Marion Owen (b. 1909): Life and Labour

Marion felt extremely unprepared for life outside of education as she felt her artistic talents were all she had to offer. However, her artistic talents are what led her to get a job at a ‘small lampshade firm in Rathbone Place’ (Owen, p. 38). The firm she worked at was rather ‘sleasy’ (Owen, p. 39) and she considered her bosses to be ‘patronising’ (Owen, p. 39). Marion worked alongside her sister at this firm and whilst she had a strong dislike towards the two men who ran the business, her sister ‘thought them rather dishy’ (Owen, p. 40). John Kirk and Christine Wall argue that in the early twentieth century ‘the majority of women are in part-time low paid employment’ (Kirk and Wall, 2011, p. 21). Marion earned ‘12/6 a week’ (Owen, p. 38) for five and a half days of work. In modern day this would be the equivalent of earning £36.87 a week and it was a relatively low wage for her to earn.

Oxford Street

 Helen Rogers and Emily Cuming state that memories are often ‘marked by sharp visual and sensory detail’ (Rogers and Cuming, 2018, p. 186). This can be seen within Marion’s memoir as she relates all of her memories back to scents that she associates with them. Marion’s first firm was located at ‘Rathbone Place’ (Owen, p. 38) next to a coffee shop so the ‘scent of roasting coffee has become indissolubly linked […] with the trials and tribulations of her first job’ (Owen, p. 38). After a few months of working there both Marion and her sister were ‘given the sack’ (Owen, p. 40) on the same day. She was not ‘sorry to leave the place’ (Owen, p. 40) but she felt it was demeaning to be fired.

Hand painted lampshade

After losing her job Marion moved to a lampshade manufacturing firm in ‘Newman Street’ (Owen, p. 41) which was considered the ‘best in London’ (Owen, p. 41). At the time ‘painted lampshades’ (Owen, p. 41) were the fashionable thing to have in your home so Marion’s work would have been showcased in many houses around London. She learned more working there than she did at school and her ‘education progressed leaps and bounds’ (Owen, p. 42) as her artistic ability improved over time. The work was ‘repetitive’ (Owen, p. 39) but still interesting and Marion believes working here was the ‘most valuable experience’ (Owen, p. 44) she could have had.

The social aspect of Marion’s second job at the firm in Newman Street was one of the most important things for her. Marion stated that ‘the atmosphere was not unlike school’ (Owen, p. 42) as her boss was strict and similar to the head of a school. Marion learned a lot from her co-workers but about things that she was not exposed to in education. Her co-workers showed her things like ‘swearing’ (Owen, p. 42) and the discussion of ‘their affairs’ (Owen, p. 42) was one of her first experiences with the ‘opposite sex’ (Owen, p. 42). Marion’s workplace was close to a branch of the ‘metropolitan police’ (Owen, p. 43) and many of her friends at work went on dates with the ‘young policemen’ (Owen, p. 43). At that age Marion had very little interest in romantic endeavours so she often turned down date offers from the policemen. Marion’s time working at the lampshade firm was one of the ‘happiest periods’ (Owen, p. 44) of her life and she continues her friendships made there even to ‘the present day’ (Owen, p. 43).

  • References 
  • Kirk, John and Wall, Christine. Work and Identity: Historical and Cultural Contexts (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)
  • Owen, Marion. ‘I follow my nose: a potted autobiography’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library
  • Rogers, Helen and Cuming, Emily. ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of Working-Class Autobiography’ Family & Community History (Vol. 21, No. 3, 2018, pp. 180-201)

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