‘Our house was tiny by modern standards. Two rooms and a bit upstairs and two rooms a kitchen and a scullery downstairs. There was no front garden of course, but we had the “yard” at the back with a garden about 15 feet long by about the same width, in which I grew the flowers that I had bought from Charlotte Street market’ (pp.1)
Family and domestic life hold a huge factor in Frederick’s memoir. The lengthy document centres around his childhood and the people around him, who, naturally, were his family, and we can experience this from his point of view as the youngest member.
Born to William Henry and Charlotte Wynne, Frederick grew up alongside his older sister Nellie in Portsmouth. We do not hear much about his father, other than he was away serving in the Boer War for the majority of the document. Despite the war ending during the timeline of this memoir, there is no further mention of his return, so perhaps his father was not a significant character of Frederick’s childhood due to this separation.
Interestingly, there are only a few family members- imaginably the most valued or highly thought of- that were spoken about in detail. A fleeting mention of Aunt Lottie ‘who was rather superior’ and ‘turned her nose up’ (pp.27), and a brief visit from a vague ‘Aunt from London’ (pp.45) who took them to the theatre, suggests that Frederick’s family expanded a lot further than the small circle he describes, but these people were not an important factor in his young life.
The family lived comfortably, however, and the memories of this happy time seep through the entire memoir. Interestingly, uncles, Charlie and George, appeared to adopt fathering figures to the two children, Charlie being ‘a most likeable man’ who worked as a Sign Writer, drew African animals and read Dicken’s to them. George was a ‘kind man’ with a ‘quiet, inoffensive horse’ called Dolly Grey, and between George and Dolly Grey, they had a very successful greengrocery round- in which Frederick could accompany if he was lucky.
Apart from his [Uncle Charlie] artistic visits, his usual regular visits were on Sunday evenings. [..] He would forego the Sunday evening service at the chapel so that he could join us in our Sunday evening singing on Sankey and Moody hymns. My big sister was learning to play the piano and she played the accompaniment. My mother sang the first verse of each hymn and we all joined in the others. (ch.11)
Frederick’s family were very close-knit, and he clearly valued them deeply. Throughout the memoir, there are few stories or anecdotes of his outside friendships and the majority of his ‘adventures’ centre around himself and his sister Nell. Despite being somewhat of a bossy boots, ‘she was the argumentative type’ and ‘I never, or hardly ever, disagreed with my big sister’, Frederick clearly looked up to Nellie and together they tried to grow flowers, to hunt ghosts and even attempted to meet Charles Dickens.
Most likely due to Frederick’s father being abroad, the majority of the family members explicitly spoken about were in fact female. The relationship between Frederick and his grandmother was heart-warmingly close; he describes her as ‘The most kind-hearted person ever. No-one, deserving or not so deserving was denied help from her if she had anything to give.’ (pp.2) Grandma was present in the majority of events documented, and clearly was a valued member of the family.
Although I used to like going out shopping with grandma there was one part of it that was a bit irksome [..] she would stop every few yards to talk to someone she knew. Among her first words to them invariably was “This is my grandson” and she would tell them how clever I was and how well I was doing at school. When she came to the end of extolling my virtues, the conversation would stop abruptly with her final words “Well we must be getting on, I’ve got a lot to do.”(pp,49)
Interestingly, despite the glowing character reference of his grandmother, there has been little written about his grandfather. He had bought Frederick a wheelbarrow, which he considered the ‘grandest thing ever’ (pp2). He had served on Baron Krupp’s yacht and upon his retirement from sailing ‘the baron gave him a bit of money to set him up in civilian life’. From this, he had purchased a shop, The Admiral Drake pub, and upon his death allowed his grandmother to open a greengrocer. This money and property allowed the Wynne family to live comfortably, and whilst Frederick may not have had a largely emotional relationship with his grandfather, he certainly respected him, and spoke about both grandparents with admiration, identifying them as ‘the most kind and forgiving one could meet in a month of Sunday’s’ (pp.13)
They had a small terrier called Jacko who used to sit in the cellar sampling the beer with me. He licked up the beer from the drip bowls. Grandpa would not allow him in the cellar but I used to sneak him in and out secretly. He wasn’t fussy about the kind of beer he drank. Small beer or porter was all the same to him. Unfortunately, he never seemed to know when he had had enough and when out convivial session was finished he used to wobble out, hide under the sofa, and sleep for hours. (pp.14)
Frederick spent a lot of his childhood alongside his grandparents (and Jacko the dog) in the Admiral Drake and is recorded just as much, if not more than, his domestic home. Because of this, we see a lot of his domestic memories interchange with memories of social events- such as the relief of Ladysmith, or the drunken sailors. The details about the running of this pub also allow for some understanding of the class and gender
differences in society. Women were not allowed in the public section of the bar; only the private- and upon the death of his grandfather, the pub had to be sold as women were not allowed to be landlords, for example.
The way in which Frederick describes his family life, particularly in regards to decoration, can be an example of the attitudes towards class and reputation. Historians have established a common theme in working-class families, particularly comfortable families like the Wynne’s, in which they emphasized how ‘respectable’ they were by imitating middle-class values.
“My mother said she wouldn’t pay anymore rent unless she could have better wallpaper that the rubbish he [the landlord] had sent her. [..] She told him she would write to the War Office about the way she was treated and threatened with being turned out into the street with her dear little children while her husband was fighting the Boers. [..] So what with our new incandescent gas lighting and our new and expensive wallpaper we thought we had really gone up in the world” (pp.54)
Frederick describes how his mother refused to settle for ‘cheap looking’ wallpaper, and describes the ornate decorations in the Admiral Drake: an assortment of chalk busts of famous and not so famous people. ‘Grandma thought highly of those ornaments and they lined the top shelf in the ‘ladies’ bar with them. Every time the painters came to redecorate the pub, she redecorated her ornaments’ (pp.54). The idea of emphasizing middle-class life seemed important to this family, as Frederick was not allowed to sit on the kerb with the neighbouring boys for it was too ‘common’ (pp,77); he could only sit on the step outside of the front door. This was clearly a trait that had influenced Fredericks decisions- as he states that he would like to have taken part in the ‘mudlarks’ if it wasn’t for the mud- something Grandma thought was disgraceful! (pp.38) Fredericks more respectable games and his families pastimes are discussed in the fun and festivities post here.
PubsHistory (n.d.). Admiral Drake, 8 – 10 Twyford Avenue, Landport. [image] Available at: https://pubshistory.com/Hampshire/Landport/AdmiralDrake.shtml
Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’. Burnett Archive of Working-class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 2:0854