Rosa Bell (b. 1902): Home & Family

“… I was the child who loved my parents more than any other member of the family.” (pg. 9-10)

Family is a very important aspect of Rosa’s memoir, she provides in great detail a background on each person who was significant throughout her childhood and who helped and nurtured her throughout the years. As she documents each stage of her life, we begin to learn and understand the development of her identity and her sense of belonging within the working class.

Interestingly, a legacy of Rosa’s descendants has been left in her memoir. Her family tree is impressively broad, stretching back to the eighteenth century, introducing William Douglas of Aspatria, the civil parish of Allerdale in Cumbria.



Rosa’s father, Joseph, is frequently mentioned and it is quite clear that they share a very close knit connection, and she expresses her adoration for him by recalling her most gentle memories of him:

“I remember so many little things about them both – our home was a home for so many. Dad was always there to bandage bruised knees and my mother was so kind…” (pg. 4-5)

Oppositely, the memories of her mother Elizabeth are revealed again with love, but only briefly and always in relation to her father.

There is very little to suggest that Rosa’s father became detachable from his own family, which may demonstrate Rosa’s love for him. it is notable within working class culture that the male of the family becomes withdrawn and confined. However, Rosa communicates a sense of his individuality; his ability to be the crucial provider of the family’s welfare and comfort did not prevent him from being a good father.

Julie-Marie Strange looks seriously at this aspect of male figures that are fathers and how their working lives impacted their involvement with their children. She mentions that men were often “physically absent for most of the time” (pg. 272) due to their long hours of work leaving very little time for domestic attributes. Rosa does not signal at any point that her father’s absence bothered her, but she mostly spoke of her parents’ courtship and had observed that private time between her mother and father were special occasions:

“Everyday when Dad came home from work…they had a little chat together…we never invaded their privacy…that was their own precious time I think today theyd call it a love in.” (pg. 6-7)

Her parent’s affections for both themselves and Rosa were established through active family oriented traditions and customs. A recurrent example brought up by Rosa was being a constant observer whilst at church:

“…they used to sit opposite each other in the village Church Choir and in those days found true pleasure in just the simple things and nothing else.” (pg. 4)

A respectable and devoted family is regarded very highly by Christians, and it appears that going to church became an integral part of the lives of the Holliday-Bell unit, preventing collapse within their household.

Several other important figures in her life she mentions include Jane, who is described as a cheerful lady of a large family, due to the fact she had so many children. Jane would decorate rooms in Rosa’s home for a couple of shillings and would care for Rosa when she was sick. Although she paints Jane as a sister in her memoir, it is never truly specified, so it is presumable that she was a close friend of the Holliday-Bell family. Despite being a devoted homemaker, she was also an earnest working woman:

“In Janes later years she got regular work […] But she still carried on delivering Babies. Ive seen her come home from a hard days work strip off her blackened clothes and go off to the midwifery.” (pg. 14)

Women had a profound moral influence in the home, but going into work was deemed their only other option in order to support themselves and their children. Rosa remembers Jane’s various duties and strict work regimes and values her hard work, admirably stating: “…our Good Lord would say when he saw her still smiling face & her work worn hands will done thou good and faithful servant.” (pg. 18)


Further Reading:

  • Bell, Rosa. R.h.n. Remembers. Brunel University Library, July 1987.
  • Fatherhood, furniture and the inter-personal dynamics of working-class homes, c. 1870-1914. Strange, Julie-Marie. Urban History, 40, pp 271-286

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