‘We children looked after ourselves most of the time. We could always ask an older brother or sister if we wanted to know anything’ (p.7)
The theme of family is arguably the most important in the first part of Daisy’s memoir. Growing up with a considerable amount of people in her childhood provides Daisy with discipline, home comforts, companionship and healthy competition. Her relationships with her parents and siblings form the person she becomes when she goes into service. She has a strong foundation built upon working hard and respecting her family. Although living with many people, all 10 children had their own form of independence within the Noakes household, each having their own responsibility. Being the sixth born she deals with various societal and home pressures from the outset of the memoir.
Large families had been seen as normal in the 19th century. Daisy’s own mother was one of 13 and her father was one of 10. Large families were often due to children dying at a very young age or to maximise the family’s income when the children could eventually work. The loss of many lives in the First World War encouraged many couples to have children ‘to make up the loss of manpower’ (p.9). But according to Sîan Pooley, a new family model was emerging very different from the teeming households of families like the Noakes. This was more associated with ‘the leisured, domesticated small family’ and became prominent only from the late 1890s and especially the 1900s’.
Emily, Daisy’s mother, believed her children’s purpose was to make a name for themselves in the world, often reminding them, ‘It’s your lot to work. Once you’re in the world there’s no room here for you’ (p.5). She is insistent on them finding their own footsteps away from their home. Daisy’s youngest brother George went into the RAF after dabbling in photography and writing a book on the Isle of Wight. Lily, Daisy’s older sister, spoke on behalf of her in order to get her job at Ovingdean Hall.
‘So here we all are, making our way in the world, but still as close as ten peas in a pod, and all so busy just like Bees in a Beehive’ (p.85)
Daisy maintains close relationships with all of her siblings, even more so than her parents. The strict regimes they all had to follow seemed to tighten their bond. Other family dynamics in the 20th century consisted of absent fathers, lone parents or often no parents. They contrast to Daisy as her parents join together to control the household and sustain their stern parenting. Daisy describes silent mealtimes where ‘a walking stick was hung on the back of mum’s chair and at tea-time, dad’s chair’ (p.11). This was a normality for Daisy and the lives of many children in this time. Working-class families continued to burden themselves with countless children resulting in the shortness of resources and may parents must have felt the need for strong discipline. Daisy’s parents also had to begin their careers at a young age, her mother being made to work at the age of 11. This was a standard procedure within a working-class household. Although Daisy left at a young age, she was three years older than her mother, reflective of changing times. All of Daisy’s sisters went into service aside from Ena, who often had epileptic fits. Domestic service shaped the sisters’ lives and also provided them with a steady income.
Statistics from the censuses suggest that between ‘1901-21 14% of married women were in paid employment’ in comparison with the much larger percentage in 1851, when a quarter of married women worked for a living. This is reflective of ‘working-class women began to withdraw from industrial life into the home, where they tried to emulate the domestic lifestyles of the wealthy’. This could suggest why Emily concerns herself with household chores and hobbies while John got a job ‘in the Packing shop at Allen West’s factory and there he worked till his retirement’ (p.18).
In part one of the memoir, Daisy and her siblings spend most of their time, alongside school and other outside hobbies, contributing to numerous household chores: ‘with five boys and five girls, every day was a wash day’ (p.7). Each day of the week was dedicated to a different chore, ‘Friday was hair wash night’ (p.20) They found great joy in preparing their weekly baths on Saturday nights after tea, ‘in age rotation mother would bath us, and dad dry us’ (p.20). She often mentions their never-ending duties through her memoir, but never complained- she knew these were her contributions to her home before outside work. These duties were always distributed equally, ‘the first child down in the morning would slice bread to be shared among five or six basins…by this time the brother who had been out with dad would return’ (p.7). As they grew older and ‘outgrew the bath’ (20) they took to their own devices and were given ‘2d to go to the Ditchling Road Baths’ (21). There was a constant chore to be completed, always ‘shelves full of dishes and plates’ (9) and everyone was treated as an equal.
Daisy shows an utmost dedication to her life with her family and to her life in service constantly working her way up the household scale to the position of ‘parlour maid’ (58) at Ovingdean Hall. She began to create new relationships with friends and found her future husband George during one of her excursions. At the end of her journey in service, Daisy looks after George and finds love in other hobbies.
Noakes, Daisy, 1975. ‘The Town Beehive, a young girl’s lot Brighton 1910-1934’, Brighton, QueenSpark Books.
Pooley S. 2013. Parenthood, child-rearing and fertility in England, 1850-1914. The history of the family: an international quarterly, 18(1), 83–106.
Rosemary. C, cited by Bourke, Family, domesticity and ‘respectability’, Writing Lives: Collaborative Research Project on Working-Class Autobiography, 6118ENGL-201920, Liverpool John Moores University, Week 5.