Edith Annie Williams (B. Nov. 1899): Habits, Culture & Belief

‘…as long as one generation avoids making the mistakes of the previous generation, as far as possible, then mankind can hope to make progress, provided it also avoids going to the other extremes’ (13).

Edith writes about the influence religion had on her as a young girl during her school years. She remembers that, ‘The chapel vestry was the focal point of most of village activities. The “Band of Hope” where we signed the pledge never to taste “strong drink” was the temperance organisation formed to counter the attraction of public houses’ (3) much like author John Gibson who was also stood against drinking alcohol.

The Band of Hope pledge. Courtesy of UCLAN LIS Special Collections.

This is reflected on during her time at Oxford when she took part in the social survey, and was encouraged to mix with the local residents. ‘The Czech girl took the meaning to “mix freely” literally, i.e. going into pubs & drinking with the best…But for myself I had never renounced the pledge that I had taken in the “Band of Hope” in my youth’ (25). In order to conceal her purpose in the pub she humorously details how ‘clumsily did I hold my half pint in my hand, (I must have been trying to hide it from the wrath of God)’ (25).

She remembers her time at the chapel as ‘Happy days’ (4) and enjoyed partaking in social events with her friends there. ‘The rehearsals for the public performances of operettas, as well as the choir practises for the annual Eisteddfod, all were held in the chapel vestry’ (4). Andy Croll notes that activities such as, ‘Drinking in pubs…singing in choral societies’ were ‘all were instances of popular cultural practises that could be understood as being inscribed with class meanings’ [1]. Though she does not frequent pubs, singing is integral to her leisure time.

A poster for the 1918 National Eisteddfod. Courtesy of Cardiff University Special Collections.

She has an active interest in political and social affairs throughout her life which seems to peak during her time at university. She talks at great length about the Miners Federation in the chapter titled ‘Immediate Aftermath of War’ as she always had the desire to be involved in community affairs.

The fact that she never has any children, I feel, may be down to her views on social welfare, and the poverty that she sees amongst so many families. When she marries Charles Williams, she begins to read the writings of Marie Stopes, see my Home and Family blog post, and remarks, ‘The Victorian attitude to such problems, & the Victorian tail still wagged threateningly in our village: Nonconformism too did not encourage such frank exchanges of sexual matters’ (13). It is interesting that she would be so committed to the Band of Hope while holding such views on family planning that were controversial at the time.

Her entrance into public affairs come when she enrols in the psychology course as she sates, ‘It was about this time that my political awareness became sharpened, & I became a member of the labour party as a result.’ (15). She volunteered to help at the Borough in the campaign for votes for women over twenty one. She describes her time volunteering at the Borough as, ‘an unforgettable experience, for there were nominees of every political party’ (15).

Temple Church in London where Edith looks to for solace after her husbands death.

Throughout her life she engages with public affairs and describes the first time that she is asked to deliver a speech to a large audience, and to present the annual prizes at Cyfarthfa Castle school. ‘I had the nerve wracking duty of presenting the annual prizes to the boys of Cyfarthfa Castle school, & what a great help Charles was to me at this time in helping me to prepare my short speech’ (16). In doing so she is, ‘presented, in turn, with a beautifully bound volume of Lord Tennyson’s poems’ (16).

She recalls feeling hopeful that the situation for miners would improve after the war. ‘Our involvement in the immediate uninspiring position in which we found ourselves, had the effect of confirming our faith in the belief that things were bound to get better, & that we must use this waiting period ourselves for the better days to come’ (19).

In her leisure time she recalls attending summer schools in the 1930’s. ‘…we combined the serious study of economic issues with the pleasure of meeting interesting people, & joining in group sports, & sight-seeing excursions round the district’ (20). An occasion in 1931 which she refers to as ‘being of special interest’ (20) was a talk arranged by the Independent Labour Party at Digswell Park in Hertfordshire. The speaker was George Bernard Shaw who, ‘had agreed to come to the school to talk of his recent visit to Russia’ (20). She talks highly of Bernard Shaw, and is clearly keen to spend her leisure time partaking in respectable activities.

Her memoir takes up a sombre tone at the start of the short second chapter which follows the death of her husband. In this dark time she turns once again to the church, ‘on Sunday morning when I made my weekly pilgrimage to the little village church at Cofton…The healing processes, once started relieved my feelings & helped me to renew my trust in life’ (35). She returns to this later on in life, ‘I became very interested in the Sunday morning church service, at the Temple church, where the signing of the renowned choir…justified the journey I had to cover from far west to east of London’ (37). Her relationship with the church strengthens over time, and religion becomes a bigger presence towards the end of her life.


Index entry in Burnett et al The Autobiography of the British Working Class: 832 WILLIAMS, Edith. A, ‘Untitled.’ TS, pp. 39 + 3pp. chapter summary (c. 11,700 words). Brunel University Library.

[1] Andy Croll, ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’ in Chris Williams (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. pp. 396-411. (p. 402)

Hogg, David. ‘John Gibson (1887-1980): Habits & Beliefs.’ Writinglives.org. 9th April 2018. Web. Accessed. 25th April 2018.

Link to Band of Hope information at spartacuseducational.com – http://spartacus-educational.com/REhope.htm

Link to Eisteddfod information at urdd.cymru – http://www.urdd.cymru/en/eisteddfod/about/what-eisteddfod/


Featured image ‘Band of Hope’ uclan.ac.uk http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/6134/

Image of 1918 Eisteddfod poster cardiff.ac.uk https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/special-collections/subject-guides/first-world-war/eisteddfodau

Image of Temple Church nationalchurchtrust.org https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/explore-churches/temple-church

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