Being part of a family as large as 9 or more means pitching in and this was something Maud Matilda Clarke (née Mills, 1887-1982) knew all about. As the second of 7 children, Maud had multiple responsibilities helping her parents around the house with laundry, food preparation and beer brewing, as well as childcare for her younger siblings. In Part 1 of Home and Family – which you can read here – I discussed Maud’s parents, Samuel Mills (1854-1930) and Maria Mills (née Hughes, 1859-1937) and the impact they had on the family unit and the homes they had in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Part 2 is all about the running of the household as a family and the wonderful things that Maud learnt in her homes and chose to mention in her memoir. Her way of life became lost in the vacuum of time as she alludes to several times: “At this time we knew not of gramophones, radio, or television, as mother sang a lullaby in the lamp light” (5) and “There was no linoleum at that time neither was the staircase carpeted – just scrubbed.” (7), the lack of resources is not begrudged, behaviours were simply acclimatised.
The day-to-day tasks within the home included mending, cleaning and cooking. Jane Purvis explains that these tasks were very typical for girls of working-class families in her 1989 book Hard Lessons. Cooking was evidently a team task in the Mills’ home. Maud fondly recalls how one day “Mother and Auntie [had] sausage, eggs and tomato cooked in the Dutch-oven before the fire” (42). Her mother and aunt, Rebecca Taylor (née Hughes, b. 1862), are often mentioned in her recollections of food and household, and on one occasion, her Grandmother who she describes as “a wonderful cook” (43).
“Auntie removes the hot wood from the oven, and the loaves in tins, are baked, as the aroma of baking bread fills the house.” (Clarke, 41)
The more labourious tasks are less frequent but required all hands on deck. An entire chapter is dedicated to Wash Day which meant preparation the night before and seemingly endless steps to get through all the dirty laundry such a large family might produce. Maud boasts of having “learned to use the sewing machine” (44) as a child and helping her mother with any repairs before the process was under way.
She sketches several images of appliances and machines that they used for washing and mangling the clothes. These can be found on my full transcription of Maud’s memoir.
Another chapter is dedicated to Pig Killing, a family event which exercised teamwork; Maud describes the ways the meat was cooked and there is a sense from her description of a real celebration of family and getting involved.
Limiting her autobiography strictly to the years of her childhood until marriage, there is an emphasis on the working-class values of the time period; in fact, many female authors wrote predominately if not exclusively about their childhood years (Rogers, Cuming). When she and her family lived at the Magpie Inn, Maud was as good as a child apprentice for her father, learning about hops, fermentation and collecting barm from other alehouses in the area with her brother. It was a way of life for a while and ever-eager to learn, as I have found her to consistently be, Maud expresses her interest when her father would show her the beer cellars and teach her about the different ales that would be sold.
“Father has decided that his wages as a plumber, are not adequate to support his adored wife and children in comfort, so he buys a home-brewed ale-house – a village pub.” (Clarke, 34)
The commitment to the running of the home was intrinsically part of working-class identity. John Burnett’s Destiny Obscure reveals the pride many people took in their homes; even the most squalid are described lovingly by authors. This responsibility to the household goes some way to explain why, at 13, Maud found her mother at odds with her school headmistress as to what Maud would be doing next. Maria Mills was eager for Maud to finish school and help her care for her youngest sibling who had just arrived, Elsie. Her ‘Governess’ suggested she might be well-suited to a pupil-teacher role. After much deliberation, Maud was allowed to begin her teacher training (See my post on Education and Schooling – Part 2: Teaching), but this did not remove from her sense of commitment to her home and family.
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
Burnett, John. Destiny Obscure. London: Allen Lane Penguin Books Ltd., 1982.
Purvis, June. Hard Lessons. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989.
Rogers, Helen and Emily Cuming, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Family & Community History, 21:3 (2019): 180-201. https://doi.org/10.1080/14631180.2018.1555951