Mary Hollinrake (b. 1912): Habits, Culture & Belief (part 1)

“What a splendid thing it was to participate in local activities and support them and get your pleasure from them instead of sitting gazing at the tele waiting for entertainment to be spewed out” (31).

From her memoir, Mary appeared as family orientated and sociable girl who helped in the home and involved herself with all sorts of public events that were held in Todmorden. For my first post on Habits, Culture & Beliefs, I will look at the social and cultural activities that she wrote about in her memoir.

The community spirit surrounding Mary is very prominent as towards the end of the 19th century, the working-class were provided with mass entertainment. There was also an increase in organised sports as Andy Croll stated that “Meanwhile, there was a ‘revolution’ in sport. The numbers of sport increased significantly, they were ever more organized and commercialized, and attracted larger numbers of participants and spectators” (399). Mary wrote “Lots of men played or watched local football teams. Some played rugby, both rugby league and rugby union were played, one for the cloth caps and one for the bowler hats” (29). This is a significant example in showing the rising levels of leisure that everyone enjoyed. It also shows that despite the working and upper-classes both getting involved, there was still a divide between them with the separate rugby tournaments.

Young boys hoop rolling in 1922
Young boys hoop rolling in 1922

It was not only adults who partook in outdoor activities as Mary said “In spring, as if by magic, out came the shuttle cocks and battledores, the whips and tops, the hoops with iron rims and the stick to roll them along” (29). We can see that this referred to the children in her town as she then wrote in the present tense; “I really wonder if children nowadays are happier with their sophisticated toys” (29). This shows the vast change within the 20th century and that simple toys were more than enough to keep children happy and occupied.

Church was also an important feature in the community of Todmorden as she said “Much social life was connected with thriving chapels and churches” (30). She described them with great passion as “a hive of activity” and they put on “concert parties and soloists, vocal and instrumental and a succession of marvellous …” (30). Mary’s depiction of church suggests that people attended more for the social aspect rather than its original religious purpose as Joanna Bourke said “One potentially important institution for socializing between residents was the church” (117).

“Life was great fun even though we had lots of studying to do” (71).

Towards the end of her memoir, Mary discussed what she did as a teenager. She and her boyfriend were both in the same friendship group and they all travelled round on the boys’ motorbikes. She said “The boys belonged to the only and fashionable Calder Valley Motor Club” and “often went off on their own pursuits without us girls” (65). They wore “leather coats, quite long, leather helmets, goggles and real leather boots reaching almost to the knee into which their trousers were tucked” (64). As they got older, the boys “graduated” to cars which Mary described almost as an upgrade as she said “it was possible to arrive at your destination respectable and unruffled instead of wild and windswept” (68).

George Borough on his Borough Superior, 1928
George Borough on his Borough Superior, 1928

Mary appeared to have sincerely enjoyed these years of her life as she said “We went to the pictures, to parties, to dances and fancy dress balls and really enjoyed ourselves” (66). They also “went to the seaside, Blackpool, St. Anne’s, Southport” and “to the Lake District and into the country” (67) showing that they all took advantage of their freedom before moving away to college.


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

Croll, Andy. ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’ in A Companion to 19th-Century Britain, ed. Chris Williams. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004, p.396-411.

Hollinrake, Mary. ‘Lancashire Lass’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:413. Extract in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:413.

Image of boys playing with iron hoops, 1922.

Image of motorcyclist George Borough, 1928.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.