Letitia Simpson (B.1926.): An Introduction

The public house or “pub” has been a common destination for many working-class people, in particularly men, for over 1000 years, also referred to as inns or taverns. The pub has also been a breeding ground for gossip and story-telling, even as far back as The Canterbury Tales. Letitia Simpson gives us a brutally honest memoir of living and working in a typical working-class London pub in the 1920s and 30s titled My Day Before Yesterday.  The memoir also takes us on a journey of this working-class woman from life in the pub to the Second World War and then eventually to becoming a well-travelled woman of the world.

Letitia is an only child to a Mr and Mrs Dawson who own a pub which is never named. The only hint we are given is the fact that it was on the corner of Edgware Road and Church Street where a market was and still is held. Letitia describes the history of her parent’s pub owning with, “This was the second ‘Pub’ my parents had, it was a ‘step up the ladder’ from the first one, which had been in a very rough area. It was normal procedure for the ‘brewery’ to offer something ‘less attractive’ and ‘hard to handle’ to a ‘first time’ tenant, just to see what your capabilities were.” From what Letitia is saying here, it seems that breweries during the 1920s would set a test for new publicans to see how tough-skinned, and good at people managing, they were. According to Robert Duncan, there was a growing worry for how alcohol was creating “evil” according to The Second Report of the Central Control Board (Duncan, 2013). This explains the need for landlords and landladies to be strong in both mind and physicality in order to deal with the effect alcohol consumption had on the customers .

Letitia covers many stories of the pub including ones concerning her dog and an infestation of rats. But she draws largely on her relationship between her parents and the girls who looked after her. What is striking about this memoir is the death of her father. Her father died from a short illness at thirty eight years of age. Letitia writes: “Thirty eight years, is far too young to leave this lovely world.” What is interesting about this claim is that, despite the expected remark that her father was too young to pass away, she describes the world she lives in as “lovely.” The word “lovely” suggests that Letitia is content with the world around her and that she is happy with her surroundings and the people surrounding her. I think that it is being brought up in a pub that leads to this contentment with life as she has witnessed people, mainly men, enjoying themselves and socialising, as well as hearing stories of long ago.  There is also the fact that the pub, or her home, is very central to her life and with her parents being around constantly and her being the only child, it is a very close-knit family. This adds to her contentment with life, yet, maximises her loss when she loses a loved one, such as her father. However, what is left contains some wonderful accounts of travelling to places like Switzerland and Ireland, as well as discussing being an evacuee during the Second World War.

A bus is left leaning against the side of a building in the aftermath of a German bombing raid on London in the first days of the Blitz, 9 September 1940. Photograph: H. F. Davis/Getty Imageshttps://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/from-the-archive-blog/2015/sep/07/blitz-london-september-1940

This memoir is either a fragment from a larger memoir or uncompleted as the last page is not conclusive enough to be the end of the memoir. One thing that is missing from the memoir is details of her marriage, as she signs the memoir as Letitia Simpson, but early in the memoir reveals that her parents are a Mr and Mrs Dawson, therefore it is clear that Letitia has married a Mr Simpson yet it is not in the memoir. This suggests that part of the memoir is missing or incomplete.

Bibliography

Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London: Routledge, 1994).

Burnett, John. Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day. London: Routledge, 1989.

Chaucer, G. (1989). The Canterbury Tales. London: W.W. Norton and Company.

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

“Reforming the Working Man.” Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis in Britain during World War One, by Robert Duncan, NED – New edition, 1, 1 ed., Liverpool University Press, 2013, pp. 166–180. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt18mbcgs.12.

Light, Alison. Common People: A History of an English Family (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2015) [19th & 20th centuries – very good model for work we are doing on author blogs]

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709910 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Rose, Jonathan.  The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. [Very influential survey of reading habits and cultural ambitions based on autobiographies collected by Burnett, Mayall and Vincent]

 Savage, Mike, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican)

Sherwood, M. E. W. “English Landladies.” The Aldine, vol. 7, no. 9, 1874, pp. 173–174. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20636851.

Simpson, Letitia. My Day Before Yesterday, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Vol 4

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