“What strikes me now is that in spite of this fairly spartan life everybody seemed active and interested in everything, religion, politics, books, the theatre, fashions and of course local gossip, for I lived where everybody knew everybody and all their business” (10/11).
Born in 1912, Mary Hollinrake was an only child born and raised in Todmorden, Lancashire. Having “come from extremely respectable parents” (1), her memoir is predominantly centred on her younger years and her experience of growing up. After reading the 73 handwritten pages of her memories, I was most intrigued by how she was awarded a scholarship for grammar school despite being a female and coming from a working class background, both of which would have been limiting in the 1920s. She appeared to be very motivated to do well as she said that “There was always a great desire to better one’s self and the road to this seemed to be education” (11), showing that she was deserving of the opportunities she received.
The majority of Mary’s memoir discusses her many family members. Even though she had no brothers or sisters, her “father was one of 8” and “mother was 1 of 6” (1) so the lives of and her relationships with her aunts and uncles were featured in great detail. She stated that “life was very much a family one” (35), which was very accurate as most of her days were filled with visiting her relatives, whether it be one of her many aunts or her uncle at his farm on a Sunday. She also went to see her Grandparents often as they lived on the same street as her and she went onto say that “this house was as much mine as my own” (1). Despite being surrounded by family, she may have been lonely in the sense that she didn’t have people of her own age around her, apart from during school which may have been why she was so fond of her cousin Jack.
Even though she does identify herself as working class, especially since she called herself a “Lass” in her title, she does not appear to have experienced any struggles that many working class people would have gone through. She was able to appreciate that there were people both better and worse off than her: “There were untidy families, even dirty families and feckless ones and then there were the respectable upright families (11). Food was always available and she was allowed to further her education since her parents did not need her economically. Also, she owned many possessions which entertained her outside of school such as books, dolls and a sewing kit. She even described her parents as “indulgent” when she stated that she was allowed to go to a nearby café for lunch rather than the school cafeteria as she “disliked school meals” (55).
However, it was not all positive memories as Mary discusses the impact her mother’s death had on the family. It was during her time at teacher training college in Hull when “an undiagnosed slight cerebral haemorrhage” inflicted a “fatal attack” on her mother “at the age of 44” which “came as a great shock to my father and me” (60).
What I enjoyed most about reading Mary’s memoir is the light and pleasant tone she writes in. I also liked how it was all hand written, making her experience seem much more real for me. From what she documented, she appeared to have a simple but an enjoyable childhood and I appreciate that she was very thankful for what she had.
Hollinrake, Mary. ‘Lancashire Lass’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:413. Extract in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:413.