The memoir entitled, ‘Ellen Gill’s Diary’ provides a history of her younger days, painting a vivid portrait of working-class life during the late 19th century through to the beginning of the 20th century.
Ellen Gill, born Ellen Calvert in 1888, was the eldest of 10 children, growing up in a small house in Leeds. Her memoir expatiates upon the home, family and the quality of life. Living conditions during this time were cramped and uncomfortable for working-class families with toilets situated outside, in Ellen’s case, at the top of their gardens which were shared with other neighbours. Times were hard for Ellen and her family but they proved strong and helped each other out in times of need. From the nonchalant and reflective tone of the memoir we can tell that family was of great importance to Ellen.
Describing the enjoyment of her school days she states that she would, ‘never stay away if she could help it.’(p.1) However, unfortunate for Ellen she had to finish school at the age of 13 like many working-class children during the early 20th century, and take on the responsibilities of early adulthood. Her informal and conversational manner highlights the effect of withdrawal from education at such a young age.
With a keen interest in sewing she received her first job at a large tailors named ‘Campbell’s’ underlining the conditions of the workplace with long hours and little pay. Many worked indefatigably to try and scrape together what little money they could. Ellen describes how her family had their fair share of money difficulties and comments are made on how they would often struggle with debt, ‘some weeks my mother cried because there was no money to pay the rent’ (p.3) She had to learn to grow up quickly and there was no real depiction of her childhood as she mentions that, ‘as far as I can remember every two or three years a new baby arrived… I had to help mind the baby, or help with other children.’(p.1) Ellen’s father even encouraged her to quit her job, ‘as Mother would need me at home.’ (p.3) The agency of gender consciousness appears as it was a collective rule within the proletariat society for young girls to withdraw themselves from education and to look after the home; with the norm set to place domestic work before schooling.
At 19 Ellen describes the time when she first meets her husband Arthur Gill, who also wrote a memoir shortly after in the year 1969 entitled,
‘I remember! Reminiscences of a Cobbler’s Son’. They both became acquainted at a ramble in Woodhouse Carr Wesleyan Chapel, Leeds; ‘the beginning of a life-long partnership.’ (Arthur, p7.3) Arthur mentions how he decided that nobody else was going to have a ‘look in’ as far as Ellen was concerned and was ‘on “Top-of—the-World”’(p.73) when she consented. Arthur finds amusing the little keep-sakes that Ellen had saved with, ‘flowery language to my lady-love.’ (p.74)
In both, they describe their wedding day in Woodhouse Carr where they married on the 11th of March 1914, a strong sense of adoration for one another shines through their memoirs.
Within a short time Ellen and Arthur become parents to; Arthur Junior, Walter and Betty Doreen. Ellen makes explicit the anxieties of life during both WWI and WWII with her husband and her brothers being called up. Worried for her families safety, hearing bombs and the fear of being attacked, her daughter Betty is sent away with the school that she attended to live in the country until Leeds was safe to return, luckily, to Ellen’s delight, only one air raid occurred over Leeds.
In keeping with the family oriented tone, Ellen ends her memoir on the account of her 50th wedding anniversary surrounded by her adored family and friends.
Gill, Ellen, ‘Ellen Gill’s Diary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 269
Gill, Arthur, ‘I remember! Reminiscences of a Cobblers Son’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 268
Image 1: Ellen and Arthur’s Wedding Certificate