They had…a lot of rotten oranges which they intended to throw at the preacher, but that day my father got converted in the really & truly old fashioned way & no disturbance took place. (3)
In the first post about Mary’s Habits, culture and beliefs, I wanted to focus on an important and well talked about theme within Mary’s memoir, both her and her family’s religious beliefs and habits. In particular, a story which Mary wishes to tell within her memoir, which is the story of her father’s unusual conversion and the importance of religion in his life. I will be talking about the influence this had in Mary’s own life in the second half of this post.
As Mary talks of her father’s conversion to faith, it is important to mention how many young men and women within the working class did not attend church, but instead took on other habits that were described as rough by the higher classes. Mary’s father was at one time, before his conversion, one of these youths. Mary describes how her father ‘went to the pubs’ (3) with his friends. As Mary’s father was brought up in the home of an avid drinker and gambler (Mary’s grandfather), she points out that being ‘brought up in such a home’ (2) made her father take up the habit of drinking and misbehaving.
As her father was drinking in the ‘jolly colliers’ (3) one Sunday, Mary describes how he and his friends ‘decided to go across to the small Primitive Methodist chapel & make a disturbance, they had…a lot of rotten oranges which they intended to throw at the preacher’(3). Through this we can see a typical example of a working class lifestyle that the higher classes frowned upon.
Mary’s grandfathers antics with drinking, gambling and cockfighting were also disapproved, with recreations such as these leading to campaigns for social change and improvements in working class culture. As Callum G. Brown notes, ‘The salvation revolution coincided in the 1790s and 1800s with the industrial revolution and its accompanying rapid urbanisation…The ‘rough culture’ of the predominantly urban new working classes became a ‘problem’ which required solutions’ (Brown, 2001, 41). Through a rise of urbanisation many were worried by the unregulated activities of the working class, showing both a divide in the classes and how different the recreations of the classes were. This divide in the classes was only reinforced through the very different pastimes, with the working class associated with rough habits of drinking, gambling and rough sports and the higher classes with attending art galleries and church.
Here we see the importance of religion in trying to introduce useful and respectable habits within working class society. With the introduction of temperance movements and the Band of Hope, many children were taught the Christian lessons of teetotalism and respectable recreation. Authors such as Edith Annie Williams and Dorothy Squires describe their time in the Band of the Hope, where they signed a pledge against drinking alcohol and were taught in crafts, music and arts.
Whilst Mary’s father was not actively involved in these movements, this could have influenced his conversion to Christianity. As Brown notes, ‘With the rise of teetotalism in the 1836, the evangelical moral agenda become closely linked with self-improvement ideology in working-class communities’ (Brown, 2001, 41). As Mary’s father ‘got converted in the really & truly old fashioned way’ (3), his whole attitude changes, showing that perhaps these self-improvement movements were encouraging working class members to abandon their old habits and take up ones that would allow them to be seen as respectable members of culture and society.
It becomes clear that after though Mary’s father’s conversion his attitude changes and Mary does not mention that he goes into alehouses or drinks again: ‘From that day my father knew he wanted to live a Christian life to and the friends at the chapel who took a liking to him decided to help, so he bought a best suit & a pair of best boots & was able to leave them with friends, as if he took them home the farm shop would have them on Monday morning’ (3). This suggests that Mary’s father was the only one within his family that wished to partake in church and detach himself from the rough habits of the working class. This is further noted as Mary describes that her father decided to ‘leave home’ (3) not long after discovering his faith and his interest in attending chapel. Here we can see that it was the younger generation who became involved with church and religious beliefs, showing perhaps the influence of self-improvement ideals such as the promotion of religion and attending church as a respectable habit were working amongst the youths of the working class.
Mary’s father attended chapel ‘every Sunday’ (4) and showed his commitment to his newfound religion as he walked from Cross Wall in Derbyshire to Heanor every week to ‘be at the services’ (4). Here we can see the importance of Christianity and how this and chapel played an important part in Mary’s father’s life. As Hugh McLeod describes, ‘Working class involvement in organised religion was probably at its highest in the period of relative social peace between the later 1840s and the later 1880s. Regular churchgoers were a minority of the working-class, but in most regions they were a substantial minority’ (McLeod, 2005, 286). Religion was becoming an increasingly important belief amongst the working class, with going to church and chapel becoming a habit of now not only the higher classes but the working class as well. Mary’s father was a part of this minority of regular churchgoers, which not only allowed him to change his ways and improve his life but he also met his future wife, Mary’s mother at chapel.
The importance of religion and the story of her father’s conversion is an extremely important part of Mary’s memoir as she notes a couple of times that she has always wanted to tell the story in its entirety (32). Here we can see how habits and beliefs of the working class were evolving and changing in society, showing a detachment from the rough stigma they once had. As Mary’s father broke away from a family home which saw habits such as gambling and drinking simple normalities, Mary tells his story with pride and a love for her father’s dedication to his religion and faith.
Berry, Kylie. Dorothy Squires (b. 1897): Habits and Beliefs. Writing Lives. (Blog) www.writinglives.org/authors/23388 Date Accessed: 01/05/18.
Brown, Callum G. Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain. Oxon: Routledge, 2014.
Brown, Callum G. The Death of Christian Britain. London: Routledge, 2001.
Hobbs, Dick, eds. Mischief, Morality and Mobs: Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Pearson. New York: Routledge, 2017.
McLeod, Hugh. ‘Religion and the Working Class in Britain.’ Between Cross and Class: Comparative Histories of Christian Labour in Europe 1840-2000. Ed. Lex Heerma van Voss, Patrick Pasture and Jan De Maeyer. Bern, Peter Lang, 2005. 286-292.
Royale, Edward. The Victorian Church in York. York: Borthwick Papers, 1983.
Shelley, Rianne. Edith Anne Williams (B. Nov. 1899): Habits, Culture & Belief. Writing Lives. (Blog) www.writinglives.org/habits-culture-belief/edith-annie-williams-b-nov-1899-habits-culture-belief Date Accessed: 01/05/18.
1: 719 TRIGGLE, Mary Laura, Series of autobiographical letters, MS, pp.25 (c.4,000 words). BruneI University Library.
Band of Hope picture: clok.uclan.ac.uk/6134/
Picture of Gin Palace: googleimages.co.uk
Picture of Jolly Colliers: https://www.heanorhistory.org.uk/v2market.html