Letitia Simpson (1926-2012): Home and Family

What is striking about this memoir is the fact that the idea of home is very different in comparison with the idea of home in other memoirs, that being a pub. A pub is both a home and a place of work. A home where common visitors (regulars) and strangers spend most of the day going from sober to sloshed with whatever money they picked up at work. In the memoir however, Letitia writes about the intimacy of her family and how the home, although a pub, still has many of the properties of any other home.

Morpeth Castle Bar in the 1920s –  Kindly provided by Dave Eason
https://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/Bow/MorpethCastle.shtml

One thing that Letitia does in her memoir is boldly emphasise the divide between the bar of the pub with her actual living space. For example, she writes “I lay there in the solitude of the ‘living accommodation’ of the ‘Public House’ where I was born. Downstairs, they would be getting busy by now, about two hours after opening time in the evening, people would start coming in, in their droves.” Letitia often uses speech marks around certain words to create emphasis. The quotation marks around “living accommodation” could suggest either that this term is the formal name for her living quarters or Letitia does it for a satirical and sarcastic effect as the living quarters are unliveable. There is evidence to support the other claim that the living spaces in the pub were unliveable and that relates to the rat infestation Letitia mentions. Letitia writes that, “unfortunately, our pub had always been plagued with [rats], it was nothing to go into our kitchen at night, switch on the light, and see two or three large ‘rats’ scramble up the pipe.” Letitia describing these events as being “nothing” suggests that this was a common occurrence, therefore there is a sense of squalor and infestation in her home.

Letitia was an only child, therefore she grew up only in the company of adults. She was very close to her mother and father, especially her mother who mainly brought her up. Her closeness to her mother was also increased by the death of her father which I spoke about in the previous blog. Regenia Gagnier says that working-class autobiographers often emphasise the normality of their parents and how they live quite ordinary lives and that most autobiographies of working-class members begin with, “an apology for their author’s ordinariness.” (P338) Leticia’s memoir, I believe, contradicts Gagnier’s claim as Letitia describes certain eccentricities or unusual features about her parents.  Publicans in working-class areas may have had different conditions and ways of life in comparison to the other members of the working class. A publican would have more control over what they did during the day (they didn’t have a boss dictating to them like the average factory worker or labourer) and they were also employers who employed barmaids and cooks.

Ascot Stands 1910s – picture courtesy of Christine Weightman. https://bkthisandthat.org.uk/potted-history-of-sunninghill-and-ascot/

Letitia writes about her father being a book-keeper on the side. This demonstrates how her father was quite a business- minded.  She writes, “[my father] had now become a ‘Bookmaker’ , and had his own ‘stand’ at all the big race meetings.” This demonstrates her father’s sense of self-sufficiency, and in fact self-sufficiency and individualism are key themes in this memoir. Many working-class memoirs describe trade-unionism, activism and descriptions of exploitation, in other words, a socialist culture. This memoir departs from this tradition of working-class autobiography, and instead Letitia describes the need for self-sufficiency and ambition, as well as the need for an economic head.  I am sure these ideas of money-making and capital came from her Conservative-voting parents.  

Bibliography

Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London: Routledge, 1994).

Burnett, John. Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day. London: Routledge, 1989.

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

“Reforming the Working Man.” Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis in Britain during World War One, by Robert Duncan, NED – New edition, 1, 1 ed., Liverpool University Press, 2013, pp. 166–180. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt18mbcgs.12.

Light, Alison. Common People: A History of an English Family (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2015) [19th & 20th centuries – very good model for work we are doing on author blogs]

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709910 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Rose, Jonathan.  The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. [Very influential survey of reading habits and cultural ambitions based on autobiographies collected by Burnett, Mayall and Vincent]

 Savage, Mike, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican) Sherwood, M. E. W. “English Landladies.” The Aldine, vol. 7, no. 9, 1874, pp. 173–174. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20636851

Simpson, Letitia. My Day Before Yesterday, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Vol 4

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