Daisy Cowper (1890 – 1985): Home & Family

‘Almost every house had children, and we played as one big family’

Given that Daisy explicitly states that her memoir was written for her family, it is no surprise that they feature quite heavily in her writing. The majority of the first half of her work is taken up by her memory of early childhood, her home, and her large family. There is a notable absence of a father figure in Daisy’s life, due to her father’s tragic death. She does however, have 7 older brothers, who she makes reference to with great fondness, so it is unlikely either her nor Agnes would have longed for another man in the house as they were already outnumbered. Accounts of their father vary between the two sisters, with Agnes describing him as a ‘an affectionate and faithful husband’ and a ‘father who […] looked well after his family, both morally and physically’ (Agnes 66). Daisy however, appears to be more resentful of her father for his attitude to the women of the family, and has little positive to say about him otherwise. She describes angrily how he would expect ‘much the same food to be served up to him when at home as at sea. So Mother, with several boys to get off to school, and a baby in arms, would have to manage to have a coal fire burning by his breakfast time to serve him with boiled potatoes, boiled fish, eggs and coffee. […] yet he lay aloft in comfort.’ There is clearly a difference in opinion between the two sisters, though it is unusual that Agnes, having spent more time with her father would have the more positive opinion than a child aged only 5 years at his death.

Daisy talks about sister Agnes several times, but is careful not to go too in depth with regards to her sister’s life, as she appears conscious not to tread on toes with Agnes having her own extensive memoirs. Mother Agnes is referred to almost constantly, as one may expect from someone recalling their childhood years. Her mother and the home go virtually hand in hand, with one being mentioned almost exclusively with the other. Daisy describes her home as being run by ‘mother’s thrifty management’ with regards to coping with difficult financial times. Daisy makes many references to her mother struggling to provide for the family, but does not over emphasise the extent of their problems, and does not seem to present them to her audience for pity, but rather to emphasise how she and her family coped and rose above their difficult situations. Frivolous spending on non-essentials was not an option, and Daisy recalls how she aimed ‘to get for mother “the mostest for the leastest”‘ when sent shopping.

Children from 19th Century Liverpool at Scotland Road.
Children from 19th Century Liverpool at Scotland Road.

Home is also mentioned in relation to the other families that lived at Hodges Mount, with Daisy describing the scenes of girls and boys playing in the streets together in groups, and parents communally keeping watch on them all. Despite not being affluent enough for the latest toys and entertainment, Daisy recollects that ‘We didn’t have playgrounds, or expensive mechanical toys, or lavish pocketmoney, but we contrived our own happiness’. There is a clear sense of community for the area from what Daisy describes, which appears quite different to the more private, closed off neighborhoods of today. Families would rely on other families in the area to keep an eye on children and provide help in times of need.

The many Cowper brothers are often referred to though their hobbies or occupations. Fred is mentioned as being interested in French polishing, and so no rags were ever left to trade with the rag and bone man, as ‘Fred used up all ours.’ Charlie, Earnest, Harry and Bert are noted as being musical (or at least, attempting to be), by playing tuba, fife/flute and tin whistle respectively, with little Bert using the fireplace as a drum in family performances. Daisy, during these home-concerts would be ‘put in charge of vibrating the kitchen-knives which were jammed in the partly open tabledrawer.’ As a child Daisy enjoyed her impromptu performances with her big brothers, remembering ‘How clever I thought my big brothers were!’, and adding that though they did not take part, Fred played the banjo, Jack the bugle, and sister Agnes ‘tickled the goose’s belly’ on the mandolin.

The comings and goings of all the boys were ‘all known to mother’, and Daisy adds that as well as their various clubs, ‘they all had simple hobbies, or had boy-friends in, but home and mother were the focus of their lives.’ Curiously, Harry, the second youngest was sent to live at the Liverpool Seaman’s Orphanage by their mother. Little is explained about this decision by Daisy, Agnes elaborates that Harry was ‘the right age for admittance, [and] the offer was greatfully accepted for him.’ (Agnes 68) Agnes goes on to explain that having ‘one of the five young dependants educated, clothed, fed and given a start in life was a great relief to my mother.’ (68) Harry did not appear to be phased by the offer, and was ‘pleased at the prospect of change’ (68).

 

Cowper, Agnes, (1874 – 1963), ‘A Backward Glance on Merseyside’,  Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:181

Cowper, Daisy, (1890 – 1985), ‘De Nobis’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:182

Image from: ‘Liverpool Echo.’ http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-19th-century-how-follow-3382693 12 February 2011. Accessed 2 January 2014

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