Jack Vallance’s personal accounts of boyhood, adolescence and working-class life as an adult demonstrate his resilience as a child of war and poverty. Born in Cromford, a small village in Derbyshire, Jack details his long life which proves to be full of both work and play. As the son of a quarry worker/soldier and factory worker, Jack writes with great intelligence and knowledge about his love of the railway from an early age and engages the reader in his descriptions of country-long routes, royal carriage encounters and run-ins with IRA bombs. Jack’s enthralling anecdotes are packed with wit and moral courage as he recounts his move from a playful village child to a hard-working father of four.
Born on the 20th July 1914, Jack recalls his time in Cromford Village which was at the time ‘owned by the Arkwright’s’ (C ½) and goes in to detail of the village as the hub of the British Industrial Revolution. He discusses the surrounding area and the fun he had with friends from a young age, stating that ‘my friends and I often played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ in the woods around Black Rocks’ (C 1). As well as this, he also briefly touches on the financial position of his small family, telling the reader that ‘I had good schooling but was unable to go to grammar school because my mother could not afford it’ (1 G). While I know these extensive chapters were written towards the end of Jack’s life, I do not know the exact publication details. However, it is safe to say that Jack’s entertaining anecdotal style is a reflection of his intelligence and a consideration of his well-lived life. And although he touches on encounters with hardship, he does not do it in a way so as to plead sympathy. Instead, he uses them as moral lessons and sees his sacrifices and poverty as life.
Before marriage, Jack moved between jobs from the age of fourteen. These ranged from newspaper boy, dog breeder, quarry worker and horse parcel vanman all before securing his first position in the Railway industry. Once married, Jack’s dealings with poverty as a working-class man are shown in his need to move around the country. He appears to see his family as an asset to his life and in turn sacrifices his comfort and wages for their happiness. An excellent show of character! In chapter 13 he tells the reader that his wife was ‘Sheffield born true Yorkshire, but the people around Matlock would not talk to her and in fact made her life miserable. So much so I tried to get a transfer to the Sheffield area…I resorted to reducing my grade to Porter Grade 2 to get in to Sheffield area’ (13). If this isn’t proof enough that he was a caring family man, when his wife took ill in 1955 Jack took a wage cut and demotion again in order to support his family.
As well as highly-informative writing, Jack took the time to draw several diagrams throughout the chapters, often highlighting the routes and amenities at the stations where he had worked. He gives very little away regarding personal details and family perspectives. However, his comprehensive descriptions and diagrams of several Railways that he worked on allow an insight in to his mechanical and driven character. Despite discussing the struggles of his wife’s illness and his ever-changing jobs, Jack remains upbeat and unscathed throughout his writing.
I am looking forward to jump into the writing of Jack and learn more about his life and work as I continue with these blog posts. I am hoping to unearth details of events he briefly touches on, and bring his short stories to life through a series of thematic posts including: family, work, leisure and the purpose of his writing.
‘Jack of all Grades’ in Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent Eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. 2:780.