Growing up in a mining community, Edward Cain’s childhood heavily involved religion, as his primary school education took place in a school that was attached to St. Benets church. Religion was important to mining communities and so it was not abnormal that churches had so much of a presence: ‘It is certainly the case that many Durham Methodist chapels relied on the collieries for their membership’ (Bruce, Northern History, pg 338, 2011).
Cain shares an anecdote in his memoir about a discrepancy between his brother and the priest because on one Sunday, his mother decided that the weather was too bad to travel so far to the church. The priest had forewarned the students that they ‘would have to see him on Monday morning’ (pg 2) if they did not attend church and so on Monday, Cain, his brother and a fellow student stood up when the priest asked who had not been to church. ‘Jack being the elder was taken out by the priest’ (pg 2). The beating that Jack (Edward Cain’s brother) had taken showed on his back and his mother upon seeing it sent for the doctor. This was not the only time Jack’s mother intervened to protest against the harsh treatment of her children at school.
This seemed like a very extreme punishment for not attending church. As Bruce explains ‘puritanical religion is perennially associated with upward social mobility’ and encouraged ‘respectability, diligence, temperance, and respect for education’ (Bruce, 2011, pg 355). Not attending church could harm the social standing of the family and their relationship with the church but also that it was abnormal for families to not attend, and so the priest thought it was appropriate to set an example by harming Jack.
Religion plays a part when Cain is older too as he visits the priest when he is worried about his father’s alcoholism and violent behaviour. However, he didn’t find the priest to be much help as he seemed to side with Cain’s father.
Religion appears again throughout the memoir as Cain tells a comical story about a picture of the pope moving on the wall and seemingly slapping one of Cain’s brothers as he was bathing. ‘He rushed upstairs screaming, and into bed, which frightened us’ (Cain, pg 4). Cain goes on to explain that the priest came to exorcise the picture but in the end, they replaced it with something else. Cain’s light-hearted tone conveys how he sent up the superstitious elements of his childhood Catholicism.
There is also a short part of the memoir that explains some other beliefs that people had when Edward Cain was growing up. Reflecting that ‘gone are the days of superstition’ (pg 11- transcript) he recalls an example of superstition when he was younger, where mirrors would be covered and cutlery would be put away during thunderstorms so as not to be struck by lightning.
Benson, John. The Working Class In Britain 1850-1939. 2003, I.B Tauris. London.
Bruce, Steve. ‘Methodism and Mining in County Durham, 1881-1991.’ Northern History, 48.2 (2011):337-355
Cain, Edward. ‘Memories’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:119
Moore, Robert. S. Pit-men, Preachers & Politics: The effects of Methodism in a Durham Mining Community.
“Portrait of Pope St. Pius X (Colored)” by Giuseppe Felici (1839-1923), Colored by J-Ronn – 100px. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Pope_St._Pius_X_(Colored).jpg#/media/File:Portrait_of_Pope_St._Pius_X_(Colored).jpg