The memoir I have chosen belongs to Mary Stewart, an inspirational working class woman from Collyhurst, an area outside the City Of Manchester. Mary’s memoir captured my attention immediately with her overall sense of strength and courage to work through the many struggles she has had to endure throughout her childhood and later life.
Although only six pages of typewriting, we are able to get a real feel for Mary’s life from her birth on 26th September 1909 to her 70 year old self reminiscing her past.
Mary is the second of four children to parents William and Mary Riley, a young and happily married couple. From the opening paragraphs within the memoir, it may appear that Mary has a typical working-class family life, growing up in an industrial area in one of the biggest industrial cities in the world, touching on themes such as schooling, the difficulties and memories of World War One, marriage and close knit town life. However, Mary goes on to touch on more sensitive and hard hitting issues such as family bereavement, starvation, childhood beatings from her widowed father and alcohol abuse. A quote from Mary’s memoir that has stuck with me from the first reading – “..however, life goes on” – really sums up Mary’s life and her on-going strength to bounce from one difficult situation to another, without ever crumbling under the pressure of it all.
When reading Mary’s memoir, I was immediately drawn in as I could not help but compare and contrast my own family’s history in Manchester to her account. Mary makes a reference to her father returning from the war and struggling to find work, eventually working for a short time in Trafford Park, a major industrial park in the middle of Manchester. The fate of her family that she talks of is one very different from my own family’s. She writes, “He couldn’t get the job he wanted (with horses) so worked at Trafford Park.” My Great-Grandfather, John Maunders, also began his career in Trafford Park at the turn of the century, working for one the biggest manufacturing companies in the world, British business, Metropolitan Vickers. It is interesting to note that, her father “…loaded sulphur onto wagons..”, which could have been a big part in a factory such as Metropolitan Vickers, working there in a key period of the companies history.
However, my great grandfather took out his savings at 22 and founded the building company Maunders and Sons, which became a multimillion-pound company across Manchester and England. By contrast, Mary’s father had a much sadder end under very difficult circumstances, raising 4 motherless children with a very low income. He caught malaria and at the age of 41 ended his life while Mary’s youngest brother was at school. It leads me to question, if my Grandfather had not been spotted as a key worker and given a raise to foreman, increasing his wages and skill to open his own company, how different might my family’s life have been?
Mary’s writing is simple, with a stream of consciousness flow and local dialect. Once rearranged into a chronological order, it is a pleasure to read a memoir with an overall sense of effortless writing; not writing with the intent to impress, but rather reminiscing over both happy and sad memories of her life: “I’d bought a horse-hair suite for the parlour, felt very successful, but when one sat down, it prickled all the back of your legs.”
I look forward to delving further into Mary’s life and uncovering more about who she was as a person and her fascinating life experiences.
- Stewart, Mary. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, 2-741
- Image one: Deansgate Manchester Circa 1920 http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Horwich&objid=1997-7059_HOR_F_3116
- Image two: Aerial View of Trafford Park Circa 1902 http://www.the-lawrences.com/tl-traffordpark