As Edward Balne was an orphan, the only family he ever knew was by ‘the accident of marriage’, Balne p1, and this puts him in a very individual position when talking about the working class mentality concerning class, which has been shown to be linked with families. Although brought up in a workhouse and in a Poor Law school he never had to go through the trauma of splitting up with his family. He never knew them, But class divisions due to his upbringing are spoken about forcefully within his memoir.
The working class family would usually have had a huge effect on a child’s upbringing. During harvest, a child would be typically be taken out of school to help. Or if the family’s funds were low a child would have been sent to work, perhaps as a chimney-sweep or if in a mining region, down the mines to clear the coal that would fall off the backs of carts, or as a ‘trapper’ – pulling a string to open doors for the carts as they went by.
Although the above picture was taken in America, the conditions were very similar.
As such, there wouldn’t be time for these young people to fully concentrate on their education, and better themselves in the long run. The working classes made their children working class.
Balne did not have this problem. As I have already written extensively about his experiences at Southwark workhouse, in viewing his ‘”parents”‘ as members of the staff, and so far as [he] can recall [he] was treated with a deal of kindness and petted by all the women who were responsible for [his] welfare’ I ought to make clear that although Balne was not within a working class family he was nevertheless seen as a working class individual by others.
Carolyn Steedman, in the introduction to Landscape for a Goodwoman: A Story of Two Lives, writes that:
…as forms of analysis and writing people’s history and working class autobiography are relatively innocent of psychoanalytic theory, and there has been little space to within it to discuss the development of class consciousness (as opposed to its expression) nor for understanding of it as a learned position, learned in childhood, and often through the exigencies of difficult and lonely lives.’
The above quote can definitely be applied to Balne. Although an orphan and by all accounts given a sound comprehensive education, and taught to erase his working class background by use of a neutral accent, he was still viewed by society as a lowly poor-law schoolboy.
…it was when scoring for the Hanwell team one Saturday afternoon at an away game that I first became conscious of my lowly status in society. And being a highly sensitive lad, I was never to forget the incident (which I will not describe here) which occurred that afternoon. The shock of that realisation that I was considered to be a member of the lowest form of human creation was an experience from which I have never fully recovered. It affected my nerves and my whole outlook upon life. It affected my confidence and personality and it left a feeling of a deep and profound inferiority complex which generally has overshadowed everything I have tried to accomplish over the years.
It is interesting to note that this shock never left him. Whatever happened that day, he was taught at fourteen he was inferior because of his working-class background – and perhaps not even because of that. He may have been singled out because of the fact he was being educated in a charitable institution, or it may have been because he was an orphan. Nonetheless the stigma of dependency on the state, something still associated with the working classes, was not something Edward Balne could escape at fourteen years old.
The relationships he had with the Headmaster, and other teachers of the school are remembered ‘with affection’ Balne, p6.
Apart from the Headmaster (Mr.Gill), there were three other teachers whose names I still remember with affection. They are: Mr Mapp, who was also responsible for the boy’s cricket team, Mr Wadsworth – “Daddy” Wadsworth the boys called him because of his years and fatherly air (Daddy was a first class teacher) – and a Mr Gould. Mr Gould’s extra duties were training the boy footballers and administrating the school team.
Through these fond remembrances I am convinced Balne had a family, if not one of the usual kind.
Landscape for a Goodwoman: A Story of Two Lives. London: Virago, 1986, p.13.
Links that may be useful:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/08/chavs-demonization-owen-jones-review – a review of Own Jones’ Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, a contribution to the revived debate about class.
Balne, Edward, ‘Autobiography of an ex-Workhouse and Poor Law School Boy’, MS, pp 175 (c.27,000 words). Brunel University Library.