Charlotte Dorothy Meadowcroft (b.1901): Life and Labour

Charlotte’s Dorothy Meadowcroft’s handwritten memoir is a highly personal and anecdotal account of her young adult life. Due to the style she writes in, it is difficult to gain lots of detail on things like her home life and education, however, almost all of her recollections take place in Stancliffe Hall boys’ school, where she worked as a maid, and some other schools, so her work life is probably the most significant insight we can get into her life.

As mentioned in the Education & Schooling post, Charlotte finished school at around twelve years old, when the First World War started. From there, she went straight into work, first for her mother, then at two mills, before moving to Stancliffe Hall Boys’ School to work as a maid. She doesn’t offer much emotional insight into her working life, the most detail she gives is of the mill:

I was still working at the mill, it was a dirty old place it was beside a river & the river water was used in the mill. I went to work from 7am to 7pm, it was a long day & I used to get very tired by night time. I was working on a paper sugar bag machine, doing what they called [carrying?] off, it got very boring. (p8-9)

This indicates the large amount of hours she had to work as a teenager, but doesn’t offer much long-term information about her working life, as she left the mill, less than two years later, because her boss, Wingy- secretly named so for his withered arm- could only afford to pay her 5/ which was ‘not sufficient enough to keep me in food & clothes.’ (p10) This is the only instance of Charlotte expressing any hardship that may come through not working, or not getting paid enough. Reading through the entire memoir, however, it’s easy to assume that the lack of any hardship described is likely because of cheerful nature and her overlying want to talk about the funny things, and the odd things, rather than the bad.

Stancliffe Hall C. 1900. Close to the time it was school for boys.
Stancliffe Hall C. 1900. Close to the time it was school for boys.

 

Charlotte moved to Stancliffe Hall, which was a boarding school for boys, at an unmentioned time in her mid-teens. As this was a live-in job, there is no reflection on what her working day was like, or even the tasks she had to do, in any detail. The tone throughout her time there remains anecdotal, as in the rest of her writing. I think that, considering she left school at twelve, Charlotte’s time her was a little like school for her the masters and the matrons are spoken about with the same fear and reverence you would expect of someone describing their school years. In this extract from page fifteen, she describes her fear of arriving at Stancliffe Hall:

When I arrived at the station, I was met by the matron of the school, she was driven by someone in a trap, that’s a small carriage and horse. I had my fears about that too, but worse still when she spoke to me. I didn’t like her from the start. The matron was very sharp in her voice, she said, you for Stancliffe Hall & whats your name, when I told her it was Dorothy, she said, well you will have to be called Elizabeth, because the mistresses name is Dorothy so you can’t be called that, anyway. I suddenly said, but my name is Dorothy, & she was so annoyed when I said that to her, that I don’t think she ever liked me after that.

Even if she didn’t see her time at Stancliffe Hall as a kind of education, it was definitely a key time in shaping her life and skills. This can be seen through the writing style in her memoir. Although her grammar and syntax are not great, the narrative style is clear and the voice within that is distinctive and interesting. This may be because of the mix of class and educations within the school. Later on in the memoir, after she turns twenty-one, she goes to work at another school and starts courting one of the school masters. This proves that she did socialise and spend time with people in different classes and social spheres, because of her life in schools, which may explain her confident narrative.

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