Joseph Armitage’s autobiography doesn’t include any mention of his own habits, culture or beliefs; however he does share some quite amusing insights into others. When reading Armitage’s memoir, I realised I could write about this for quite a long time, so I’d like to focus on just a couple of things that sparked me as interesting.
Before looking into this and reading Armitage’s work, I always felt pubs and drinking habits were a relatively modern activity. However, Armitage points out ‘one feature of life in the Hunslet of was the number of public houses’ p57. Pictured here is one Hunslet pub, The Garden Gate.
‘The sights of drunken men staggering about in the streets were quite common, especially at nights and weekends. This is hardly surprising when all licenced houses were open from 6am until 12 o’clock midnight. The best beer was only two pence (less than 1p) a pint, and spirits were sixpence (2 ½p) a measure.’ P57. One of my favourite anecdotal stories from Armitage is about the vibrant characters of Hunslet, in particular ‘[Owd] Born Drunk’ so named because nobody could ever remember seeing him sober. This may tell us more than we initially think about the culture of the time, the ability to buy cheap alcohol for 18 hours a day would undoubtedly be alluring for some locals with perhaps no job or other real interests or prospects.
After looking into the impact of drinking during the early 20th century I found some amusing images of ‘habitual drunkards’. Although these characters are from a different region of the country, I’d love to be able to compare them to some of the characters Joseph describes, perhaps ‘Pee Lizzy’ the newspaper seller?
Convictions were a consequence of a 1902 law (Sale of Liquor to Habitual Drunkard’s Licensing Act) cracking down on public drunkenness, as this police mug shot shows.
The regulars to the Hunslet pubs are described as a ‘pretty tough lot’ p57. But what I find endearing is that they never interfered with the Salvation Army, because ‘justice’ would have followed them. Even tough street- corner boys and hooligans would show up most respect for the Salvation Army, which reflects a lot about the culture of the area at that time. The salvation army are seen as an authoritative force that deserve respect for the work that they do.
Many adults and most children went to church or chapel on Sundays then sat together with their families for their Sunday dinner prepared by the housewife. He lists the components of a typical Sunday dinner, valuing the cooking skills of the housewives, ‘the convenience foods in tin cans were many years away, and the skill of home cooking ruled the table.’p58. This emphasises the importance and value of family for Armitage and many other’s during this period and creates a division between the more respectable, religious, families and the less respectable members of the community whose past time was spent in public houses.
Armitage definitely acknowledges a sense of difference in leisure activities within the community. This is linked to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of ‘social distinction’, not between different classes, but members of the same (working) class, who held different values and beliefs. Habits and cultures of the pub goers reflect different beliefs and class meanings than that of members of the church, Sunday schools or indeed the Salvation Army. As Andy Croll suggests, ‘Drinking in pubs, playing in brass bands, singing in choral societies, betting ‘on the dogs’, pigeon fancying, all were instances of popular cultural practices that could be understood as being inscribed with class meanings’. personally I feel Armitage positions himself within the respectable community, looking to improve himself, perhaps by writing his autobiography.
Armitage, Joseph H. The Twenty Three Years Or The Late Way Of Life- And Of Living (1974) Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.
Croll, Andy. ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’ in Chris Williams (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 396-411.(p. 402)
Image 1 taken from http://www.heritagepubs.org.uk/pubs/national-inventory-entry.asp?PubID=220
Image 3 taken from http://www.peterboroughtempleband.com/history–pictures.html