‘We were determined not to let it get us down,
we had each other and the will to work as we proved in later years’ (61).
The first part of Cecil George Harwood’s memoir, ‘Down Memory Lane’, details his early working life. Of Cecil’s many employments, his time as a garden labourer at Digswell House is arguably his most enjoyable. Yet as discussed in Life and Labour Part I, this career was abruptly cut short by the advent of the First World War in 1914.
On the 13th of November 1916, Cecil was wounded at the Somme. He was discharged from hospital in early 1917, when he returned home to Welwyn, to ‘a hum-drum existence’ (43) and the difficulties of readjusting to a normal working routine. Cecil explains, ‘just then I couldn’t stand discipline, I had to re-adjust myself to a civilian way of life’ (45). Following the ‘advice of a butcher’ (44), Cecil carved out his own independent source of income: pig-breeding. He recalls that his time spent at home was ‘well occupied building a good store shed and a second sty’ (45). He purchased a ‘sow in pig’ (44) for the price of £25, ‘a good buy’ (44), as despite Cecil’s inexperience handling livestock, ‘all went well and one morning [he] went down to feed them and there were 9 piglets waiting to be fed and so was the mother’ (44). The young piglets were doctored by a local butcher and sold for ‘£3. each’ (44).
In time, Cecil returned to his ‘labour of love’ (15), gardening at Digswell House. But all Cecil’s earlier enthusiasm was lost and his disillusionment with authority prevailed. ‘I was restless and didn’t know what I wanted… It was hard going, but after changing job quite a few times, I began to settle down again’ (45).
One of the ‘quite a few’ (49) jobs that Cecil tried his hand at, was working as a painter at the Beehive works; it was during this time that Cecil met his future wife, Gladys. But as explored in a previous post, Home and Family, Gladys’s demands for a husband with a ‘steady job’ (51) and a stable income saw Cecil’s career path change once more. By the good word of his brother, who was a member of the Ware police force, Cecil was able to secure a position with the Hertford & District Motor Services. ‘I thanked him and off I went to Harmer Green End to tell Gladys the news that I was on the payroll of a bus company’ (51). A large portion of Cecil’s writing is dedicated to portraying a vision of the early days of bus transportation. After a visit to ‘Scotland Yard to get [his] license for conducting’ (51), Cecil was involved in all aspects of public bus travel, from conducting, to time-keeping, before later being promoted to inspector.
‘I duly received my uniform, I felt like the fellows outside cinemas, a proper Charlie, but I soon got used to my clothes. It was chocolate brown in colour with gold braid down the sides of trousers, round the collar and cuffs, also around the peak and crown of cap, couldn’t be missed in any crowd. At any rate the uniform guaranteed respect for what it stood for, to help the travelling public at all times’ (52).
Similar to Cecil’s description of the postman, featured in an earlier post, Purpose and Audience, the inspector’s uniform commands authority and marks Cecil as a respected figure within the community. He worked ‘a six day week and long hours’ (51) with a wage of ‘£3.10s per week’ (51). Cecil’s first position as a bus inspector is dated around 1922. He portrays the uncomfortable journey that a passenger would experience at this time, ‘it was often very jerky as they had solid rubber tyres. Also on the trains the carriage windows could be opened when the weather was hot, but not so on the buses. Also double decker buses had open tops as they were in the early trams and the drivers of either were open to all weathers… Maximum speed on the roads for buses, was 12 miles per hour, over that one was liable to be caught for speeding’ (52). It is worth noting Cecil’s comparisons to other modes of public transport, including trains and trams! This is typical of his writing, which demonstrates a clear intention to capture the fine detail of day-to-day life in the early 20th century. The autobiography of Frank Prevett, ‘Memoirs of a Railway Man’, provides a further insight to railway travel in the 1900’s and adopts a similar tone to Cecil’s description of long working hours.
But unlike Frank Prevett’s fruitful working life on the railway, Cecil was not to make a lifelong career of his position as a bus inspector. In the Spring of 1927, Cecil was asked if he ‘would like to take over the management of the Ostend Chara Co.’ (61), but the promotion came with some shocking terms and conditions. Cecil recalls the orders he was given, to move away and ‘leave [his] old woman behind’ (61) in favour of a ‘paid woman’ (61). At the suggestion that he ‘could live with a prostitute’ (61), Cecil understandably lost his temper! Cecil and Gladys resolved that he should leave the bus company, and Hull, as soon as they were able. By word of Gladys’s sister, the couple acquired a plot of land in Wigmore and had a bungalow built using their savings and Cecil’s income from various ‘odd jobs’ (65). In terms of Cecil’s employment, it was back to pig-breeding and garden labouring once more.
Selina Todd notes, ‘the biggest fantasy in twentieth-century Britain, played out time and again… is that ordinary people deserve a better life. This was kept alive before the Second World War by the labour movement, by parent’s hopes for their children, and by people’s determination to have a good time against the odds’ (Todd, 365, emphasis added). As Cecil writes, ‘there was a lot of unrest in the labour market and it was no trouble to fill an empty place’ (58), but the determined ‘will to work’ (61) that characterises ‘Down Memory Lane’ definitively aligns Cecil’s life with Todd’s 20th century ‘fantasy’ of working towards a better quality of life.
Through his involvement in the local community, Cecil was able to make this ‘fantasy’, a reality. In 1950, Cecil and Gladys were the chief organisers of ‘a Summer camp in Dorset’ (91), where they quite literally stumbled across a gift shop for sale in Charmouth. ‘Glad and I began looking round the shops for gifts to take back with us… As we were going out he said “If you know of anyone wanting a good business this is for sale”. My wife and I just looked at each other, we must have read each others thoughts. Gladys nodded her head, I said “Shall we have a go?”, and we agreed to go into it together’ (92). The shop was purchased for ‘£3,200’ (92) and Cecil and Gladys, now small business owners, firmly achieved a ‘better life’ for themselves. They lived and worked in the seaside resort of Charmouth until 1957, when Glady’s ill health meant that they were forced to retire from their ‘little gold mine’ (92).
‘The people wouldn’t or couldn’t believe it as the past 6 years had been so happy.
It was said that one had to live there for 20 years before being accepted, we had with my wife’s help done it in 6’ (102).
Click here for more on Cecil’s childhood, family, and life in the forces.
309 HARWOOD, Cecil George, ‘Down Memory Lane’, TS, pp.104 (c.65,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Coupar, James. ‘Frank Prevett (b. 1904): Life and Labour Part One.’ 3rd April 2018. Writing Lives. Web. Accessed 16th April 2018.
Harwood, Cecil. ‘Down Memory Lane.’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 1:309. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10964
Miles, Andrew and Mike Savage. The Remaking of the British Working Class 1840 – 1940. London: Routledge, 1994.
Todd, Selina. The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910 – 2010. London: John Murray, 2014.
Hogg, David. ‘John Gibson (1887 – 1980): Life & Labour.’ 5th April 2018. Writing Lives. Web. Accessed 6th April 2018.