I think the young today don’t get the real joy that we had (pg.7).
Mary Laura Triggle, maiden name, Sutton, was born in 1888 in Heanor, Derbyshire. Her date of death is not specified within her index biography but after further research, I was able to find that Mary died aged 97 in 1985. Mary was raised in Heanor but the autobiographical letters are from an address in Longnor, Shropshire and later from a different address in Shrewsbury. Within her letters she also speaks a lot about Nottingham.
What first drew me to Mary’s memoir was the style of her memoir. Written as autobiographical letters to Professor Burnett to help him with his book about working class lives, Mary used the letters as a way to reminisce about her family history, her own work and pleasures in life. As the letters are handwritten, it was quite challenging to read and engage with Mary’s thoughts. After reading the letters a couple of times and typing them up, I began to see the humour and happiness that she found when speaking of her past. Although there are a few spelling errors and the sentence structures are not always correct, the letters have a real voice. The way in which Mary acknowledges her own mistakes also adds an endearing and humorous aspect to her writing: ‘excuse both bad writing and spelling mistakes, I used to be good but not anymore. So shall I have to go to school again?’ (pg.13) .
Mary’s story is predominantly a ‘family story’ (pg. 26) with her letters dominated by family ancestry. She opens her letters with the story of her grandfather who she describes as ‘the dark sheep of the family’ (pg.1). She also describes her father’s early life, and how he was brought into a ‘very poor and destitute home’ (pg.2) due to his father’s gambling and drinking addictions. Mary talks about her mother and her five siblings, only one of whom she mentions to be still alive at the time of writing at the age of 84. Through writing these letters it is clear that Mary finds a way to reconnect with her family, past and present, as she writes, ‘this has been like having company, almost as if the family were here with me’ (pg. 27).
Mary describes her class position as ‘not very well off’ (pg.9). However, although Mary was born into a relatively poor family, her mother being a cleaner of a chapel and her father a miner, she talks of how the family ‘always had good food and were well dressed’ (pg.9). It becomes clear that Mary’s parents worked hard to give both her and her siblings a good life, shown as she notes how her mother took on a cleaning job just ‘to be sure we always had Sunday shoes’ (pg.11). This indicates that religion and church were important to Mary and her family, also shown through her father’s rather unconventional conversion to Christianity. Although the family were not well off, this did little to affect their quality of life as Mary talks about visits to Nottingham and her active social life within the chapel and the choir.
Another main theme of Mary’s writing is her work at a hosiery factory, Morley’s. Mary details the conditions at the hosiery factory she worked in and their difference in present day: ‘how would the growing people of today really understand the conditions under which we worked’ (p.28). What I find most interesting about Mary’s letters is her view of the new generation, who she says, ‘don’t get the real joy that we had’ (pg.7). I found these parts of Mary’s letters extremely meaningful and interesting especially in context of my own generation in comparison to the stories of work, family and home life that Mary describes. Mary talks about the differences in working conditions as she recounts her time as a stocking mender throughout her letters. She also mentions the insanitary conditions that caused her father to get bronchitis. As Mary questions if ‘some of life’s things come too easy’(pg. 28) to a new generation, I began to realise the true extent of change and adversity that working class people lived through the challenges they faced during the times in which Mary lived and worked.
Although Mary’s story may seem to illustrate a typical working-class family and their background, there are sections of Mary’s letters that show how her family played their part in history. Mary was one of the first members of the hosiery union. She also describes how her grandfather made stockings for Queen Victoria. Whilst we may look back on Mary’s life as tough with little money and poor work conditions, her letters challenge this idea of the working class and instead suggest that it is in fact the generation of today that suffer, as we lack the same joy and the appreciation of life and all it has to offer.
1: 719 TRIGGLE, Mary Laura, Series of autobiographical letters, MS, pp.25 (c.4,000 words). BruneI University Library.
Ariel View of Heanor: www.heanorhistory.org.uk/aerialviews.html
I & R Morley’s Factory: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/553379872937753233/