Frank Goss (b. 1896): An Introduction

My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century: An Autobiography

Born in 1896, Frank Goss was the fourth child in his family where they lived for a brief period of time, in “a nondescript row of small terrace houses in a street called Pallet Grove in Wood Green, North London.” (p1). His father was a piano-maker and his mother a dressmaker.

London in 1896
London in 1896

I found Goss’s memoir very interesting in the way that he writes. When I was reading it, it felt almost like I was reading a story. He describes his birth as his “explosion into life” but regards it as something of little importance and not something that he expected would induce “stars to alter their courses at my coming into the world” (p1). This gives it the feel of an ordinary, every day working class memoir. Regenia Gagnier notes that “Most working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness” (p338) and this is true in some cases. Whilst Goss does not apologise for the ordinariness of his memoir, he does acknowledge that he is born into an ordinary working class family. Frank Goss brings the working class to life by creating a sharp, accurate picture of their lives. Goss also describes his parents similar to characters from a book and also compares their lives to a fairy tale at one point. He refers to his mother as a ” princess” and their home as a “castle” (p13). He also includes speech from his parents which added to the fictional aspect of it and allowed me to imagine his parents sat at home having this conversation. The way he writes shows that working class people can be talented and noticeable and are more significant than they realise.

Goss’s autobiography is titled ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’ and focuses on his childhood up until the age of fourteen. This includes schooling and punishment, moving home, children’s games and street life and domestic routines. He has a lot of adventures with his brothers, often walking for miles unattended and believes that today’s children have lost that freedom because they are imprisoned “in upstairs flats and buildings” (p243).

He also recounts the time when his family were living in extreme poverty and how they survived on the sale of furniture and living off scraps of food. When he looks back on his childhood years though, he remembers feeling “an all pervading sense of wellbeing, a feeling that all was comfort, warmth and security”. He remembers “instances of pain and shock, but never of cold, of dull skys or miserable days”. (p19). He remembers moving from house to house in great detail and goes on to describe how the severe poverty they lived in was the main reason for them constantly moving. He writes in more detail how poverty also affected his diet at home and to save money during their period of poverty they all became vegetarian due to the cost of meat and also cut out similar foods for this reason.


The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Biography, ed. By John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (Brighton: Harvester, 1984)

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender.’ Victorian Studies. 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Goss, Frank. ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Volume Number: 0.313194444

Image reference:

In Pictures: London buses in black and white. London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images Web. Accessed 14 October 2015

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