‘My father gave me invaluable advice: “Do all the things you have to do well.”
I have tried to do this in many stages of my life’ (15).
Cecil George Harwood opens the story of his life with a preface: ‘I was born at No. 7, Whitehill Cottages on October 9th, 1894, but when I was one week old my parents moved into No. 8. It was more suited for a large family and there were 9 of us, though not all living at home… My Father was a gardener at the Frythe’ (Preface). By addressing his childhood family home, his Father’s occupation, and the local community at the very beginning of his memoir, Cecil frames his writing amidst his family life. He writes about his experiences of home and family growing up in Welwyn, and later, of his marriage to Gladys and their two sons.
As Cecil remembers, his ‘family were never without a joint on Sundays, two veg, and a Yorkshire pudding. If any vegetables were left over, it came in a bubble and squeak’ (4). Compared to their class contemporaries, the Harwood family were exceedingly privileged. John Benson notes the economic disparity in late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century Britain, stating ‘although most working people did eventually become much better off, a small minority remained stranded below the poverty line, and a much larger minority hovered uncomfortably close to it’ (Benson, 103).
The varied representation of working class family life is highlighted by the memoir of Frank Goss (b. 1896). Frank writes of the ‘evils of extreme poverty’ (Goss, 33) that his family endured in North London, 25 miles away from Cecil. After Frank’s father lost his job, the Goss family were forced onto a vegetarian diet to cut down on the expense of purchasing meat.
But food was readily available at No.8. Whitehill Cottages. ‘Fish was brought round to the door once a week… One could buy fresh herrings around hay-making time for 1/6 per dozen, bloaters when he could get them much about the same price, sprats when in season, bought by the pound… We also had a chap round who sold oranges and lemons, muffins and crumpets’ (4). Cecil does not ‘remember being hungry for want of food’ (4), however his writing suggests that the food on their table was all owed to hard work and community spirit. As he reminisces, he recreates a sense of the excitement he felt as a young boy, upon seeing the Fishmonger had sprats for sale: ‘What a feast we had when they were about’ (4).
In the earlier portion of his memoir, Cecil deeply reflects upon life in his hometown of Welwyn, Hertfordshire. The latter half focuses more heavily upon his working life, with regular mention of his wife, Gladys. Cecil first met Gladys Woodward in September 1921 at a dance, or as Cecil recalls, the ‘6d. hop’ (49) in Welwyn Social Club. The pair courted until Spring, when he asked for her hand in marriage. At this time, Cecil was working as a painter at the Beehive Works, paid ’25/- per week and glad to have it’ (50), with his side-job breeding pigs also bringing in a small income. Gladys accepted Cecil’s proposal, but on the condition that he ‘must be earning as much as she herself was getting… In the intervening time [they] agreed to become engaged’ (51). Gladys’s demands reflect those of women decades prior, in the 19th century, when it was traditionally expected for a prospective husband to have the ‘sufficient capital’ (Vincent, 235) to cover the costs of a wedding and of setting up a family home. Cecil and Gladys wed in December 1925, after Cecil had secured more fruitful employment as a bus conductor.
Cecil’s working life (firstly organising the early days of public bus transportation, later breeding pigs and owning a gift shop in Charmouth), provided many opportunities for their small family to relocate, of which Cecil claims his wife was wholeheartedly supportive: ‘We departed from Hull with a mixture of relief and worry about the future. What a start to our first year of married life, now it was not only one but two to think about… we had each other and the will to work as we proved in later years’ (61). His recollection of their marriage delivers an overriding sense of love and great friendship. Cecil and Gladys faced life’s challenges head on, as a team. This comradeship extends to the parenting of their two children, Douglas and Brian.
Whilst Cecil’s flurry of economic endeavours occupied a great deal of his time, he explains that Gladys was not entirely happy with monotonous domesticity. ‘Gladys had her hands full with Douglas, the home and all that entails… Not content with that Gladys wanted a hobby’ (67). She began breeding chickens and angora rabbits. Her projects granted Cecil the opportunity to become more actively engaged in fatherhood; he was ‘allowed to change and bath him periodically, as Gladys said it was as well to be able to take over’ (68).
However, there is little mention of Cecil taking on similar responsibilities with their second son, Brian. At this point, ‘Down Memory Lane’ concentrates upon the business ventures that Cecil and Gladys undertook. Born in 1934, Brian’s childhood was upheaved at the age of four in 1938 with tensions brewing towards the Second World War. Both he and Douglas were evacuated to a ‘mile or two outside Canterbury’ (74) and could only be visited by their parents at weekends, offering some explanation for their absence at this time in Cecil’s writing.
The children returned ‘for one week only’ (74), before they were evacuated once more to Resolven, Wales. Too far away for their parents to regularly travel, Cecil wrote to Gladys’s cousin ‘just outside Bathford’ (74), requesting that she ‘would keep her eyes open for any job that might suit’ him (74). Their prayers were answered in May 1940 and the family moved once again, this time to Box, Wiltshire.
In his memoir, explicit interactions between Cecil and his sons may appear few and far between, but his actions, particularly in this instance, highlight his dedication not only to allaying Gladys’s concerns, who worried deeply when separated from her children, but also to keeping together and protecting the sanctity of the family unit. This underscores the importance of home and family in Cecil’s life.
‘We named our bungalow “Tweenwoods”. Many enquired why it was so called, was it because it was between the woods, and indeed it was, between Harwood and Woodward’ (67).
Benson, John. The Working Class In Britain 1850-1939. London: Longman, 1989.
309 HARWOOD, Cecil George, ‘Down Memory Lane’, TS, pp.104 (c.65,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Harwood, Cecil. ‘Down Memory Lane.’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 1:309. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10964
Ralphs, Beth. ‘Frank Goss (b. 1896): Home and Family’ 9th November 2015. Writing Lives. Web. Accessed 25th February 2018.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247.