Jack William Jones: Home & Family

All in all, it seemed to be a good life, a simple life. The hard part was to come later.[1]

This quotation is from jack’s memoir after he talks for the first time about his family. Jack was born into a comfortable working-class family, and he takes us with him on his journey, having his life flipped upside down by his fathers decline into alcoholism. He tells us how his father was a Dairy Man from North Wales; he describes him as Jovial, short and stout, but more significantly, a drinker. We discover that Jack had an affection for his mother and somewhat of an admiration for his three brothers.

His father owned a herd of 20 cows in Shoreditch and made a living serving milk to every pub between Dalston Junction and Liverpool street which totalled close to 100 pubs, as Jack’s childish memories remind him. His mother spent her mornings tending the cows and churning the milk that would then be sold by his father. At first his family had what appeared to be a very comfortable and happy lifestyle.

A typical working-class milkman in the 1900’s

Jack describes his mother as the ‘kindest and gentlest of mothers’, who spends her Sunday mornings playing beautiful music at the farm – an ideal vision of a working class mother. As an upper-working class woman with a comfortable lifestyle, Jack’s mother obtained a significant sum of money from her own father, the owner of many pubs in the East End, when she married Jack’s father. But we being to see a disintegration in this perfect family image. Jack tells us how she would know when ‘the old man’, her husband, went off with another woman for a few days, because he always came back with his undershirt inside out.

Despite his livelihood in dairy, Jack’s father preferred another form of liquid much more. His alcoholism became the ruin of his business, their family home and the man himself. Burdened with debts, Jack’s father left their family and died in 1914, the day WW1 was declared, when Jack aged 14. This is where Jack’s memoir takes a negative twist, demonstrating the harsh reality of the working class struggle in the early 1900’s.

The importance of the actions of a father in the life of a child, a young boy in particular, is significant in the life events of an individual. As Julie-Marie Strange states, fathers were often deployed in autobiographical accounts as agents of radicalization, ambition or as models of manhood. For others, however, ‘fathers represented the conservatism, fatalism and deference they defined themselves against. In some cases, like Jack’s, fathers were identified as feckless and these tended to be cast as motors towards the author’s self-improvement’ [2]

It is significant that Jack builds up events in his life as a response to the life of his father, one in which he aims to be nothing like the man his father became. Strange also addresses a very prominent element of Jack’s memoir. Like many autobiographers, Jack does not express any affection or lack of for his father. He simply lays out the black and white facts of his being. As Strange writes:  ‘father-child dynamics interrogates what authors chose to narrate about fathers, the language and narrative devices they used, as well as the content of stories told. The vast majority of authors focused on anecdotes about father rather than recounting their feelings for him.’[3]

Due to his father’s actions, Jack’s mother was forced to rent a pest infested, second-floor flat where all three young brothers had to sleep in one bed in the kitchen while his mother and sister shared a bed in the living room. His elder brother, who eventually died in the war, worked in a bar to support his mother as much as he could. This however, did not aid their struggle. Jack describes vague memories of waking up with bites, and an incident when, in attempting to burn and kill the every growing creatures that visited them in the night, he instead hospitalises his brother by burning him. Jack describes how their family share ‘one lavatory in the backyard for four families’ further emphasising their family struggles.

I feel that the most significant thing to take from Jack’s descriptions of his family is the working situation of his mother, forced to go out to work in a railway goods depot. Jack’s memoir is dedicated, for the most part, to his involvement in the political strikes for workers’ rights in the Rank and File movement. He dedicated his adult life to the cause, and supported the women drivers, very adamantly, in their plea for equal wages. This can be seen as a direct result of the anger that built up through his time as a child watching his mother struggle to feed her family working in the transport sector.

A page taken from the memoir of Jack William Jones detailing his anger for his mothers working class position


[1] Jack William Jones, Untitled, 2:443 TS, chapters paginated separately. Extract published in Childhood Memories, recorded by some Socialist Men and Women in their later years, edited with an introduction by Margaret Cohen, Marion and Hymie Fagan, Duplicated typescript, pp.60-8. BruneI University Library.

[2] Strange, JM, (1870–1914). Fatherhood, furniture and the inter-personal dynamics of working-class homes, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

[3]Strange, J. (2015). Fatherhood and the British working class, 1865-1914. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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