Frank Goss (b. 1896): Habits, Culture and Belief (Part One)

When I was reading Goss’s memoir, I felt that there was a lot to discuss with this topic and that it would benefit more being covered over two separate posts. This first post will be looking at how class affected Goss’s leisure activities and how Charlie and Nellie spent their leisure time as well.

Traditional Lancashire clogs.
Traditional Lancashire clogs.

Class is an underlying factor in Goss’s cultural activities. It plays a significant role in the way it shapes his leisure time with his brothers. He talks about long walks he attends with his brothers and their friend on Sundays but goes on to say that they were driven to this “because of not being properly dressed for the day of rest” (p193). Goss describes how, every Sunday his father had a constant battle fixing his children’s footwear, “Sunday morning after Sunday morning he had given up to the task of keeping our boots watertight, and the fact his children could kick their boots to pieces faster than he could repair them did not allow him the satisfaction of ever completing his task.” (p142-3). They then take to wearing clogs instead which were a lot tougher than their normal boots as they “could take a lot of hard wear; and clogs didn’t let in water.” (p143). However, “this simple solution now affected [them] in other ways.” (p143). By wearing clogs on Sundays, they found they were “challenging the facade of a world in which wide degrees of actual inequalities were hidden by a closed front door and in which the observance on Sunday of an acceptable style of clothing was sufficient to establish conformity. Normally you could go about in rags or ill-fitting garments and still be a perfectly respectable citizen provided you did not flout all finer feelings by wearing clogs instead of leather boots on Sundays.” (p143). By wearing clogs on Sundays, Goss and his brothers found themselves “isolated from all normal, respectable children.” (p144). Despite this, he seems to enjoy the walks they go on which are planned in advance by Ralph and Joe.

Group of women and children walking in Sandgate, c. 1900
Group of women and children walking in Sandgate, c. 1900

When they are out exploring, they discover a hill which “Ralph had dubbed it ‘Mangy Hill'”. (p158). The condition of the hill “projected us into identifying ourselves with pathological Gods wandering at large over a prehistoric landscape.” (p159). They then change from being Greek Gods to being “woodsmen, trappers and explorers, deep in the heart of a Canadian forest. There, to protect ourselves from murderous Indians or wild carnivorous animals, we had hastily to build a log cabin and an encircling palisade.” (p159). To passersby, the log cabin would have “looked no more than it was – a heap of brushwood. But to us it was a perfectly satisfactory log cabin and fort.” (p159). It is easy to see that Goss and his brothers had a very active imagination which allowed them to think up all sorts of games to play to pass the time. When they return home, it is half an hour before midnight. Goss says that their being out at night disturbed their parents “equanimity no more than to put food in the oven for us to fortify ourselves with on our return. But they also kept an eye open to give us a welcome when we came in, closing it again when our slight noises assured them that we had not broken our necks but, in our own good time, had wandered back to the fold”. (p167-8). Towards the end of his memoir, he writes “Today’s children have nevertheless lost some things which maybe children, if they could make the comparison, might feel sad about.” (p242). It is easy to see why Goss believes that today’s children have lost some of their freedom now as he was able to go exploring for hours at a time unsupervised.

Passers-by in Fleet Street outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, 1900.
Passers-by in Fleet Street outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, 1900.

Goss does not talk a lot about how his parents spent their leisure time but he does mention that when his father finds a job after a long period of poverty, he celebrates by going to the pub. Andy Croll argues that “Drinking in pubs, playing in brass bands […] betting on ‘on the dogs’, pigeon fancying, all were instances of popular cultural practices that could be understood as being inscribed with class meanings.” (p402). Certain leisure activities became associated with different classes. For example, drinking in pubs was very much seen to be a working class leisure activity. Goss writes, “Dad liked a drink, and after he had had one or two was the most happy and charming father children could ever have wished for” (p36).

It is clear that Goss loves his father and does not want anyone reading his memoir to get the wrong impression of him. He writes, “Lest I should give the impression that my father, out of work and penniless, was a bad father to leave his family in penury, and then come home drunk having cadged or borrowed or stolen the means to get the drink, let me say at once that this was not the case.” (p36). He then goes on to say that “Dad had the very best reason for indulging in a pint on that day. He had got a job and was to start on the following Monday, and on the strength of this had been around to a pal and borrowed some money off him. Feeling that his luck should be in and should be given a chance to show its medal, he indulged in another great joy of his life and went to the races.” (p36-7). After winning at the races, he celebrated by having a drink or two. On the way home, he also “bought some groceries to feed [his family] with.” (p37).

While his father liked to spend his leisure time at the pub or at the races, he only does this when his family have the money. When they are all living in poverty, Charlie desperately tries to find a job and feed his family. Nellie also tries desperately to support her family. Andrew Davies argues “Women’s social lives were maintained within a framework of financial, domestic and moral constraints” (p56) and we can see this with Nellie during their period of poverty. Goss writes that “after doing her work, she would have hoped to collect payment and then buy some food for us on her way home.” (p35). Nellie’s priority is her family and her children. Davies further argues that “Women with low housekeeping budgets faced immense difficulties in making ends meet, and spent less on leisure as a result”. (p56). The same could be said for Charlie with regards to drinking and the races. He only indulges in these activities when he has enough money to support his family first.

Bibliography:

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

Davies, Andrew. Leisure, Gender and Poverty. Working-class culture in Salford and Manchester, 1900-1939. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992.

Goss, Frank. ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Volume Number: 0.313194444 http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10909

Image references:

Group of women and children walking in Sandgate, 1900-1910. 2011. Web. Accessed 7 December 2015. https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:StateLibQld_1_131527_Group_of_women_and_children_walking_in_the_bush_at_Sandgate,_1900-1910.jpg

London’s oldest pubs: pictures, 2014. Web. Accessed 10 December 2015. http://www.london24.com/news/old-london/london_s_oldest_pubs_pictures_1_3706186

Shoes across Britain. 2014. Web. Accessed 4 December 2015. http://blog.samuel-windsor.co.uk/brogues-britain

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