Miss P Wilson was born at 12 High Burton Street in January 1918, the tenth child of her family, her memoirs predominantly recount her experiences growing up and the experiences of her extended family. Soon after she was born, her mother passed away so she was sent away to live with her two aunties and cousins- aged 9 and 11- at their shop on 65 Burley Street. She was a very sickly baby, her family doubted she’d pull through. Her family had a history of asthma and bronchitis.
(Oldham Mill, 1907)
In her memoir, family plays a role of central importance. Due to her vast network, she often focuses on the lives of her family members, not only in how they affected hers. In that respect you could call a good majority of her memoir to be also seen as brief biography into their lives also. I like how she takes the time to examine each of her family members lives individually; her role in the family changes over time and it is not till later on in life that she began to learn about her family. Her mother in particular seems to play a mysterious role in her life. She doesn’t learn about her mother until she was older. However, her father had the greatest impact on her early years. For all she spent more time with her aunties, it is clear that her father- and his subsequent death- had a great impact on her life.
Her academia didn’t have the best initial start, oversleeping on her first day attending St Phillips School. After that she was determined to make the most out of her education and became an exemplary student. Her other uncle eventually sent her way once she turned 16 to a boarding school where for the first time, she was given a taste of a wealthier life. It was common for the other girls at the school to look down on her because of her social standing. Later she began living with two other aunts. This was the time in her memoir that she recounts learning about her mother and the lives of other family members. She learns about her mothers past profession.
(St Audries Bay, School 1903)
Regina Gagnier wrote “Most- working-class- autobiographies were more concerned with their image and status as atoms of the masses.” (Pg.340, Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, subjectivity, and gender) Within her memoirs, Miss Wilson seems to subconsciously align herself with this notion. Although it is not overtly stated, it is a noticeable feeling during her move to a grammar school. Being surrounded by students that she believed looked down on her- due to her working class origin- alludes to how Wilson tried to keep her head down and assimilate into the ‘atoms’ of her new surrounding.
Her family were blue-collar working-class and couldn’t afford a crib to settle her so instead put her in a washing basket by the fire to try and keep her healthy. She compared herself to “Moses in the bulrushes” due to how much time she spent in the cot during her formative years. Her pram also wasn’t a conventional one, comprised of a wooden box and planks.
(Ancoats Dispensary before being shut down)
Once her uncle- and later her father- passed away, her memoir notes a “change” in her life. She began helping her aunty maintaining the shop. It was converted from the front portion of their own home, stating it takes “one step from shop to scullery”. Work ethic was an important focus in her family. Her willingness to help her aunty maintain their shop was an early example of this quality also shining through in her.
One of the reasons I chose Miss Wilson as my author is because of the extremely large size of her family. Coming from a relatively large family and a similar background, I wanted to learn about the dynamics and challenge a working class family experienced over a century ago. She learns and writes about the history of her own grandparents, leading to a memoir that spans over three generations of an expansive family.
Through her writing, she provides a rich account of her life growing up and the various places she moved to over the years. Her memoir depicts her education, several jobs she’s had over the years and her family dynamics.
- Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, subjectivity, and gender, 340
- Vincent, Davies. ‘Love and Death and The Nineteenth Century Working Class’, 1980
- Calhoun Mish, Jeanetta, Volume 3 Issue 2: Editorial
Introduction to the Indigenous Special Issue of the Journal of Working-Class Studies.
- Falling Through Class Ruby Hansen Murray
- Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class, 235-240
• Ancoats Hospital-
• St Audries-
• Oldham Mills-