Eva Shilton (b. 1907): Home and Family

The importance of Eva’s home and family life is evident throughout her memoir, and much of the content she has dictated revolves around her experiences of domestic living. Class also plays an instrumental role in her upbringing: her father was a munitions worker at the Coventry Ordnance Works, but ‘with many others had lost his job when the war ended’ (Shilton, p.11). As Gagnier states, this job was explicitly working-class in itself:

‘Workers, as Engels pointed out in 1844, were not ‘heads’ but ‘hands’ […] the conditions of their labor were literally dehumanizing’ (Gagnier, 1987, p.5).

The Coventry Ordnance Works, where Eva’s father spent countless tiresome hours during the war.

Her mother, regardless, kept the family’s finances in check, though Eva’s father was unemployed for over two years following the war and received unemployment pay for only nine months. This financial hardship reflected upon Eva’s own life: despite her sought after ‘recommendation’, ‘a letter from the school saying [she] had been chosen to attend the new Secondary school’, ‘[Eva] didn’t really have to be asked, ‘where would we get the money from’ (Shilton, p.12).

Despite their monetary hardship, though, her mother remained overtly proud and socially conscious. On the subject of Eva’s recommendation, for example, the family later received a letter from a charity offering support: ‘mum went mad, her idea of charity was so dreadful’ (Shilton, p.12). Despite her mothers reticence towards charity ‘[her parents were really quite upset at not being able to let [her] go to the new school’ (Shilton, p.13).
This was not the only instance of her mother being perhaps too proud. Eva once cooked soup at school and brought it home, and reminisces:

‘Many a family in far better circumstances than us would have made a meal from this soup. Not so my mother, down the toilet it went, ‘Two things proved you were poor, eating soup and burning coke’ (Shilton, p.15).

Even when the family were without food, ‘she rattled the plates in the pantry so that neighbours would think we had eaten’ (Shilton, p.15). Interestingly, her mother’s reluctance towards charity, especially in terms of education, likely stems from her own adverse experience of class relations. Her class consciousness was not shaped in the workplace, but far sooner: in school. Eva’s mother attended a School for Ladies, as ‘a Charity Child’ (Shilton, p.22). She told Eva the other girls’ clothes were ‘fit for princesses’, and in class she found herself alongside ‘the Vicar’s daughter, the banker’s, the tailor’s […] all those with money’ (Shilton, p.22). Eva’s mother was to shave her head ‘to prove she was not one of ‘them” , and ‘sat so far away from the others that it was impossible to hear’ (Shilton, p.22). Eva was later told that her mother thought every day of ‘the humiliation [she] had to suffer’ (Shilton, p.22) at that school, and contemplates that ‘her school days not only spoiled her life, but affected all the family’s too’ (Shilton, p.23).

The effects of her mother’s early exposure to class prejudices are evident, and are reflected through the aforementioned ‘outside show’ (Shilton, p.15) she put on. The Shiltons’ happiness, as perceived by Eva, seemed to directly correspond with the family’s financial situation. This relation, no doubt experienced by countless other working-class families even to this day, dictated their wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. Eva recalls, during the height of their destitution, that ‘there was very little laughter in our lives’ (Shilton, p.15), and the despondency Eva felt was compounded by her father’s continued unemployment: ‘my father’s misery went to the heart of me, I loved him so dearly.’ (Shilton, p.11). In contrast to this stage of melancholy, after Eva’s father resumes employment, at which time she recalls ‘life at home was much better, dad working was lovely, he started singing again, and he was really interested in his job.’ (Shilton, p.22).

St. Peter’s Church, Hillfields, where both Eva and her parents were married.

Eva’s home life, though encroached upon by poverty, is still remembered fondly in her memoir. She is evidently especially fond of her father, whom she describes as ‘a very happy go lucky man’. [She] adored him, he never talked down to [his] children’ (Shilton, p.23). Eva reflects that her parents ‘loved each other dearly, and when they celebrated their Golden Wedding in 1957, it really was a Golden Wedding.’ (Shilton, p.23). Though her father died only five years later in 1962, Eva states that ‘never was a father more missed.’ (Shilton, p.23)

Works Cited:
Gagnier, R., (1987) Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender [online]
Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3828397.pdf
Date Accessed: 14th February, 2017

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