‘It’s the poor that help the poor
When poverty knocks on the door
Those that live in mansions grand
Often fail to understand
The meaning of those little ones
Hunger I am sure
It’s the poor that know the feeling
It’s the poor that helps the poor.’
(A song Winifred remembers the street singers of London singing)
Winifred recalls London working class culture during her childhood in her memoir, especially that of street culture. The song quoted above is one that Winifred remembers poor street singers singing, ‘in the hope of gathering enough copper to keep body and soul together’ (p19). This song in particular is very interesting in revealing a sense of empathy for others amongst the working class culture that was not present amongst the higher classes. ‘It’s the poor that help the poor’ highlights how people who were struggling themselves had a strong sense of believe in helping those who were in even worse positions, revealing much about the working class streets of London and their sense of community.
Another aspect of working class culture highlighted in Winifred’s memoir is the weekend markets. In particular Winifred discusses that of Wandsworth Road:
‘Wandsworth Road was a busy, bustling thoroughfare where at weekends the coster mongers came with their barrows of fruit and vegetables. They were a colourful bunch with their bright neckchiefs and much bartering went on between them. Sometimes it ended in bloody fights but since they fought with their fists, not knives, peace was soon restored…..I found the noise and bustle very exciting’ (p16).
Winifred’s description of her local markets, an aspect of culture that has still remained as there are many weekend markets in operation around the country today, highlights the hustle and bustle among the working classes. Winifred describes the markets as an exciting aspect of working class culture as they provided the people of the Edwardian period with a choice of goods, and a bustling and a dramatic environment to venture out of their homes to on weekends.
Winifred’s thoughts on leisure are made clear through her descriptions of the blissful Sundays her family spent together going to church, having leisure time to spend together and, having ‘the traditional Sunday dinner and very delicious it was’ (p19). Winifred’s description of her family’s blissful family Sundays, which often included excursions to places such as Kensington Park to listen to the military band play, highlight her sense of feeling Sundays we sacred. During the late-Victorian period/early Edwardian period men and women worked long hours in and outside the home, meaning Sundays were parents such as Winifred’s only days off. This being the case causes for working class families such as Winifred’s to really value days such as Sundays where they could eat, read, walk, listen to music together as a family without the burden of work for just one day a week.
Other working class memoirs such as Adeline Hodges’s I Remember features descriptions of days/events considered sacred amongst the working classes. Katie Wilkinson’s post on the Habits, culture and Beliefs of working class memoirs highlights how Adeline Hodges describes how the working classes prepared for and valued Christmas: ‘This idea of preparing for the festive season by cleaning and making new mats for their homes indicates the significance of Christmas as a valued tradition, much like in modern times’. Despite all the hardships working class people endured their appreciation of special events, where they could be together particularly as a family is reflected across the board in working class memoirs, highlighting their sense of value in helping a modern society learn about the habits, culture and beliefs of their working class ancestors.
A video of a busy Late-Victorian street in the 1890s.
2-0763- TILL, Winifred, ‘The Early Years of a Victorian Grandmother’, TS, pp.39(c.13,000 words). Brunel University Library.
A huge thank you to Derek Till and Robyn Ritchie, family members of Winifred Till who provided me with the headlining image in this post.