The public house or “pub” has been a common destination for many working-class people, in particularly men, for over 1000 years with names such 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 whom own a pub which is never named. The only hint we are given is the fact that it was 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 which, therefore, justifies this test the brewery puts in place.
Letitia covers many stories of the pub including her dog and the 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 describes this event with, “Thirty eight years, is far too young to leave this lovely world.” What is interesting about this claim Letitia makes 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 content of 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 her 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 which would also add to her content of life, yet, maximise 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.
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 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 fact is a factor that suggests part of the memoir is missing or incomplete.
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Mike Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican)
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Simpson, Letitia. My Day Before Yesterday, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Vol 4