victorian era, which perhaps limited sexual education for children, in the hopes that they remain innocent and untainted. These values are reflected within Dora’s family, as the topic of sex and sexuality is unspoken about, and the disgust of pre-marital sex is presented.

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Works Cited

August, A. (2007) The British Working Class 1832-1940. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Bailey, P. (1989) Leisure, Culture and the Historian: Reviewing the First Generation of Leisure Historiography in Britain. Leisure Studies. 8(2) p. 107-127

Bourdieu, P. (1996) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. USA: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

Bridge, S. (2007) A History of the Pill. The Guardian. [online] URL: Date Accessed: 31/03/18

Christiansen, R (2015) Have we Become too Posh for the Gods? The Telegraph. [online] URL: Date Accessed: 31/03/18

Delahunt, H. (2013) Edna Bold (B. 1904): Education and Schooling. Writing Lives. [blog] URL: Date Accessed: 25/04/18


A Tale of One City (2018) Kings Theatre, Southsea. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 31/03/18

Christiansen, R (2015) Have we Become too Posh for the Gods? The Telegraph. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 31/03/18

Mentmore. (2018) Portsmouth’s Lost Cinemas. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 31/03/18

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