‘Armed with my brand new suitcase, a chequebook and modest bank account and lots of good advice, I set out all on my own for my first real job – out into the competitive world of which I was ignorant.’ (169)
Hilda began her first job outside of the home at the age of fifteen. Since she was responsible for the upkeep of the house, she had to wait until her younger sister finished school for the summer and give a share of her wages to her so that there was someone to take her place before she could go out and work. Her father had little money to spend on the four children and Hilda needed a new winter coat. So she began a summer job as a waitress in Great Yarmouth in order to save money for herself and to help out her family.
Jane Humphries says that in working-class autobiographies from this period, there are ‘recurring images of the pride that children experience in working, and, in particular, the enormous sense of achievement that they get when they are able to contribute particularly to their mothers’ and to their siblings’ standard of living.’ (Humphries, 2010, 11)
Hilda describes how she ‘soon discovered that being a waitress was no picnic’. (100) The wages were poor and the hours were extremely long. She tells the reader of her memoir ‘It would normally be ten o’clock before I got home; I had left the house at seven a.m. It was a long day for anyone, much more an inexperienced fifteen
The following year, Hilda moved away from home in order to help with her cousin’s children. Her sister, Alice, had just recovered from rheumatic fever but was no longer well enough to work a regular job. Therefore, she took care of the house in Hilda’s place. Once she was no longer needed at her cousins she was not able to go back home since her father ‘could not afford to keep and clothe two big girls’. (167) Hilda describes how it was ‘a time of serious unemployment’ and the ‘precarious state of the economy had escaped [her] in the happy existence with [her] cousins’. (168)
Hilda dreamed of ‘singing to an audience, standing beside a beautiful, shining ebony grand piano’ (168) but knew this wasn’t possible. Instead, she answered advertisements in the daily press and was eventually engaged by a family in Nottinghamshire where she was employed as a governess. Here, she only was allowed only half a day off per month and found that the job made her miserable. She tells the reader that she ‘stayed with the Robertses a year and a half. It was a lonely life’ (177) and she got ‘depressed and homesick.’ (180)
Humphries, Jane. Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution. Cambridge, 2010. pp.11
Salusbury, Hilda Ann. ‘Only My Dreams: An English Girlhood’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4