Patrick McGeown (b. 1897): Habits, Culture and Beliefs

A gaslit home in a gaslit town where drunks often blew out the light and died in the night’ – (41)

If Patrick’s memoir lacks anything, it is specific pastimes that he relished in. In fact, it seems that labour took up so much of his day in his early years that he didn’t have time to pursue much else. Patrick speaks briefly about missing ‘football very much’ as he ‘had played for [his] school’ (43) and even more briefly about his love for horse racing. However, a theme that is striking in his memoir is drinking culture.

Image 1: workers drinking in a pub

The idea of heavy-labour workers enjoying a drink after work is a stereotype that still remains today. As a young man Patrick worked in the local pub name the Beehive and so was witness to the goings on there. Coming from a working class town, Patrick states that ‘there were no gardens in Craigneuk’ and argues that ‘if there had been the bookmakers would have taken longer to get rich, and the pubs wouldn’t have been so full (41). Andy Croll points out most working-class areas would see drinking as recreation alongside ‘rowdyness’ (Croll, 1984). But ‘rowdyness’ is putting it lightly when referring to Craigneuk. There are two chapters in Patrick’s memoir dedicated to pubs and their culture, in which Patrick reveals a fact about his small town with a haunting matter of fact tone  – ‘Women in Craigneuk were often beaten by their husbands (41).

As much as the concept of domestic violence in the 20th century is unsurprising, what is surprising is the openness with which Patrick speaks about it. It is clear that Patrick was disgusted by this culture. He speaks about the events showing pity for the women: ‘They got their beatings when the desperation of unpaid bills and hungry kids sent them in to drag out their poor foolish husbands (41). He understands their reasoning and desperation in trying to get their husbands home. Yet, despite his apparent disgust, he doesn’t condemn the men, letting them off lightly by calling them ‘poor’ and ‘foolish.’ Perhaps this is because he may have seen the men in his life reflected in the actions of those men. With the same occupations, same town, same bar, perhaps it was too close to home to denounce the men as it could easily have been himself, his father or his friend who cracked under the pressures of working-class stresses amplified by alcohol. Nestled between the drunks and beatings however, Patrick does relate a positive story that came from his times at the Beehive when a barman named Willie Ferris ‘contrary to business instincts… advised a customer to go teetotal’ (44). He observes that ‘Willie didn’t realise the wonderful thing he had helped to bring off’ (44).

As we see Patrick move from small town Craigneuk to Ancoats, Manchester we witness a drastic difference in the drinking habits among working men. Patrick writes, ‘I followed…Billie Gale into a pub named the “George and Dragon”. I was curious to see the nature and size of his drink after his shift on the furnaces’ (86). It is interesting to see that Patrick judges an individual on his drinking habits: ‘He drank one pint of beer, and out I was astounded. There certainly was a difference between this class of steelman and the sort I’d known (86). But the most notable difference for Patrick was ‘that there were places where a man could take his wife or his girl and not be ashamed or apprehensive’ (86). Where in Craigneuk, pubs ‘bore the supreme insult, ‘No Women Allowed’’ (42) here women were welcomed freely.

One can infer that Patrick’s upbringing and the values that were instilled in him, impacted his view of recreation. Coming from a home in which his parents respected and loved one another, it is clear that Patrick respected women and thus disapproved of abusive behaviour in bars. His family morals not only affected his beliefs surrounding drinking, but also how he spent his time in later life. Religion was a large part of Patrick’s life but always in the background of his story. And so when it came time to go on holiday in 1953, Patrick set off to fulfil his two ambitions; ‘first to undergo the penitential pilgrimage in Lough Derg, and second to go to Glenties, where Patrick McGill the Navy Poet was born’ (174). It is evident that as one changes so do their habits. It seems that Patrick’s beliefs didn’t fluctuate much to impact his habits. The major factor that impacted Patrick’s habits and culture was prosperity. As Patrick progressed up the workplace ladder, he gain more disposable income that he could spend on family holidays.

Bibliography:

Primary Sources:

493 MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967), pp.192. Other edn., with an introduction by Asa Briggs, Readers Union, London, 1968, pp.192.

MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967)

Secondary Sources:

Croll,A ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’ in Chris Williams (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 396-411

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