“If one is in a position to influence others one should influence them for good.” (Clarke, 66)
Maud Matilda Clarke (née Mills) was proud to be born in the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887, making her a Jubilee baby and the eldest daughter of Samuel Mills (1854-1930) and Maria Mills (née Hughes, 1859-1937). Focusing on her formative years exclusively, Maud fondly recalls her multiple homes, her schooling and home life. She honestly reviews the difference in lifestyles that existed between the end of the 19th century and when she was writing (circa 1978), taking us through the highs and lows of her working-class childhood.
Like other working-class memoirists, Maud herself admits that she was not as unfortunate as other working-class families in her area. Her father had a better job than most men in urban Staffordshire at the time, being a plumber and pub landlord, meaning she grew up in a larger house than many children her age she knew lived in. There were still four or more children to a bed in her home, but she compares this to other families who would have to share one bed with their parents.
Handwritten in an old exercise book, her autobiography maps out her childhood in chapters, with titles which range from Infancy and Playtime, to Pig Killing and Wash Day. She barely mentions a single name in her memoir, making her difficult to trace, but using just a few of the clues she leaves behind, I was able to find out much more about her using findmypast.co.uk, verifying much of what she had mentioned and even some things that had been left unsaid!
Maud dedicates much of her memoir to describing home life as a child. Coming from a skilled worker’s background, she describes in detail the rooms and furnishings in the different houses she lived in during her childhood. As one of seven she had many responsibilities around the house and, being one of the eldest, was frequently required to help her mother with household tasks.
Although Maud’s tone is generally cheerful throughout, her story is not without heartbreak or loss. She recalls her youngest brother being born when she was six-years-old and the screams of her mother in childbirth, followed by more devastated screams eight and a half months later when the baby boy died in the night. She likened the trauma to her own child dying in 1921, a heartache she evidently shared with her mother, and she remembers following the baby in a hearse to the graveyard.
She nostalgically recalls her school days, progressing through the stages and lessons with ease and enjoyment until, at the grand age of 13, she begins her long journey of training to become a qualified teacher.
Maud’s writing flows in a natural way, her education means that her spelling, punctuation and grammar are accurate and therefore easy to follow. Towards the end of her autobiography, she tends to repeat herself, going over stories she has already told us, probably due to her age. The last pages of her memoir are simply line after line of inspirational quotes, a few life lessons Maud has learnt along the way, wishing to impart some of her wisdom. Considering she wrote this at the age of 91, it is impressive that she has written such a comprehensive work of her life.
I chose Maud’s memoir because I found her storytelling charming and light-hearted and was drawn to her sense of humour which is apparent in most chapters. I was also intrigued by all of the photographs and newspaper clippings that she had collected and stuck-in in a scrapbook style, not to mention her various drawings and sketches.
I hope you enjoy finding out more about Maud as much as I did. See links below to discover how I found out more about her life and times.
Clarke, Maud. ‘Untitled’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 156, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9479
‘Maud Clarke’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 156