‘No instant hot water by Immersion Heater, and no electric fires as of today, but somehow what we had we accepted as normal. It was our home.’ (5)
What I like about Stanley Rice’s autobiography, is how he shows his transition from childhood into adulthood and the difficulties he has faced throughout different stages of his life. He talks about his home life as a child, living with married parents and four siblings, Bill, Nancy, Irene and Jessie. He says, ‘I am not one who can claim being able to remember my very early years’ (1), which is fair being sixty-nine at the time of writing, and having to travel back through many decades of history, to fit together broken memories. Or perhaps he has repressed memories over time? Or maybe he has not had to recollect them before? As he never had children to talk about his life with, it is understandable that it would be difficult to travel back through time, to such a young age (as even I do myself and I am only in my twenties!).
Life was hard for the Rice family, living in London, in the early 20th Century. Rice says that his ‘main memories of home life in my younger days, and for many years to follow, were the struggles mother was continuously facing up to in rearing us children, father having long spells of being out of a job and signing on at the Labour Exchange’(2); the Labour Exchange being the former term for jobcentre.
The Rice family were living in a very class conscious society in the 20th century, and there were clear boundaries that people fitted into, in relation to the Government. Rice’s father was in and out of work, and there is no steady income in to the household, which gives the family working-class status. The only job mentioned of him obtaining is one of manual labour, a milkman.
Rice makes it clear that his mother was the homemaker, and puts his father in a negative light, revealing he used to drink a lot and indicates that he hit his wife. He says, ‘Father was fond of his beer and his mood would depend upon how much he had had to drink’ (6) and ‘I know, more than once, I’ve seen mother with a black eye’ (6). This situation was very common, that the mother brought up the children as she was pushed away from work by men, and the father was the main breadwinner, with alcohol being an excuse for social gathering and a form of social class, for working-class men. In Landscape for a Goodwoman, Carolyn Steedman has said that class is ‘a learned position, learned in childhood, and often through the exigencies of difficult and lonely lives’(13), and Stanley definitely carries his class with him throughout his life, always believing that he is never good enough and apologising for writing as he feels unworthy of audience.
I wanted to do more research into Rice’s home life, than what he mentions in his autobiography. Although he does give great detail as to places he lived and the names of his siblings, it would be interesting to know more. I used the popular website www.ancestry.co.uk. After a few hours of searching through the website and getting to grips with it, I found a match for Stanley Rice and came across some interesting findings. Looking through the 1911 Census, when Rice was six years old, it showed me the original document of how many people were living in his home, at that time. However, there is a daughter called Emily, which is the only discrepancy on the certificate, which Rice does not mention in his memoir. Everything else is the same, such as his younger brother William, mother and father, and that his father’s occupation was a Milkman. He says he has an older sister Nancy, and Emily is older, so whether they changed her name I do not know.
The research I am doing on Rice is ongoing, and it is my aim to get a photograph of him, though it may prove difficult because he never had any children to pass them on to. It is sad that Stanley Rice and wife Ethel never had any children of their own to carry on the Rice generation, after the heartbreaking news of Ethel giving birth to a stillborn child. Rice belongs to an era where children that were born into big families, went on to have fewer children themselves.
Rice had many homes in his lifetime, which reflects the name of his autobiography ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone’, finally settling in a small flat in Worthing, West Sussex. In my research, I found out that he died at the age of seventy-six, just seven years after finishing his memoirs, and was registered on the England & Wales, Death Index, 1916-2007, in June 1981. Six years later, his autobiography was made available in the Brunel University Library, July 1987.
RICE, Stanley, ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone: Times and incidents remembered’, TS, pp.68 (c. 33,600 words). Brunel University Library, Volume 2:661.
Landscape for a Goodwoman: A Story of Two Lives. London: Virago, 1986, p.13.
England & Wales, Death Index, 1916-2007. (Volume 18, page 2310)
Census of England and Wales 1911