Walter John Eugene Elliott (1890- 1977): Habits, Belief and Culture

For this post I wanted to talk about Sunday schools and the place they held in late 19th century and early 20th century childhoods. Sunday school was Walter’s first introduction to school life and education between 1890 and 1905

An example of a Sussex church

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sunday Schools were an institution that many working class children attended. Sunday Schools were first ‘started in 1780… [and] were historically the only form of education available for many’ (Southam).  In Britain’s Experience of Empire in the Twentieth Century, Andrew Thompson claims that ‘it was almost impossible for a young person of any social class to avoid Sunday school’ (82-83) and the chapels. This was certainly the case for Walter as a child. In his ‘Untitled’ memoirs, Walter explains how he was ‘taught to go to Chapel three times on Sunday’ (3). This was because ‘the Sunday school met every Sunday morning, there was chapel service at 2:30 and again at 6 PM’ (3). Therefore, like many other children at the time, Sunday School and chapel played a huge part in Walter’s life growing up.

For church services in Little Common, a small village in East Sussex, the Preachers had to travel to the area. Walter describes how ‘the preachers came from Bexhill. St. Leonards, Hastings, Ninfield, and one brave man from Dalington, 15 miles from Little Common and he walked both coming and returning’ (3). From this we can see that bringing church services to the little village was of high importance.  Therefore, highlighting the pivotal role the church had in the village community, as well as Walter’s own childhood.

Alongside the three times he went to church on Sundays, Walter also explains how in Summer these sessions at church would increase. He says that the ‘Preachers liked to hold an outdoor meeting on the Village Green’ and that ‘the harmonium [would be] carried out there’ (3) where they would spend ‘another half an hour singing hymns and listening to the Preacher’ (3). Walter appears to remember this time fondly, therefore, we get the sense that this extended time with the Preachers brought him great joy in his childhood. Something which would not necessarily be welcomed by the children in today’s society. Thus, emphasising the role of the church in early 20th century life.

Herstmonceux Castle – where Walter visited on his annual Sunday School outings

The Sunday school also offered the children attending an annual outing. Walter explains how it was his Pa that took the children out, and the destination was usually to the ‘Herstmonceux Castle, where the Observatory is’ (3) currently found. Walter also informs his readers that the Little Common Sunday school children would sometimes meet up with the boys from Sluice. From this, we are given the impression that Sunday School was about more than just the community you lived in, but the bringing together of the communities around you. As well as this the Sunday School outings appear to have been a welcome break from the usual schooling commitments and were something to look forward to.

Therefore, through Walter’s accounts of Sunday school as a child we get the impression that Sunday school was a huge part of growing up at the time. Unfortunately though, this tradition that was once considered ‘virtually universal in the early twentieth century’ (Thompson, 82), is now in the 21st century, something that is dying out.



Elliott, Walter J.E. ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:227, available at: http//

Southam, Hazel. ‘Church Predicts Death Of Sunday School’ The Independent. 2000. Web. Accessed 3 April 2017

Thompson, Andrew. Britain’s Experience of Empire in the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press, 2016

Walter J.E Elliott in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:227


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