George came from a poor working-class background. His father was a grocers assistant and his mother was a house-maid. George who was born in 1887 had two older siblings; sister (1883) and brother Paul (1885) his younger brother Nelson (1897).
He mentions the hardships of growing up and how proud his mother was, proud in the sense that even in hard times she would never consider to ask for ‘tick’. His mother was the eldest of sixteen children, her parental home was a village inn in Suffolk, which was in George’s grandmother’s name because his grandfathers was of a somewhat inconsistent nature (p9)
His Mum was also his greatest influence:
Though I had not especially wanted to become a printer, I had often had vague ideas about becoming a writer. It was rather a foreign hope and a biblical literary prize did not seem much of a qualification. What influenced me most was the insistence of my mother that I could achieve some writing status. “p18)
He tells a hand-me-down account of how his parents met which was shortly after his mother moved to London in search of housekeeping work. He tells how the relationship blossomed from friends, to sweethearts, to lovers, to husband and wife.
He speaks fondly about the atmosphere of home life and how pivotal his father’s positivity was. He tells of his fathers love for the Harmonium which in time he would inherit. His father had initiative, skill and above anything put his wife and children first:
It is difficult to realise the constant and everyday sacrifices made by parents for their children in Victorian times, though of course parents always make sacrifices. When my father was an elderly man, retired on a modest pension, he said to me one day;
“When I see you enjoying your pipe I often wish I had been able to smoke and have a glass of beer; but if I had had my beer and tobacco you would have had no boots.” (p11)
At the age of nine he feels embarrassed for making a literary mistake in front of his older sister and her friends. I mention this here because that is the only mention of his sister in the whole memoir and she remains nameless.
He gives names for his two brothers, Paul and Nelson. The latter is spoken about briefly, but his elder brother Paul gets a couple of mentions throughout the memoir but this is probably due to the fact that he was a chap among the caps and although he often found work in other trades such as advertising he often returned to the chapel:
“Once a comp, always a comp.” (p136)
George’s wife is mentioned briefly when he speaks of losing a friend, the Rev. Joost De Blank, in the same week as his wife and describes it at a ‘double sorrow’.
After undergoing a bit of research and with the help of the 1901 and 1911 Census forms I have discovered that his father was named John and was born in 1858, and his mother was Sarah Rowles born 1862.
Bibliography: Rowles, George. Chaps Among the Caps. Unpublished. Burnett Collection of Working-Class Autobiography, Special Collection, Brunel University Library, 1:600 http://newheathmedia.co.uk/blog-2014/the-compositor-salad-days/ http://english.cla.umn.edu/PM/PMII.107.html
Rowles, George E. The Line is on. London: The London Society of Compositors, 1948.
Photo London compositors 1