From Charles Hansford’s account, Home & Family life does not seem to be the most significant theme as he mainly focuses on his working life throughout his memoir. As the preface, written by Charles’ son, introduces Charles specifically as a bricklayer to the reader, this suggests that the working class autobiography is more concerned with what people are (Lynch, C. 2010) as opposed to who people are.
Charles begins his memoir by exploring his upbringing amongst his parents and sisters in Woolston. He also discusses Grandfather who ‘had several strings to his bow’ (Hansford, p. 1) such as joinery, carpentry, a coal round which he carried out with Charles’ Uncle Frank Collins, and the ownership of a wheelwrights shop*. In addition to his, Charles’ Grandfather owned a pub: The Forester’s Arms, where Charles, his parents and two sisters lived. When Charles is aged ten, his mother begins to move him and his sisters around in order to meet the living arrangements of his step-father, who is required to travel to different places for work. I speculate that due to the working people surrounding Charles’ childhood; such as his grandfather, instils a work ethic within him from a very young age. He begins his memoir with, “Springing from rural tradespeople […]” (Hansford, p.1). This I feel prepares him for when he leaves school to work at the tender age of fourteen and as we see throughout the memoir, Charles consequently appears to grow into a curious as well as confident individual. When Charles is aged ten, his mother moves him and his two sisters across the River Itchen to Woolston, Southampton in order to meet the living arrangements of his step-father, who is required to travel to different places for work. He explains in Chapter 2, Woolston, “In the cellar one day we planned a camping trip to visit my old haunts at Brockenhurst; I had always hankered to go back there again. With school holidays stretching ahead, we set off cheerfully, loaded down by gear.” (Hansford, p.8) This suggests to me that his upbringing, particularly his Grandfather’s influence and the travelling his step-father is required to make for work, moulds Charles into somebody unafraid to explore further afield.
“…Two family deaths came suddenly upon us. First my father fell gravely ill at Brockenhurst. Although mother returned for a while to nurse him, he died. At the funeral I wore my first pair of long trousers. Next we lost my sister Blanche, who developed meningitis at the age of fifteen. She had been a barmaid in Southampton.” (Hansford, p.7)
As indicated in the quote above, the author touches briefly upon the deaths of his father and sister. However, he does not continue to elaborate or reflect on his grief or how he precisely felt. Firstly, I think this could be because Hansford suffers from the losses of his father and sister at a very young age. Although he does not specify how old he is, he implies that the deaths occurred in the same year he moved, and therefore he would have been aged just ten. “My parents parted in 1912. Taking us three children, Mother left the village for Southampton […] Soon we became established in Woolston, but two family deaths came suddenly upon us.” (Hansford, pp. 5-6) Whilst adjusting to his new surroundings in Woolston, he loses two people that were extremely close to him which would have been extremely difficult. David Vincent (1981, p.56) interprets bereavement in childhood, “Almost all bereavement involved children in some way, but it is extremely difficult to form more than a very distant impression of its effect on them. If the event took place in early childhood the adult may have had no recollection or understanding of it”. Taking this into account, this implies that because of the delicate age Charles was when these events occurred, he did not feel able to include more information about the deaths in his autobiography. This also suggests that many children did suffer from losses within the family home, Vincent explains “…those yet living had a tendency to turn the facts of mortality on their head. If, to take an extreme example, 47 per cent of the children born in Preston in the 1840s died before the age of five, 53 per cent were still alive” (Vincent, p. 57). This supports the idea that losses, particularly amongst children, were sadly not uncommon. Therefore although Hansford would have felt sorrow towards these events, and in particular the loss of his sister, they were unfortunately ordinary occurrences and perhaps the tragedy did not shock the family as much as it saddened them.
Fortunately however, it is important to note that public health services by 1914 had begun to dramatically improve. Although living conditions still needed to be worked on, public health services started to focus on the individuals health, society saw an increased number of hospitals as well as advances in medical science (Hopkins, p. 113) and thankfully Charles’ second sister, like Charles, were able to reach adulthood.
The Family Economy & Marriage
Gender was a significant part of the family home and it was a male’s duty to provide for their families. Charles describes leaving school at the age of fourteen,
“Aged fourteen, I left school in 1916. With the Great War well into its second year, the authorities were establishing new munitions factories around the country. One such ‘rolling mill’ being built at Woolston was the reason for my stepfather spending a rare spell at home. He worked there as a foreman of a bricklaying gang, and managed to arrange ‘a start’ at the site for me.” (Hansford, 1980, p.10)
Being born into a working-class background, I feel that it was important that Charles worked in order to help support the family income, and as previously mentioned the influences of his Grandfather and Stepfather may have encouraged him to do so. Although working from such a young age may have cut short Hansford’s childhood, according to David Vincent, many working class writers expressed their deep pride of being able to make a contribution, no matter how small, to the family budget when still young children (Vincent, p. 53).
As an adult, Charles is married at the age of twenty-two and talks of his discontent he felt at losing his job just four days after his wedding, however the sheer relief of being able to quickly find another one (Hansford, p.76). As we can see from the extract above, in Hansford’s working-class marriage it appears that it was difficult but possible to make ends meet, and in chapter 13, ‘One Pot of Jam’, despite having the money inherited from his father, he tells his reader that he becomes “flat broke” (Hansford, p. 97). The writer would have felt the pressure of responsibility and reliance from his family in order to provide, and it is likely Hansford may at times have felt shame for not being able to meet the demands of the family economy which is perhaps a reason why he does not always speak of his marriage.
Example of a four wheeled caravan, the type of home Charles would have moved into.
An admirable point of the writer’s memoir is the way in which he speaks of those close to him, and it is evident that family is important to Charles. Despite his struggle, he divulges with the reader the joy of the birth of his daughter, Alma, 1925, who “served to spur me on” (Hansford, p. 95) and also mentions working with his Uncle Frank as well as working together with his step-father who helped Charles into the construction industry in the first place. He mentions that he also kept in contact with his mother and sister, his sister worked in a sewing shop, sewing buttons. His mother was often left alone while his step-father travelled for work, and the writer explains, “From time to time, when building activity in the Hythe/Fawley area dried up, I would stay with mother at Woolston” this implies to me that throughout his life he keeps a good and balanced relationship with his family, but also suggests that working-class life for the women is much more domesticated and about staying at home, where as the men took on the role as the protectors and the breadwinners.
Hansford, C. L. (1980) Memoir of a Bricklayer, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:745
Fig. 1 Charles L. Hansford Contents – Memoir of a Bricklayer (1980) [Photograph: Contents page of Charles Hansford’s Autobiography] At: Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:745
Hopkins, E. (1979) A Social History of the English Working Classes, 1815-1945. London: Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd
Lynch, C. (2010) ‘Unlike Actors, Politicians or Eminent Military Men’: The Meaning of Hard Work in Working Class Autobiography. a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Volume 25, Number 22, PP. 186-202 (article)
Fig. 2 Period Classic Caravan Club (1926) [Photograph: Four wheeled roadman’s caravan (1926)] At: http://www.period-classic-caravan-club.co.uk/1920s [Accessed: 27th December, 2013]
Vincent, D. (1981) Bread, Knowledge & Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography. London: Europa Publications Ltd