Letitia Simpson (1926-2012): Habits and Beliefs (Part 2)

Letitia’s memoir features various accounts of holidays and recreation, not just involving Letitia herself, but the rest of her family and household. Her parents, being publicans, did not get much spare time and each day of the week is occupied with pub business. However, the father is a Freemason. Freemasonry is common amongst certain working-class men as a way of creating contacts and making friends. They organised functions and charity events which Mr and Mrs Dawson would attend, although some of them used their pub for a location to hold these events and create a sense of brotherhood. Being from a masonic family myself, I can empathise with Letitia on this field.

Letitia travels a great deal in her memoir and the places vary from Devon and Cornwall, to Ireland and Switzerland. One of Letitia’s holidays is in a Cornish fishing village called Portscatho. Portscatho is a small fishing village in the Roseland Peninsula of Cornwall and makes up part of Cornwall’s Area of Outstanding National Beauty. Letitia describes her Cornish holiday, writing: “we stayed at a family farm, in a little fishing port called Portscatho, where there was a long winding path to the beach, we seemed to have lovely weather most times” (51). From this quotation, it is obvious that the beach is significant to Letitia as she identifies the beach as the main part of her holiday. This is obviously due to the absence of beaches in London and it is escapism for her from the city. According to John Sheail, the British Institute of Public Opinion in 1939 found that “45 Percent of Holidays were spent by the sea.” Sheail also describes the seaside as the “traditional summer playground of the people.” This demonstrates that Letitia was one of many city dwellers to flock to the coast for their summer holidays. By his use of the words “the people,” he implies that the tourists at the coast are mostly working-class. The claim that the seaside was a working-class paradise is supported by many accounts of holidays by Letitia and other people of her generation. I have experience of it myself as my grandparents, who were, and some still are, of Letitia’s generation and every holiday they spoke of when they were young would be in coastal resorts such as New Brighton on the Wirral or Llandudno and other resorts along the Welsh Coast.

St Ives from the Harbour

The holiday that strikes me most in Letitia’s memoir is the holiday to Switzerland. This is due to the association that Switzerland is a resort favoured by wealthy people and celebrities, especially resorts such as St Moritz. Letitia stayed in Montreux which is a resort on Lake Geneva surrounded by mountains in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Letitia describes Montreux in her memoir: “Beautiful mountains greeted us when we awoke each morning, our bedrooms faced them, and below we could see the lake. Being a first-class Hotel, it was customary to change for dinner, the food was delicious, not the cuisine we were used to, and not a menu to be found in Britain since before the war”- (119). By referring to lakes and mountains, Letitia makes it clear that this is the typical Swiss resort and it is something she is amazed with. There is a sense that she feels a little out of her depth as she acknowledges she needs to change for dinner which suggests that this is something new to her and, as she points out, the food is different and the thought of having a menu seems a luxury to her. Derek J. Oddy claims that the Second World War might have “been lost on the food front.” Oddy implies that British food during the war was not a successful part of the war with the introduction of rations and the decrease of food imports. This is supported by Letitia who emphasises the lack of choice and variation of food by there being no menus. Therefore, through travelling to a foreign country, Letitia is able to escape the rations of food in Britain and, in many ways, views the holiday to Switzerland as a form of indulgence through emphasis on the luxuries she gained during her travels.


Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London: Routledge, 1994).

Burnett, John. Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day. London: Routledge, 1989.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Light, Alison. Common People: A History of an English Family (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2015) [19th & 20th centuries – very good model for work we are doing on author blogs] 

  Oddy, D. J. (2003). The Second World War: The Myth of a Planned Diet, 1939-1950. In From Plain Fare to Fusion Food: British Diet from the 1890s to the 1990s (pp. 133-168). Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer.

Rose, Jonathan.  The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. [Very influential survey of reading habits and cultural ambitions based on autobiographies collected by Burnett, Mayall and Vincent] 

 Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709910 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Savage, Mike, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican)

Sheail, J. (1976). Coasts and Planning in Great Britain before 1950. The Geographical Journal, 142, 257-73.

Simpson, Letitia. My Day Before Yesterday, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Vol 4

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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