Averil Edith Thomas was born on 30th April 1893, in Melton Mowbray Leicester, England. Her untitled autobiography, written in 1973 at the age of 80, invites us to look back at the rural culture and community in which she grew up in. She sadly passed away five years later, in June 1978. Her memoir is hand written as a transcript and was never formally published, and nor do I believe it was ever intended to be. The authenticity and sincerity of her writing is what makes it so beautiful to read. It provides an inside view of how a working country town was operated, and what it was like to live as a poor child during the early Victorian era. She reminisces on the topics of family, education, religion and leisure.
With a relaxed, nostalgic tone, Averil uses vivid descriptions and imagery to allow you to feel a part of her home town, and accepted to join in its local festivities alongside her. This way of studying an era is far more fulfilling than any other source of literature, as you can virtually feel the atmosphere within her neighbourhood, smell her mother’s home-cooked dinners, taste the products that were exchanged in Melton’s infamous market. When reading Averil’s memoir, I grew feelings of warmth and respect for someone so humble. I felt as if I was in the living room of my grandmother’s house, exchanging stories of our contrasting childhood years over a cup of tea and some scones.
Averil’s memoir draws close attention to her family, whom appear to be a very close-knit household. She writes of her two older siblings, Nancy [whom after independent research I later discovered to be called Alice] and William. William, the eldest of the family, drowned when Averil was just nine years old. The effects of which lay heavily on her family and in particular her mother. Her father’s trade was to frame pictures for wealthy families, and three children would often deliver them to customers. Due to their prospering family business, they lived in a small yet reasonably sized house at no 6. King Street. This road was, and still is, a high street within Melton Mowbray that consists of various shops and businesses.
Averil and her family were also profoundly involved in the church, as were many other lower class families of small communities. She describes popular Christian gatherings such as May Day and Michealmas, which were excessively celebrated within her village. Averil was also the youngest member of her church to volunteer, and remembers ‘being lifted up and shown to the crowd’ (4) at the age of five to ask for money and other donations.
Averil was ‘always fascinated’ (1) by history and closely illustrates the architectural background of her town and other locations within her memory. This interest may have been the catalyst that pushed her towards a career in teaching, as Averil attained an ‘intending teacher scholarship’ (22) when she was fourteen, although was ‘unsuccessful on her first try’ (22). This led her to continue education in high school, before moving to the London area later in life to teach. Having the status of a lower-class female, it must have been challenging for Averil to succeed in such field during this period. However, she appears to be very proud of her background and never allows it be a reason of defeat. I am honoured to write about her life as she stands as an inspiration to all ages, genders and backgrounds, that you can achieve any career you want to in life with simple perseverance.
Although Averil only writes of her childhood days and refrains from documenting the rest of her life, it is clear that she was a kind, intelligent, loved member of society. She realised that her history mattered, and I am proud to give her the platform she deserves.
Averil Edith Thomas, Untiled, pp.26 (c. 6,500 words), Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, Brunel University Library. No 1:892
Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Death Index, 1916-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.