Frank George Marling (1863-1954): An Introduction

It has been said that misfortunes or other untoward events are remembered more vividly than joys. So it was the trouble caused to my Father and Mother by their having to leave the house where I was born that fixes my earliest recollections (p.3)

Titled “Reminiscences”, Frank George Marling begins the story of his life recalling the difficulties he had to witness as a child. His memoirs consist of approximately 16,000 words and have been divided into two parts: “Reminiscences” and “Reminiscences Vol 2”. Frank opens his memoirs with the story of where his parents lived after they married. They lived in “[…] a small house on the east side of the Police Station at Berkeley […]”, where their first child and Frank’s older brother, Allan, was born in 1860 (p.3). Thereafter, his parents moved to Canonbury Street where they opened a baking business. It was here, on the 7th of January 1863, that Frank George Marling was born.

Smith, Edward; The Quay and Docks, Gloucester, 1890; Gloucester Museums Service Art Collection;

Frank’s memoirs are handwritten and focus primarily upon nostalgic memories of his family, childhood and school days. After leaving school at fourteen, Frank worked in various positions, one being a sub-postmaster helping his father. Frank also worked at a Sunday school for most of his life alongside various other forms of employment.

Frank’s father was employed in Sharpness as a clerk to the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal Co., while his mother stayed at home to help run their bakery business. Sadly, they had to close the business because many people did not pay back the money that they owed:

For some reason the baking business did not pay, partly I think because people had goods on credit and did not pay up, at any rate it was decided to not keep on the business […] (p.4).

This caused his family to have to move out and find another home: “There was an acute house problem in those far off days and it was the trouble of finding a new home that forms my first recollections.” (p.5). This process of having to move house and find another appears to become a main theme to his childhood years. Nevertheless, Frank writes fondly about the different homes he came to live in. His memoirs of his childhood reflect how he still found happiness through playing with his brother and enjoying the simplicity of childhood.

A section from Frank’s memoir.

On many occasions, Frank writes about his love for the “Club Days” as a child, which were organised by the local clubs and societies each year (p.29):

For was not this the one great day of the year, when everybody met on an equal footing, no consideration of position or rank obtruding itself, the great idea being to have a jolly time – or so it appeared to us children  (p.29).

He writes about the different events that took place during these days. In particular, Frank and his brother loved going to the Market Place to look at the many different games and stalls that had been set up for the Club Day. Even when they could not afford to play any games, the joyful atmosphere of the event was enough for Frank and his brother.

As he recounts a time when he caught Typhoid fever, which he says was very “prevalent at the time in Berkeley” (p.48), I understood Frank’s love for play and being outdoors as a child: A day or two after I was helped downstairs and carried in a chair out into the sunshine in the garden. Oh, how lovely to be outdoors again! (p.50). Reading this signifies how being outside and playing games was the only thing that mattered to Frank as a child. Unfortunately, it was his love for playing outside that caused him to become ill. Frank mentions that playing outside near the open “cess pool” at the bottom of his garden, which produced a horrible smell, may have been the cause for his illness at the time (p.48).

‘The Lamplighter’

Frank’s account of winter evenings captures the enjoyment of being with family and being a child excited about the simplest of things: “One of the delights of winter evenings was to kneel up in the window seat of our little sitting room as dusk approached and watch for the lamplighter to go down our street […]” (p.59). He goes on to write about how he would play with “bricks” and “picture books” (p.60). As a working-class family, it appears that Frank’s parents still had some money to provide toys and books to their children.

‘The Great Exhibition’; British Library.

At this point, Frank remembers looking at his father’s pictures of the “Great Exhibition”, held in London in 1851 (p.61).  His father went to London to see it, like many working-class people who took advantage of cheap rail fares and entrance tickets. Frank writes about how “wonderful” it was looking at the pictures of the grand “Crystal Palace”, with the “soldiers marching round the galleries […and] the trees, […] the opening ceremony with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with the little Prince and Princesses […]” (p.61).

I look forward to writing more about Frank’s memoirs and sharing the memories of his childhood, family and later life in my future posts.

Bibliography

  • Burnett, J. (Ed.). Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from the 1820’s to the 1920’s. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Beaven, B. Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850-1945. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005.
  • ‘Frank George Marling’ in Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)
  • Marling, Frank George. ‘Reminiscences’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 1:492.
  • Vincent, D. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976

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