Samuel Mountford’s memoir is not particularly long (with only twenty-nine pages) even though it covers his entire life-span from childhood to present in his old age. It covers few topics, perhaps only the things that made a substantial impact on him when he came to writing his memoir at an age where he felt he was finally able to settle. The memoir is rife with talk of poverty, and how his childhood and adulthood was affected by this, and was the reason for his perpetual efforts to work. Therefore, we see very little evidence of his habits, however we do see a very small portion of his culture and belief as he practices religion and credits Christianity as a facilitator of his happy, healthy family:
“Our family was a happy one, and although nothing was plentiful, we lived and played a Christian life, always Sunday school on Sunday afternoon and early Sunday evening service” (7).
It is common in the early 1900s for working-class families affected by poverty to find solace in religion and use it as a light in the darker times. Mountford’s writing of his childhood mainly focuses on negative experiences at school, which concerned him being singled out for being poorer than the other children in his class, such as not being able to play football because his family could not afford to buy him football boots. One happy memory of his childhood is actually a recollection of a trip which was afforded by religion:
“Another highlight in our lives as children was the Sunday school outing once a year. What a treat! A ride on the train to Sutton Coldfield, tea and cakes, races, games, maybe a few coppers to buy ice cream or a ride on the fair, and then after all the excitement a ride home on a train. My, what a day” (7).
This is a testament to the happiness Mountford received from religion at a time when he could not indulge in leisure activities off of the income of his own family, and served as a
way of bringing him some joy whilst removing the concept of money and the worry that it brings. Financial strain is bound to affect your ability to enjoy leisure time, and as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, he does find time just after his first child to enjoy time at the cinema with his wife, Dora, every once in a while.
Brad Beaven wrote in his book, Leisure, citizenship and working-class men in Britain, 1850-1945:
“It has been estimated that, after spending three-quarters of their income on food and rent, workers who benefited from real wage rises during this period devoted the surplus to commercial entertainment. It was working-class males, free from the difficulties of balancing the family budget, who were the true beneficiaries” (48).
Mountford perhaps never managed to rise above his pay threshold, to be in a position where he could indulge in leisure and commercial entertainment, as one hundred percent of his wages were attached to balancing the family budget. Of what leisure Mountford does partake in, it is only when the situation in the household is secure, and the income is steady. His gender and his age however should see him indulging in leisure such as drinking, and immersing himself in pub culture, regardless of the situation at home, as this was a huge part of male identity at the time. Perhaps his restriction of money as a child inspired him to provide better for his own children, wanting to give them a more prosperous life than his own. Because of this, Mountford seems to enjoy every little thing that comes his way, and he is not desensitised by leisure unlike most of the modern youth who arguably have more gratification in leisure than they need or even want.
Beaven, Brad. Leisure, citizenship, and working-class men in Britain, 1850-1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.
Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.