‘It was myself who got into trouble as a tom boy and ripstitch’(Hampton, 19)
Born in Dudley, Worcestershire in 1895, Nora’s life was happy and stable. Her father was ‘his own master’ (Hampton, 2), working as a boot maker. Over the course of Nora’s childhood years, her father’s business grew in leaps and bounds. He eventually opened his own firm, “Hampton Bros”, which was honoured during the First World War ‘by an order for hundreds of pairs of Cossack Boots from the Russian Government’ (Hampton, 63). The stability from her father’s job enabled Nora’s mother to be a moral arbiter of the home, and as a family gain the title of ‘the first in Netherton to have electricity installed’ in their dwelling (Hampton,48).
Shining light on her fortunate upbringing, Nora comments on her holidays to Kinver, and Christmas celebrations attended by her loving family. She recalls one Bank holiday where she and her extended family took a Brake to a pub that had ‘a pool nearby’ (Hampton, 11).
Nora finds solace in her memories of her Grandmother, stating how ‘a blown out candle reminds [her] of those occasions’ (Hampton, 8) where she used to sleep over at her house. Nora also touches on the fashion of the time outlining how her Gran would call for her ‘in her Paisley Shawl and her bonnet trimmed with jet beads and flowers and tied under her chin with an enormous black stiff bow’ (Hampton,10). As you can see, this suggests her grandmother’s dress was traditional, old-fashioned, and homely. Nora’s mother ‘never had any time to show feelings of affection – kissing and hug’’ (Hampton, 8). Either this could be put down to her mother’s destructive home-life when she was younger, when she used to look after her own father who was a drunkard. Or, she may have been too busy with the housework to relax and show her affection for her children. By contrast, Nora speaks highly of her father, John Hampton, expressing gratitude for his breadwinning commitment.
Revealing her fascination with the world of literature, Nora states that reading was a necessity to her, remarking that she even read the Bible until the ‘pages fell out’ (Hampton,17). Enclosed in the first page of her autobiography, to replay her life story, she emulates the same literary structure as the Dickens in his semi-autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, as well as reminiscing over the poems and songs from her school years, and her passion for history. At fifteen she went to Dudley Girls’ High School, to which her father paid the fee per term for her to attend. She states how she will forever be ‘in debt to [her] father for his thought in sending [her] there – it opened a new world’ (Hampton, 42) for it led to her future occupation as an uncertified teacher.
Continuing as an uncertificated teacher for several years during the First World War Nora took placements in schools which she attended as a child, in particular, Parsons School on Parsons Street. This school was owned by her Gran’s “Old Aunt Nance”. Nora touches on the start of the war and how ‘as usual our country, we were unprepared’ (Hampton, 58). She outlines how women became involved in munitions and many of the children she taught left the school to go into war work, being paid more than she was.
In 1910 Nora went to Bournemouth on a family holiday which was her first experience of a seaside break. In her later life she moved with her sister to ‘Towyn – a few miles south of Barmouth’ (Hampton,44).
Nora Hampton’s account is fragmentary, jumping between time-frames and life stories of not just her own life but her family members too. Her autobiography reflects a good, humoured woman, whose vivid childhood memories ‘always seemed sunny – or perhaps it is the sunny days we remember in the days of our youth’ (Hampton, 53).
- Hampton, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 3:68. Accessible by: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10931
- 3:0068 HAMPTON, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’, TS, pp.63 (c.26,000 words). Brunel University Library.
- Birmingham Live, 2016. Dudley. [image] Available at: <https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/gallery/dudley-10714749>
- Flickr, n.d. High Street, Dudley 1893, 1937_395. [image] Available at: <https://www.flickr.com/photos/blackcountrymuseums/5257010765>
- Feature image: Campbell, R., 2021. Nora Hampton, age 18, just before World War One era. [image].
- Interviewing Nora’s daughter Rosemary Macadam: Macadam, R., 2021. Asking Rosemary about her life and her mothers – Nora Hampton.