Frank Prevett (b.1904): Home and Family

For the most part Frank’s memoir does not go into much detail into his family life. Most of his memoir goes into detail regarding his work. [See Purpose and Audience], although, he does provide some insight into his family dynamic during his childhood and adult life.

Withyham Station – Frank’s father was stationmaster from 1910 until 1917

Frank briefly discusses his father’s placements and in turn where he spent his childhood. From his birth up until 1910 they lived in Brighton, until his father secured a stationmaster position at Withyham. In 1917 they moved to Berwick, Sussex and this was his father’s last move as he refused any further promotions and stayed here until his retirement in 1938. Frank discusses wages that railwaymen received at the beginning of the 20th century. He writes that ‘payment for working on a Sunday was unheard of and the weekly wage for all railwaymen was for a seven day week, the daily hours depending on circumstances but seldom under twelve hours’ (6). Following Frank’s fifth birthday, his father was promoted to stationmaster at Lewes. Frank writes that ‘his [father’s] weekly wage rose to 31/6d, and I have never been able to understand how my mother was to feed us and cloth a family on such a wage’ (7).

Frank notes the differences between his parent’s generation and his own, notably that ‘food prices were very different from those of today and most of our clothing was home made until we were many years older’ (7-8). Frank adds that he is ‘sure it is almost impossible for the present-day generation to imagine how our parents existed without wireless, television, washing machines and the many other considered necessities of the homes of today’ (7-8). This is an interesting element to Frank’s memoir as generations prior to contemporary society have also wondered how generations managed to exist without the necessities that were created during their adult life. It is interesting to see the progress of working class life from the early 20th century, to mid-20th century and being able to compare that with what we know from living in the 21st century.

Buckhurst Park, Withyham

Frank does acknowledge his social status. During his early adolescence in Withyham he notes that ‘we did have some insight into the life of the upper-class folk of those days. I can clearly remember the weekend house parties at the large country estate, Buckhurst Park, with the arrival by train of many important people and their vast amount of luggage’ (9). Frank is aware of his social standing and that the role of a stationmaster did not pay well. The family values that he holds in high regard come from the way his parents maintained their household on a small wage and these values are demonstrated when Frank becomes the head of his household.

Frank recalls Easter Monday of 1927 as it turned out to be one of the most important days of his life. Frank ‘decided at the last moment to attend the local wedding reception. Fate must have played some part for [him] in these changes of plans’ (36-37). Florence was one of the first people to greet him at the reception and after taking as many opportunities to dance with her he ‘found sufficient courage to try and make a date for the following weekend… After a few days I received an acceptance for that first date, little realising that this was certainly the most important mile stone in my life’ (36-37). Following this meeting he discusses his attitude towards this relationship and notes that he did not appreciate her and nearly broke this relationship off on more than one occasion. In his memoir he thanks members of his family who advised him to pursue the relationship and not break it off which Frank was compelled to do on more than once occasion. In hindsight Frank admits that it would have been the biggest mistake of his life. Florence supported Frank through every aspect of his career on the railway. Florence had to deal with several moves, having the family setting being disrupted at all hours of the day due to incidents that occurred at the station. Frank is eternally grateful for Florence’s devotion to him and as previously mentioned is why he dedicated the memoir to her.

‘In the spring of 1933 my wife and I were blessed with the arrival of twin sons… [The doctors] were equally surprised after the birth of Peter in having to announce the birth of another. With twelve hours interval between their arrival… John it was’ (45). Following the birth of his sons any discussion detailing the family dynamic is often in relation to life on the railway and discussion of the family is kept to his immediate family. Significant family events are described in minute detail, due to the focus being kept on his career. The most prominent examples of this are when his daughters-in-law give birth to his grandchildren. He does not mention that they are pregnant or how they are during the pregnancy just that they have given birth. Often, he does not refer to the child’s name until after the christening, but this can be put down to Frank’s strong faith. Having said this, Frank does discuss the relationship of his sons and their wives. He details how they met, the circumstances before their engagement, their eventual wedding and following the birth of his grandchildren he discusses how this effects their family dynamic. Frank is heavily involved with his family and is clearly devoted to them. However, Frank chooses to focuses the vast majority of his memoir on his life on the railway.

Bibliography

‘Frank Prevett’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:638.

Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection

Images

Withyham Station – Disusedstations.org

Buckhurst Park – Buckhurstparkweddings.co.uk

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