Although Jack Vallance’s memoir is an extensive piece of writing he offers very little in terms of details regarding his family life, both during his childhood and as an adult. Rather than focusing on personal aspects he instead, as I’ve noted in previous posts, writes about his career and time spent with friends outside of the home.
In doing this, the majority of Jack’s stories are based in the small Derbyshire village where he grew up. Cromford, which as Jack pens early on, was ‘owned by the Arkwrights (of spinning wheel fame’ (C1/2). This location is noted in history as a major location for the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Cromford was, and still is, a small community which boasts a number of historical sights including Cromford Mill, Masson Mill and Willersley Castle. He tells of the power that the family had over the area, stating that the Arkwrights owned the houses throughout the village, and his grandparents had to pay ‘9/8 (49p) a month’ (C1/2) for their cottage. When the influential family lost ownership (due to what Jack suggests to be caused by ‘death duties’ (C 1/2)) the house that the family lived in was ‘offered up’ for £60 under the terms that ‘there shall be no interference with water supplies’ (C 1/2). This term was obviously written in to the deed in order to protect the local water-run mill business. He tells very little about his family members, only that his ‘father was a quarry worker then a soldier…my mother worked at John Smedley’s factory at Lea making all kinds of underwear’ (1A).
Only twenty pages of Jack’s writing focuses on his home and family experiences. He titles these ‘Childhood’ (1A) and ‘Childhood Memories’ (1C), two of only a few titled chapters. Whilst most female author’s writing memoir’s during the period would make more frequent reference to life within the home and time with their family. Jack’s memoir demonstrates notions upheld by a large number of male autobiographers, who refer more frequently to work and activities outside of the home as a show of their identity.
With this, Jack talks about several experiences shared with friends as a boy. This includes helping at Matlock Bath Illuminations where he assisted a man with a float that was lit like Chesterfield’s ‘crooked spire’ (C1). Trips to Cromford Market place and sledging down Cromford Hill were a regular past-time. He goes on to tell of how he and his friends ‘often played Cowboys and Indians in the woods around Black Rocks’ (Addendum C1) as well as exploring ‘mines and caves’. In the same area, he recalls a day during which they found two ‘mills grenades’ and were unsure as to what to do. In the end, they called a friends’ uncle who ‘took them, pulled the pin out and dropped them down a mine shaft’ (Addendum C1). This shows the danger of living in an industrialized community.
Although there are accounts of his home-life during his younger life, Jack hardly touches on his married life. The only recognition of his wife occur when they first meet at Willersley Castle where she was working and a note on his wedding day. He recalls ‘I was married on 9th April 1939…after then honeymoon weekend Blackpool’ (Addendum 5). Then when his wife became sick and ‘was told she must not work for six months’ he had to leave a high position in Sheffield in order to move home and take over the household.
Jack appears careful not to let personal opinions run throughout his writing. He sustains a neutral position when he tells stories, and uses humor to portray his own feelings, even in the most awkward of experiences. This can be seen as a typical trait of male writers who often use their memoir’s as a means by which they show their outgoing personalities rather than their personal struggles.
Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989). 2:780.