C.V. Horner (1897–1980): Home and Family

As mentioned in the introductory blog, C.V. Horner’s childhood was seemingly defined by his father, given that his mother passed away while he was very young and thus has ‘little or no recollection’ (1) of her. Contrary to the numerous stories he tells of his father, there is only a fleeting reference to his siblings; he had three brothers, all under the age of six when his mother died, and the youngest of which was taken by his grandparents when he was three-weeks-old. His father re-married and had another family of six that included twins, which is as much detail as Horner decides to go into about his other relatives. David Vincent writes that ‘[t]here was a sense in which the autobiographers found themselves unable to write easily about their family life, or felt that they ought not to refer to some aspects of it’. (Vincent, 1980, 229) This statement definitely holds true in C.V. Horner’s case, as he seems to find it unnecessary to discuss any relative, other than his father, at any major length.

Sombrely, Horner believes that his father’s character is ‘best portrayed in a memoriam, by an un-known writer, composed the night of his funeral many years later in 1933.’ (1) Horner then proceeds to include the passage, titled “The Passing of a Dalesman”, which begins: ‘[t]hree score years and ten, huge of frame, fair and of blue eye, fearless through life, not fearful of death and seeing his work done well, Simon Horner, a gamekeeper of the old school has passed from the Dale.’ (2) The memorial piece describes his familiarity with Penhill and his proficiency with a firearm, before detailing the day of his funeral:

Today we wheeled him on a bier from his home that overlooks the village, down the narrow street midst signs of mourning, in a slow moving ever growing crowd we followed him, a crowd which filled the roadway, through the “lile” lane into the stone built church. (3)

Despite not going to church on a regular basis, there was apparently a congregation which proved to be an example of his ‘sterling character’, (3) showing the effect he had on many lives in the Dale. The passage then ends after detailing the wake which took place in the Wensleydale Heifer Inn, the very same inn that was mentioned in my Introduction post. It reads: ‘Simon Horner’s glass lies broken in the hearth. So passes one of nature’s gentlemen, one more of the great old men of the Dales’. (3)

The Wensleydale Heifer.

Horner returns to remembering his father as he grew up, referring to him as a ‘very amicable man’ (11) who rarely had trouble with others. However, he does recall one occasion in which his father was being harassed by a village cobbler in the pub. Though not the most dramatic story, this would be a relatively big deal to Horner, who remembers that his father grew ‘so tired of the un-ending prattle, he took hold of the cobbler by his beard with one hand, he shook his other fist, as big as a sledge hammer, in the cobbler’s face.’ (11) This alone was enough to put an end to the incident, and the fact it did not escalate proved that Horner’s statement of his father indeed rang true. Julie-Marie Strange states that ‘Nineteenth and mid-twentieth-century conceptions of fatherhood rooted paternity in financial provision, the framework for family security, self-identity and children’s access to opportunity’. (Strange, 2015, 25) The notion of self-identity in particular is apparent with Horner, given his choice to follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a gamekeeper.

River Ure, West Witton.

The usual Sunday dinner of choice in Horner’s household was ‘a large pigeon pie.’ (17) He recalls venturing out on Friday and Saturday evenings to find the ‘necessary’ (17) pigeons, and how these excursions were perhaps the beginning of him becoming a gamekeeper, like his father. In addition to bacon and a good pie crust, the pigeons made ‘a wholesome and enjoyable dinner’ for him and his family.

Horner addresses the convention that children would leave both school and home at fourteen, as a means to be less of a burden on their families. When one would be part of a large family in a small home, he says that ‘it was an advantage to not only have one less mouth to feed, but also to have one more bed vacated to make way for younger members of the family.’ (29) Despite the severe lack of opportunities that were available, Horner followed this tradition to earn his keep.

Bibliography

  • Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.
  • Strange, Julie-Marie. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History 5.2 (May 1980): 223–247.

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