Samuel Mountford (b. 1907): Introduction

Samuel Mountford was born in 1907 in Birmingham. I was intrigued to read about his life in his own informal, honest words, partly because his life covered a variety of issues present in the early 20th Century, such as poverty, education, working-life, coping with the war and coping as a parent.

Perry Barr Tram, Birmingham, 1900
Perry Barr Tram, Birmingham, 1900

Upon reading his memoir I found the tone and style of his writing to be charming, and I was instantly drawn in to the story of his life. I could tell from the very beginning that Samuel’s writing would be an interesting read from the modest and unambiguous title “Samuel Mountford – A Memoir” which solely focuses upon the reality of what it is rather than glamorising the material. Furthermore, the way he starts his memoir gives it a strong story-telling emphasis and lets the reader know that we are in for a descriptive story his life: “A dull, damp, dreary, miserable November morning in 1976!” (page 1)

Noting that the memoir was written in 1976, the reader deduces that by this time Samuel is an old man. This is perhaps evident in his writing style: “What shall I do? What can I do? Not nice enough to go in the garden.” (page 1) Whilst the content appears firstly as unfocused, I immediately got the impression that he is writing impulsively and assured me that I was going to get an honest, truly personal and unedited account of the man’s life whilst indulging me with the trivial pleasantries of his present.

The thing that intrigues me the most about the memoir is how matter-of-fact Samuel writes, whilst conforming to the old-man stereotype of lecturing the reader of ‘his day’ and the struggles he endured. I very much enjoyed this though, as Samuel had a chance to prove the credibility of his day and show the reader exactly how it was then and exactly how great things are now, comparatively. There isn’t a particularly focused theme; rather Samuel tells the story of his life chronologically which involves the themes that most people deal with (growing up, finding work, becoming a parent). However, Samuel’s is noteworthy because he emphasises the differences between growing up in the 1910s and growing up now, particularly in the differences of what we would define as a poverty-stricken family. He displays this passionately and writes in a way that shows it: “Let any one who reads these words think it is rubbish, I KNOW DIFFERENT. Shortage of food, no jobs was common. You could not get away from it.” (page 2).

Samuel has a lot to say about working-class life in the 1900s, particularly on the state of work and cost-of-living compared to present day. Although jobs seemed easier to come across the work was relatively low-paid and Samuel goes from job to job without ever advancing in one. As he got older he acquired higher paying work and describes how this benefited his family greatly, and he shows that this was the most important factor of his life; bringing up his children into a world better than his own.

When comparing Samuel’s blog to others that I considered, what struck me the most was the colloquial and warm tone of his writing, and how everything he wrote appeared to be true and impulsive, whilst other memoirs that I previewed were written with a professional flair that supposed fiction. Whilst this appeared more professional, it was not professionalism that I sought whilst reading the memoir of a man’s life, it was pure honesty and personality through writing. Samuel Mountford’s memoir read like it was his own private diary, of which he was inviting me in to read personally.

Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.

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