Ruth Cox writes vividly and richly about her experiences in the home and the relationships she had with her family members. This theme of home and family is something that is central to Ruth’s autobiography and family is something she cared deeply about. Ruth’s writing on family is written from her perspective therefore it gives us an insight into the working-class home and family structure, within a working-class town in Northern England.
Ruth begins, “There was six children, Jim, Ethel the twins, Tom and Sam, Alf and Bill and when I was born, Ruth, then there was seven. Afterwards there came Hannah and Fred, so in all we were 9” (p1). This tells us she came from a very large family, with lots of different siblings who were all different ages. In a working-class street such as Nelson Street in Hyde, the houses were usually 3 or 4 bedrooms, therefore the children were presumably all living in close quarters with one another. This perhaps is what helped to create the strong bond that Ruth writes that the siblings had with one another.
Nelson Street, as it appears today
There seems to be an element of warmth when Ruth writes about family and the home. For example she writes that after a long, tiring day in which the children went to see Queen Victoria as she visited Hyde, “we walked home tired but happy and when we arrived home mother gave us some lemonade and we rested on our beds” (p4). Ruth portrays home, as a child, as a sort of sanctuary where after a long day she looked forward to returning to.
“We had some happy days and sad ones too”
Not all of Ruth’s childhood was filled with warmth and happiness though: “We had some happy days and sad ones too. When I was Ten the twins, Tom and Sam died” (p.4). Ruth declines to comment any further and moves swiftly on from this point. Her diversion away from the death of her two siblings may be due to the fact she does not want to get into their deaths for fear of evoking old emotion. Needless to say, the death of the twins would have hit a 10-year-old Ruth Cox very hard and it is just a shame we do not find out the cause or reason behind their deaths.
As Ruth got older, family seems to become more and more important for her and she became a lot more involved in the running of the house and the family.
A Working-Class Family in the 1900s.
She writes that, ‘The first to get up was Father at 4am, he always lit the fire and toasted a whole large load for s all who had to go to work. He would spread the butter on the toast and make a large pot of tea and we all came down for breakfast’. (p5) This is important as Ruth’s own experience of the father in the household is quite different to the norm we’d expect in late 19th and early 20th century working class households.
The father in Ruth’s life, as we can see, was very involved in the domestic-sphere. Joanna Bourke writes that in the late 19th century, hours of work began to fall and although men had more leisure time than women, men began to spend more time in the home. This can be seen in Ruth’s autobiography as there is no reference to her father being at all distant, and although he worked he is in Ruth’s life throughout.
Ruth writes about the family unit as one that worked together in order to function properly, a unit where everybody ‘chipped In’. Ruth writes, ‘We all had our separate jobs to do in the home. Brother Bill had to do the shopping, brother Alf had to knead a dozen of flour to make the bread for us twice a week. I had to help with the cleaning with my sister Ethel…my brother Jim went out to work with Papa’ (p5). Through everybody having their own assigned job, the family unit successfully functioned and thus the experience of childhood was a happy one.
Bourke, Joanna. Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity London: Routledge, 1994
Cox, Ruth, ‘White Knob Row’,1:184 TS, pp.11 (c.4,000 words). Brunel University Library. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9489
‘Nelson Street image’ http://hyde1841.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/hyde-cheshire.html
‘Family Image’ http://www.1900s.org.uk/1900s-family.htm