Violet Austin (1910-1983): Habits, Culture & Beliefs

‘We were never at a loss for ways to use our leisure time’ (31)

‘Saturday was the best day of the week’ (6) in the Allen household this was because Violet and her siblings were given their pocket money and visited their local shop where they bought their sweets or sometimes ‘a surprise packet which might contain a ring or brooch’ (6). As they got older and had more pocket money Austin and her brother and sister would ‘hire bicycles from a garage… and ride around the countryside’ (33)

Summer Saturday afternoons were spent playing with friends ‘in the field at the end of our row of houses’ (6), it was common for working class children to play in their streets due to the lack of cars. In the Winter, Austin was allowed to go the ‘pictures’. Films were shown in the Public Hall on the High Street, there was not tiered seating and so ‘there was always a rush for the front seats’ (6). The films that were shown included Pearl White’s The Exploits of Elaine and Austin remembers all the girls wishing they had curls like Mary Pritchard.

Pearl White, 1916
Pearl White, 1916

Sunday afternoons were spent at Sunday School, which was held in the Church Institute, only children who wore their ‘best clothes’(8) were allowed to attend. In the Summer the children went to Burnham Beeches, a country park, as a ‘Sunday school treat’  they travelled in ‘well cleaned coal carts’(8). Afterwards Austin and her sister would accompany their parents on a walk ‘usually along the canal tow-path to Langley’ (8)

As she and her sister got older they began to attend the 11 o’clock service at St Marys Church. Austin was thirteen years old when she saw the sea for the first time but ‘was very disappointed’ at the ‘vast expanse of cold looking water’ (9)

‘There were several annual events’ enjoyed by Austin which included the marathon that was run from Windsor Castle to Hyde Park. She recalls watching the runners go by and cheering them on. Another event was Founders Day at Eton College, held on the fourth of June, if it fell on a Friday her parents allowed them to stay up to see the ‘firework display which ended the days events’ (12)

A rare treat for Austin and her sister was getting to visit relatives in London. ‘The only way [to] afford the trip was to catch the workmans train’(12). They would catch a bus or tram to their relatives house and in the afternoon their father would take them to a museum or picture galley and he was ‘a great believer in furthering [their] education’ (12).

Slough Train Station
Slough Train Station

Austin recalls learning to knit and pressing flowers when she was younger as well as her love for dressing up. However, her favourite pastime was reading.

As Austin’s memoir focuses on her childhood there is not much mentioned about her habits as an adult although she does say that she had joined an over-60s art class. She was also a member of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and enjoyed knitting and gardening. She ‘never lost [her] love of reading’ (34)

Austin, Violet, ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:22

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