Within her autobiographical writing, Mrs Jones neglects to discuss her own habits and recreational activities that she engaged in during adulthood, as she constructs her identity centring around education, work, and her duties as a daughter, mother and wife. The male figures within her family unit, however, are discussed in much more generous detail. A large segment of her life writing explores the habits and interests of her father, brother and husband rather in an anecdotal manner, as opposed to the factual language she employs for her own narrative. During these anecdotal segments we are offered a glimpse of Mrs Jones’s cheery personality as she makes subtle remarks about the inconsequential lifestyles of her family members.
Mrs Jones reports on her father attending the ‘The New Inn’ public house in Marston, stating, “He used to go to a pub nearby (The New Inn”) 2d [2 pence] for a glass of mild beer, + [and] would stay all night playing dominos with the miners + [and] he was no good at the game, he would be ready for bed when he came. He said 2d [2 pence] was the entrance fee, they must have played for beer in those days.” (12). As Mrs Jones’s father washed away the remnants of salt and brine using ‘mild beer’ while betting in small change for friendly competition amongst his mining comrades, he assisted in creating a working-class culture that is still as prominent today as it was a century ago. Leisure time was traditionally a luxury for the upper classes, thus as the working-class workforce entered areas such as pubs and restaurants in attempts to depict upwards mobility, such places were rebranded as rowdy and disruptive. Regardless, cheap alcohol and entertainment was a luxury for the salt mine workers of the early 1900s, making pubs a sacred environment of escapism and fun. This seemingly typical recreational activity was actually rather telling of one’s class, outlined by Andy Croll: “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” (Williams, 1984, p.402). The New Inn pub has since been rebranded as The Salt Barge, a nod to its salt mining heritage, and now sits facing the diminishing remains of the site that belonged to its most prominent customers.
Other changing cultural customs explored by Mrs Jones is marriage and divorce. Having married at 21 years of age and staying with her husband until death, echoing the lifecycle patterns of her mother and father, Mrs Jones was well accustomed to the practices of traditional marriage. Her brother, on the other hand, was quite the opposite. Mrs Jones comments on her brother’s tumultuous relationships as she states, “My brother passed away at 64 years of age He had been married to three wives + [and] lived for (wine, woman, + song) I say if he had dropped one of them, he might still have survived.” (7) This twisted perspective of divorce and death provides insight into Mrs Jones’s humorous coping mechanisms and personality, possibly used to mask a sadness surrounding her brother’s death as, “comedy can generate insight into alternative languages of feeling” (Strange, 2015, 146). The clear disapproval of her brother’s lifestyle while expressed lightly and without malice, demonstrates Mrs Jones’s acceptance of more liberal attitudes toward marriage.
Jones, N. ‘Two Autobiographical Letters’. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, 1790-1945 (3 volumes). John Burnett, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds.). Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989. 2:0444.
Strange, Julie-Marie. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Williams, C. A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain, 1984. Oxford: Blackwell.
Figure 1. The Salt Barge, previously The New Inn. Available at: https://www.northwichguardian.co.uk/news/17685143.look-back-pubs-used-salt-miners-marston/
Figure 2. Wine, Woman and Song, 1869.