The ‘Childhood’ section of Jack’s writing spans the first twenty pages of the memoir before he moves on to discuss his career. He talks of daily outings with friends, and being from a small village such as Cromford, he remains in the local area for roughly the first fifteen years of his life. With this, traditions play a large role in the narrative. For example, an annual Shrovetide football game was played by the locals, including Jack and his friends. It is still played to this day over the Bank Holiday Weekend as a cultural/religious tradition. I have regularly attended this event myself.
Being from a countryside setting it appears Jack did a lot of walking from a young age. Along with this, he had regular fishing trips throughout his life – seeing it as a pastime away from the Railway and an escape from the city to a rural environment. This can be seen as a typical hobby and cultural experience for many working-class people. More often than not, their hobbies cost little to no money at all to partake. For example, Jack notes that ‘When I was about 8 I joined the Church Choir’ (Vallance, Follow Page 1F). This followed later in his life into retirement, where towards the end of the memoir in the chapter titled ‘REFLECTION’, he remarks that ‘I had little time for hobbies but I loved singing…smoking heavily was my chief vice, and surprisingly I had a good voice so I sang with Chesterfield Bach Choir’ (Vallance, 38 1.0). This is true, as an extensive section of his memoir details his work rather than his social life and hobbies. Along with this, Jack also secured a position at Sheffield University after his redundancy from the Railway industry and was aiding the restoration of railway lines up until his death in 1997.
‘It was the traditional habit of pub-going which continued to dominate male working-class leisure’ (Beaven, 2009, 60). Jack lived in the ‘Royal Oak’ during his time at Hurdlow Station where he was working as in ‘Signalling’ and ‘Station Accounts’ (Vallance, 4). He recalls:
‘I lodged at the “Royal Oak” Public House close by the station. There was no respect for law and order regarding drinking times and usage of the premises. The local Policemen even condoned it by after-hours drinking!’ (Vallance, 4).
‘The working-class man remained out of favour: he was ‘rarely associated with home’, ‘still less’ with his children and located overwhelmingly in work, the pub or club’ (Strange, 2015, 1). With Jack’s work, this statement can be seen to resonate. However, it was not for selfish reasons that Jack was not at home – he rarely discussed or suggested that he avoided his home life. His family actually appears as his main priority although he does not explicitly discuss his relationships in an emotional manner.
Beaven, Brad. Leisure, Citizenship and Working-class men in Britain, 1850-1945. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009.
‘Jack of all Grades’ in Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent Eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. 2:780.
Strange, Julie-Marie. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1860-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015.
http://www.revolutionaryplayers.org.uk/the-greyhound-hotel-cromford-derbyshire/ – (featured image. Greyhound Hotel, Cromford.)