Charles L. Hansford (B. 1902): Life & Labour

Charles Lewis Hansford left school at the age of fourteen in order to contribute towards the family economy, and put to use the work ethic that had been instilled within him from his elders, such as his Grandfather who had had “several strings to his bow” (Hansford, p.1) as Hansford was growing up, including a pub and a wheelwrights shop. Charles’ adopts a sense of pride amongst his work and the ever growing knowledge he gained in order to be the best that he could in his trade – as a result he began to progress in the industry and was able to charge more money for jobs as well as showing dedication to his career. It mustn’t be forgotten, however, that it was his step-father who encouraged him into the route of bricklaying. Consequently, the relationships that Charles formed with his step-father, as well as the friends that Charles made along the way guided him throughout his career. This signified that labour was not just a source of pride for Charles, but also of fellowship with his co-workers.


Image of a Bricklayer by August Sander, 1928

The account that Charles gives includes many tales of endurance, such as travelling further afield, struggling through bouts of unemployment and unfortunate bad luck that the writer often found creeping up on him, “…The second ceiling coat went on easily, being completed in double quick time. Filling in the last space I noticed a small bubble beginning to form at the centre. I tried to smooth it back, but relentlessly it grew. Suddenly the complete ceiling collapsed smothering me in a deluge of wet plaster: I could have cried.” (Hansford, pp. 58-59) I feel very sympathetic towards the tribulations that Hansford often describes, but fortunately he often writes in an optimistic way, portraying a view that these types of struggles were just a part of the job.

Suprisingly, Charles has the same attitude towards the points of work when it seems he has been exploited by his workers. Although he expresses his anger at the time of the incident, he does not appear to look back on the events with resentment or speak bitterly, such as when he breaks collar bone and is forced to work through the pain, consequently concluding in slowing down the healing process and losing more money: “My endeavours were still dogged my ill-luck. Finally the arm became so painful that it compelled me to lose even more time. Price work could be chancy.” (Hansford, P.60)

The author admits to his reader that prior to the strains of responsibility and having to provide for a family of his own, he enjoys the freedom that travelling and work bring to him, allowing him to have independence. But he remains in contact with his family, often working alongside his step-father, and travelling back to stay with his mother when working in Southampton as well as visiting his sister, Mabel. “Once more at Mortimer Road, familiar sights and sounds evoked a sense of strangeness; previously living in that Woolston terrace as a boy, I had returned from travelling, a grown man. My sister Mabel still lived at home. She worked at a small back street workshop in Southampton, where she sewed piecework buttons on to men’s suits contracted out by Burtons.” (Hansford, P.40) We see from this short extract that Mabel is working for the upper classes in a very simple job for, we can imagine, very little money. Here it is suggested that men often had more prospects in regards to working life than women. Jonathan Rose explains, “Girls were more often unhappy to leave school than boys were, a fact that can be construed two ways: either girls enjoyed school more than boys, or they missed the opportunities for further education” (Rose, p.177). Rose continues to say that the latter is unlikely as both gender’s struggled to continue on to a grammar school, however women were expected to stay at home and work where as men enjoyed travelling and took part in more labouring activities through apprenticeships. This is shown through the difference in Hansford’s career and his sisters.

I think that work shapes Hansford’s identity majorly because of the work ethic that he possesses, the enjoyment and freedom it brings, and this is shown through the fact that it is the main focus of his autobiography. Work is the main aspect of the account and so this implies that labour to the working-classes and the ability to provide defined their success. Work shapes the writer’s identity because it meant that despite not having a full and beneficial education in his childhood, he was still given opportunities to strive and accomplish things throughout his life through his labour. His class may have pulled him back, but he still lived a fulfilled and happy life through his work and found satisfaction in being able to provide for his family. Without his work, Charles Hansford may have felt as though he did not have a useful purpose, but the feats that he conquered during his career, I’m sure, would have not only allowed him to grow, but would have made him an extremely proud man.

Hansford, C. Memoir of a Bricklayer. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:745

Rose, J. (2001) The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Fig 1.  August Sander [Photograph: Bricklayer, 1928] At: [Accessed 4th January, 2014]


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