“Often as I pass by that cross, I think back to them and say to myself “I wonder why”. I have to leave it at that but I still say, “I’m optimistic” (19).
Francis Alfred Peet, more commonly known as Frank Peet, was born in 1882, on August 6th. Francis was the eldest of 4 siblings and was also born and raised and lived out his entire life in the exact same house, in Hertingfordbury England. This fact in particular interested me more in Francis’ memoir as I too grew up and have always lived in the same home which I was born in, therefore made me feel more deeply intrigued and drawn to him memoir. Titled ‘Recollections’, the memoir was written in 1954, and is 10,000 words in length.
Old Hertfordshire, 1890s.
Francis’ memoir delves into aspects of his career as a carpenter, having been written 6 years after his retirement, and also 6 years prior to his death in 1960 at aged 78. Throughout he recalls fond childhood memories of growing up surrounded by other carpenters, including his own father, in whose career footsteps Francis followed. It is made clear that Francis grew up within a working-class family background, and he also states that for a period, “money was scarce in our family after my fathers’ death” (12).
The memoir begins with a detailed insight into his family which evidently shows the ways in which the family were very close and tight knit throughout Francis’ life. The majority of his immediate family all grew up in the surrounding area, as well as making a point of the long-life span of his family, with the majority surpassing the age of 60, and only his father sadly passing at aged 39. He reminisces of his family with a great sense of fondness and happiness, beginning the memoir with a deeply positive atmosphere and tone.
Francis writes vividly of his schooling, remembering sports and music activities during his time at Birch Green school, stating that “I always remember being given a toy trumpet” (4), and later details fond memories of his teachers during his time at the school, as well as the headmaster. At 13 years old Francis gained a scholarship place at Hertford Grammar School between 1895-6. He also includes one of his earliest school memories, which he states was “the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887” (4).
In ‘Recollections’, it is clear that Francis takes pride in his trade as a carpenter, having the same mindset as his father, who he claimed “took pride in being as good as town workmen” (4). In this part of the memoir it also becomes clear that it was likely that the majority of the town where Frances grew up was in fact of working-class families and backgrounds, as he later takes time to note down some of the working men and tradesmen from his town. Francis himself in fact began working at the ripe age of 15, at Cole Green Carpenter’s shop in 1897.
The Parsonage, 1900s.
Toward the middle/end of the memoir, Francis discusses the effects of the First World War on his village and community, “the social conditions of the country during my boyhood were not too good” (12). He also states that strangely, following from the First World War, “Magpies became very common about the Parish. I had never seen one until 1916 about here” (14). This was important for Francis as he tells of how he is a very keen bird watcher, considering it his greatest hobby.
The Parish, 1900s.
Frank Peet’s account contains various themes including his family, his education and schooling, his hobbies, as well as his life surrounding his laboring and workdays. The memoir explores the lives and society of working-class England within small towns in the early 1900s, as well as aspects such as the schooling and education system for the lives of such individuals at the time.
551 PEET, Francis Alfred, ‘Recollections’, TS, pp.19 (c.10,000 words). Brunel University Library.
The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Biography, 3 vols (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) 2:657
Image 1: Old Hertfordshire. Retrieved from: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp462-468 [Accessed: 28th April 2021].
Image 2: The Parsonage. Retrieved from: https://hertfordheath.org.uk/guide/history [Accessed: 28th April 2021].
Image 3: The Parish. Retrieved from: https://hertfordheath.org.uk/guide/history [Accessed: 28th April 2021].