Ellen Gill (1888-1988): Home and Family

Leeds, working class children, dwellingThe reflection of home and family shines through Ellen’s memoir beginning with memories of the home and her family in her childhood and ending with her life in the present surrounded with all her loved ones.

We learn that Ellen grew up in a back to back house which soon became overcrowded due to her mother giving birth, ‘Every two or three years a new baby arrived and as far back as I can remember, I had to help mind the baby, or help with the other children.’ (p1). There were no forms of birth control during this period resulting in high pregnancy rates. ‘As most of the families living here had families’ (p.1)  This further created a shared struggle amongst those of the working-class community to try and maintain a stability for their ever expanding families.

Ellen Calvert census age 13 1901

(census 1901)

Back to back houses were of generally low quality due to the four walls being shared with neighbours thus not many windows or doors, which inevitably lead to ill-lit and poorly ventilated conditions. With the lack of medical assistance and unhygienic conditions this evoked illness upon the home and a young death in the family was not uncommon. Ellen speaks about her younger brother Frank who died at the age of 2 from Bronchial Pneumonia following the Measles which further highlights on the poor living standards of the home during that time.

As Ellen was the eldest of 10 children this could have proved challenging because of the expectations that fell upon her with domestic duties being the main priority however Ellen says that she was very pleased to this which shows a realisation of class consciousness; there was an awareness of class and the duties that were expected of her.

Although Ellen and her family came from a working-class background we get a sense from reading her memoir that they were respected within their community. ‘Dad used to say ours (family) was the ever open door, as we all had friends calling for us.’ (p3). Ellen is evidently greatly influenced by her family and is, herself, a very family orientated person. She rarely mentions anyone outside of her family except for a few friends. However, when she meets her husband Arthur Gill she states, ‘I was now very friendly with Arthur and shortly afterwards deserted my friends.’ (p.3). We gain the impression that family was all that mattered to her and commonly, a woman in those days strived to be a housewife with a family of her own, that was the main aim for a working-class woman.

There is a tone of pride and content when Ellen begins to talk about beginning a family with her husband. She soon becomes a mother to Walter, Arthur and Betty Doreen and it becomes apparent that she is bursting with pride. Leaving school at 13, education was not of great importance for her however there is a sense of pride in mentioning how well her children succeeded in school and how successful they have grown to be.

Ellen ends her memoir describing the events of her Golden Wedding Anniversary celebrations which were held in her daughters home. (p15).  Below she writes all the family that attended;

List of family who attended party


Ellen was fortunate enough in her life to have many generations of a happy, devoted, caring and loving family.



Gill, Ellen, ‘Ellen Gill’s Diary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 269


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