Home is where the heart is. In the case of Maud Matilda Clarke (née Mills, b. 1887), this was certainly true, having not just one but three childhood homes. Each one being made unique and special by the people who were in it. She shared her homes with her family; her parents, 6 brothers and sisters, aunt and cousin. She appears to have been very involved in the day-to-day running of the household, even as a young child developing skills in cooking, cleaning and mending, and as the eldest daughter she had extra responsibilities with childcare. This was not unusual for working-class children at the time and Maud does not treat it as a hardship.
Her father was a plumber and publican, and according to the 1891 and 1911 censuses, also a joint maker and iron merchant. Samuel Mills (1854-1930) might have met the requirements for a stereotypical provider, but he was also a productive, hands-on and educating type of dad. Maud remembers him making the children toys and a walker for the baby, and teaching her about hops and fermentation when they moved to Owen Street where they started running a pub. Her mother, Maria Mills (née Hughes, 1859-1937) was a working-class housewife, with the mammoth task of caring for her husband and 7 children as well as keeping the home presentable, clean and cosy. From Welsh heritage, Maria was also the eldest daughter of 7, and like her mother, Maud lost one of her children in infancy.
“Mothers, even with small dwellings did not go out to work. Father had to be well fed, as he alone brought home the only means of subsistance” (Clarke, 19)
Elizabeth Roberts writes extensively on the subject of this quote from Maud’s memoir in her book A Woman’s Place, describing the ability and status men could maintain by being able to keep their children and wives at home while they worked. It would have brought a lot of pride to the Mills household, as Samuel busied himself with multiple vocations to keep his family secure and comfortable.
Maud is thorough in her descriptions of her childhood homes, from the kitchen with its amenities to the bedrooms’ size, fabrics and flooring. She goes through chapters such as “Our New Home”, the pub she lived in until she was 16, “The Home and its food”, detailing a meal after school which might be a boiled “brisket of beef, with carrots, parsnips, onions, turnips and potatoes” (41) and “on Fridays usually boiled-cod with potatoes, pea’s and parsley sauce, and this is often followed by apple-tart and custard” (41), and finally “The Home and its accoutrements” where she moves to her final childhood home.
Her sketches bring to life the realities of her living conditions. See the detail of the room she has drawn, but for a family of 9 (not including when her aunt and cousin were living with them as they did for some years) the space was hardly sufficient. She also draws objects within the house that would have had regular use, such as the mangle, dolly and oven. (Follow this link to my transcription of Maud’s memoir.) The emphasis she puts on these tools and the descriptions of how they were used by her parents suggests she is concentrating on this part of her childhood home in the memoir because it is a way of life that has ceased to be (Gagnier).
Maud comments on the urbanization of her home growing up. The West Midlands became industrialised like many areas of England in the 19th century, thus creating denser communities and more crowded living conditions. The influx of labourers with nowhere to live meant that her father’s inn was regularly full. There was a sense of pride, though, associated with the skills necessary to be one of these hard-working manual labourers (Savage).
The importance of family is apparent throughout. Her long, arduous and highly-rewarding teaching career comes to an end in 1913 when she marries her husband of 52 years, Nehemiah Clarke (1882-c.1965). She does this gladly though, and she writes lovingly, albeit little, about her daughters and grandchildren. Without a doubt the biggest blow to her perception of home came with the loss of her father in 1930. Even writing nearly 50 years after the event, her heart breaks all over again on the page.
“He was the head of the house and Mother was the heart of the home” (Clarke, 50)
Clarke, Maud. ‘Untitled’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 156, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9479
‘Maud Clarke’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 156
Bourke, Joanna. Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960. London: Routledge, 1994.
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.)
Roberts, Elizabeth. A Woman’s Place. 1984. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995.
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. Milton Keynes: Penguin Random House UK, 2015.