Wilfred Middlebrook (b.1899): An Introduction

Living simply and with no more worries about weaving or loom tuning (p.187)

The autobiographical work I have decided to work on entails the life of a resolute and charming man named Wilfred Middlebrook. Born on the 18th December 1899, in Blackburn, Wilfred details both the defining moments and the dinky moments in between of his life, in the 20th century. As the first surviving child of his parents, Wilfred house-hopped for a large proportion of his childhood. He moved to various Lancashire towns with his parents, before the family finally settled in Barrowford–along with two additional children! Wilfred introduces his memoir with his father, an adventurous and spontaneous man in his younger years. He recalls a time when his father returned from one of his escapades, only to find a ‘deserted home’ with ‘all the furniture gone'(p.7), along with his family.

Within this moving yet humorous memoir, Wilfred covers his years of life dating from 1899 all the way to 1981. The later years are where Wilfred discusses the passing of his wife, Margaret and brings his memoir to an end stating that his ‘health improved, with no more signs of the heart trouble and I seem to be in better health now than at any time in my life’ (p.187).

Wilfred and his wife, Margaret

Before this, Wilfred takes us through both the highs and hardships his life– for example, leaving school and beginning full-time work at the young age of thirteen!

Being the first born child, Wilfred had a number of responsibilities and this instilled values of determination and hard work into him. His mother, Agnes, played a significant role in embedding these values into Wilfred, even teaching him the importance of resolution. An example of this is Agnes’ insistence that Wilfred practise playing piano, in between lessons. Wilfred recalls a time when his mother’s persistence in fact saved his life– ‘as I entered the kitchen and shut the door behind me, there was a sudden avalanche of sound…covering the cleared spot…was a huge pile of snow and iron guttering’ (p.49). If it had not been for Agnes’ perseverance to coerce Wilfred inside to practise, it is unlikely we would even be discussing his memoir here. However, Wilfred describes his mother as a strict parent who used a stern and severe type of parenting that proved effective. Despite living with a certain level of strictness, Wilfred continued to have a content and enjoyable childhood alongside his siblings.

‘My mother was nonetheless a strict ruler of her household. It never did me any harm, and she never ceased to care for me, but to hear her talk…might well lead a stranger to the belief I was badly treated’ (p.37)

The strictness of Wilfred’s mother may have stemmed from a want for her children to have a better childhood than her. Similarly, to Wilfred, both his parents were born in Blackburn. His mother’s father was an oatcake baker and an alcoholic. During her childhood years, Agnes would look after her drunken father. She was often left with the responsibility to bring her father out of the public houses and get him to bed. Wilfred adds that his mother was born into a world of poverty which her father made no better by his excessive liking of ‘strong drink’ (p.9). Her childhood memories, Wilfred notes, were ‘chiefly connected with the poverty and hardship of life with a drunken father’ and as an adult, Agnes had a life long determination to keep strong liquors out of he family home and teach her children to possess a ‘respect for sobriety’ (p.36).

‘Blackburn Town Centre’. The hometown of the Middlebrook family and a place they would have frequented, often.

Wilfred’s memoir is split into two parts. This makes the format and content much easier to digest and understand. The first part of his memoir gives us an insight into his home life; childhood; games; schooling; extracurricular activities. The second part focuses on Wilfred’s adult life. We learn of his career and work; his family–his wife and children–; the beginning of the Second World War. Wilfred’s memoir offers us an understanding of the shift into a ‘new normal’ that Britain underwent, for example, having to demonstrate to the town, the correct way to fit a gas mask on yourself (p.15), to prepare itself for war. During the beginning of the war, Wilfred offered himself up for numerous services– including helping and opening his home to the evacuees entering the town, and managing the hard labour of the mills.

Monday the 15th May saw the start of a course of first aid lectures…and on the 16th we began the task of fitting the population of Warminster with gas masks’ (p.17).

After the war had ceased, Wilfred resumed work in the factory and completed writing his monographs titled ‘Loom Tuning’ and ‘Essential Points in Weaving Practice’– the latter earning him £24 in article fees and £60 in royalties.

‘Cotton Mills’. Examples of the mills that filled the towns of Lancashire. Wilfred would have occupied factories similar to this, whilst working

This memoir gave me the opportunity to explore the life of a man who worked relentlessly, stopping at nothing to provide and succeed for his family. Using a casual writing style, Wilfred’s memoir gives us an insight into the life of a young man in the 20th century and what this entailed. It has been extremely interesting to delve into the era’s culture and learn of childhood games such as hopscotch and tag, transcending through time. Wilfred looks back on his life with zero regrets, enjoying and relishing in the life of both his younger self and also his older self as he approaches the end of his life.

Bibliography

Middlebrook, Wilfred. ‘Trumpet Voluntary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:0527

Images

[1] Wilfred and his wife, Margaret. Accessed 23.04.21.

[2] ‘Blackburn Town Centre’ Lancashire Telegraph [online] Accessed 23.02.21. Available at: https://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/14407834.pictures-blackburn-town-centre-1900s/

[3] ‘Cotton Mills’ History Learning [online] Accessed 23.02.21. Available at: https://historylearning.com/great-britain-1700-to-1900/indrevo/lancashire-industrial-revolution/

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