Frank Goss (b. 1896): Home and Family

Frank Goss was born to parents Charlie and Nellie Goss and was the fourth child in the family. Since Goss only talks about his childhood, his family and home life are a predominant theme in his memoir. At the start of his memoir he goes into great detail about his father’s life suggesting that he looked up to his father and valued the life his parents shared together before he was born. He also talks a lot about his brothers and focuses on the good and bad parts of his home life. One of the most difficult parts to read about in his memoir was the severe poverty they all lived in. Despite this, he seemed to have a happy childhood and a very united family.

Charlie was born in 1866 and “was the third child of a large family of nine” (p4). He was employed as a piano-case maker for most of his life. When he was twelve he was withdrawn from school as “he had learned to read and write and do simple arithmetic” and his education was seen to be “satisfactorily completed” (p5). He then went on to work in a general shop for his aunt and uncle which included the task of errand boy. At the age of nineteen he went to work in the piano-making firm where his father had worked for many years and where his brother, Jack, also worked. Goss notes that “The family tradition of working in the piano-making industry became too strong to be denied” (p6-7). He was an apprentice for four years before becoming a piano-maker.

Aerial view of London, c. 1920.
Aerial view of London, c. 1920.

When reading Goss’s memoir, I could tell that his family were close and all very supportive of one another. This is mostly shown when his father loses his job and they are all hit with the “evils of extreme poverty” (p33). They move house several times due to Charlie’s job and when they are first hit by poverty, they move into a basement house in 1901. It is clear that Goss does not blame his father for the poverty they all lived in and we can see just how supportive the family were of one another. Nellie offers Charlie immediate support and when they have to move house, Goss and his brothers are excited about the move and offer nothing short of enthusiasm. Moving house to him was a “wonderful and memorable occasion” (p39).

Goss describes his mother Nellie as “a very determined little person” (p13) and we can see this during their second time of dire poverty. She offers Charlie comfort and support and tells him not to worry: ‘“things may be tight but we’ll get through it. You’ll see.”’ (p53). David Vincent states that “the wife was in charge of the household budget as well as emotional support.” (p65). We can see this when Charlie loses his job. She doesn’t blame Charlie for what has happened, showing just how united they are as a couple and a family. With Charlie out of work, the family relied on Nellie’s dress-making money. As well as this, she took on extra work which included washing clothes. She then takes on a third job making bridesmaids dresses for an old Jewish family she used to work for. The children took on work to earn a bit of extra money. Goss’s brother, Jack, took on work at a golf course while Goss and Ralph did errands for the neighbours.

The family is very united despite going through such a hard time. To save as much money as possible during Charlie’s unemployment, Nellie decides to cut out meat from the family diet. While Anna Davin points out that “Wives controlled the family purse” she also argues that “this ‘power’ brought no privileges, only anxious responsibility for stretching scant resources.” (p24). We can see this with Nellie as she is responsible for providing the best food for her children but with limited resources to pay for it. Goss writes that “Feeding and bringing up her children healthily was my mother’s greatest problem” (p68). Meat was seen as a big expense in the normal household budget so it was eliminated from their diet.

Young boys playing with hoops, 1922.
Young boys playing with hoops, 1922.

Goss had a close relationship with his brother Ralph who was two years older than him, and his cousin Bill, who his parents took in after the death of his family from consumption. Goss assumes that “their sense of responsibility for the last of this family must have outweighed the very strong material considerations of the addition of an extra child” (p97). Even though they did not have the money to care for another child, Nellie still took responsibility for him. Despite being “intensely jealous of each other” and disliking each other “sometimes to the borders of hatred” (p98), Goss writes how the two of them went through their “boyhood in such close contact that [they] might have been identical twins held together by an invisible cord” (p98). On Sundays, Goss, Ralph, Bill and their friend Joe spent the day going on long walks to places such as Hadley wood and Greenfield. He describes how they spent their time playing in the streets with a “steel hoop and guiding” (p136). It had a “handle made from a length of steel, hooked to loosely control the hoop, it would be guided on its course by its master” (p136). He describes how they took over the road and how they would “dodge, swerve, glide, and race” (p136) in the street.


Davin, Anna. Growing up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914. Cambridge: Policy Press, London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996.

Goss, Frank. ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Volume Number: 0.313194444

Vincent, David. Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class. Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247, 24p.

Image references:

Victorian Magazine, Antique Dolls & Toys. Victorian Toys: Rolling Hoop. Web. Accessed 6 November 2015

Pool of London and Tower Bridge with Docks beyond, 1920s. Web. Accessed 9 November 2015


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