“Looking back it seems that our family life was, apart from the usual upsets of minor ailments and setbacks which everyone had to face from time to time, fairly peaceful.” (Lumb, 1987. Pg. 12)
Who is Nora Lumb?
Nora Lumb was born in 1912 in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England. In her autobiography, she concentrates on her childhood memories from her birth in 1912 until she gets accepted into a Grammar School in 1923.
Nora was born into a working-class family. Her father was a rail clerk and her mother was a homemaker. Her family consisted of her mother, father, brother and sister. Although her family were far from rich, she portrays a happy childhood and understands that, although they were not well off, she witnessed poverty around her far more severe than her own experience. For example, Nora tells her readers, “Money was not abundant and mother had difficulties at times making the family budget balance but we never went short although food was plain and clothes were usually home-made.” (Lumb, 1987. Pg. 4)
Nora’s main memories she concentrates on throughout her twelve-page autobiographical account are holidays, her family, the war, her home life in Sunderland, church, the family’s money struggles, illnesses such as scarlet fever and Diphtheria, education, the seaside in Sunderland and fashion.
The beach was a fond memory for Nora. She often speaks about the day trips the family went on to Seaburn Beach, only a few miles out of town. She remembers feeling blessed as the children that lived in surrounding cities did not have the same luxuries as her when it came to a day away at the beach. She recalls in great detail the tram she had to take and the atmosphere on the day.
The autobiography takes a staggered approach to storytelling, not following a set linear time scale. Often the readers will find themselves jumping from one memory to the other, unsure of where one finishes and another begins. This staggered approaching to story-telling perhaps indicates a lack of confidence in herself and her story.
Throughout her memoir, Nora maintains a constantly positive tone. Her enthusiastic emphasis throughout the autobiography intrigues the reader and invites them to follow Nora’s childhood memories.
Nora’s detailed description of her terrace home in Sunderland gives the audience a clear depiction of her family house. This allows the audience to set themselves inside the story when Nora talks about her family gatherings in her home: “Family parties were always a joy and with my aunties, an uncle, and cousin near us it was easy to arrange one.” (Lumb, 1987. Pg. 6). This emphasis on a close-knit family also allows the reader to take an interest in our author and feel a closer bond with her. Terraced houses were renowned for being a working-class accommodation for families during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, opening up the representation of Nora’s family as working-class in society.
In her memoir, Nora also recalls the holidays her family went on to locations such as Bournemouth and Yorkshire. Her excitement about her childhood holidays can still be sensed through her explanations with a sense of childhood enthusiasm throughout.
School is also a major subject in Nora’s memoir. She recalls loving school but having to work extremely hard because there were only a certain amount of scholarships available for the grammar school in her town. She mentions stereotypical behaviour of the time in relation to being born female rather than male which was a common occurrence in the UK and Europe at the time: “My brother was already at Grammar school, (…) but although loving parents they held the old-fashioned view that it was not so vital for a girl.” (Lumb, 1987. Pg. 12)
Nora wrote her memoir at the age of 75. The autobiography has been typed on a typewriter in July 1987.
After investigating further into Nora’s life, I found I am not the only person who has taken an interest in her short memoir. She has been mentioned in several books such as, Destiny Obscure by Professor John Burnett and by Mike Cole in ‘Education, Equality and Human Rights: Issues of gender, ‘race’, sexuality, disability and social class.’ (2012). There are other sources that also mention Nora. I will be using in my blog to develop a broader understanding of my author.
Therefore, despite Nora Lumb being an almost typical working-class child from the 1920’s North of England, she holds stories that could interest any reader of any age. I believe Nora’s stories should be as important and significant as others of a higher social status.
Lumb, Nora. ‘Childhood Memories – 1912 onwards’, unpublished memoir, 2:489, Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections Library, Brunel University
Eveleigh, David J. Victorian and Edwardian Services (Houses) 1850-1914 University of the West of England, Bristol (2008)
Richard Breen, Ruud Luijkx, Walter Müller, Reinhard Pollak ‘Long-term Trends in Educational Inequality in Europe: Class Inequalities and Gender Differences’, European Sociological Review, Volume 26, Issue 1, 1 February 2010, Pages 31–48