Ellen gill (1888-1988): Life and Labour

Throughout her memoir, Ellen mostly describes her younger years in relation to work, where leaving school was necessary in order to gain work and return to domestic duties. We learn that Ellen was from a working-class background and her Father who was employed as a Leatherer helped to earn most of their families’ income. With the struggle of trying to stay out of poverty her Father tried to find work whenever he could, ‘Dad had a lot of slack time… went to Beeston to see if there was any work to do an come back cold and disappointed – no work no money.’ (p3) A job in those days was not known to be permanent among the proletariat society.

Although Ellen and her family were underprivileged, her portrayal of positive memories shows that money may not have mattered in those times and that the view of the normal way of life was what she was surrounded with thus making it seem that her life was just a good as anyone else’s.  ‘In happier times Dad used to say ours (her family) was the ever open door.’ (p3) Even though her family struggled with debt, she writes with a tone of positivity that conveys the attitude of her family when they were in times of need, as there would always be a solution to their problems. Usually it was her close relations that would help to raise them out of their troubles which implies that her family, were respected and always lucky enough to have loved ones helping them out which Ellen stresses the fact that able family members input was vital.

It becomes apparent that families were only able to earn just enough to keep themselves from hovering into poverty. During the 19th and 20th century this was a widely known factor; families did not have disposable incomes for materialistic items or outings, everyone had to try and contribute as best as they could to the household income.

In relation to her working days, Ellen describes her time in a large tailoring factory called Campbells.

This was the first job she received, where she learnt to become a ‘Finisher’. ‘Our work was mostly boys’ coats; we had to baste and fell two sleeve linings for ½d’ (p 2) Ellen can remember for each position within the factory, what the hours were and how much money she received. It was old English money back then which is fascinating to compare with today’s currency, were money is worth a lot more.  For example her first wage of 3 shillings is equal to 15 pence. After suffering from indigestion, she had to leave and with the help of her Aunt she received a job at Peter Laylocks Mill.

Peter Laycocks Mill to the right in the background

Here the conditions were horrible, working from 6.30am to 5.30pm. She comments on her wages and how she had to wait almost a year to be moved up to a higher paid position but unfortunately, ‘this turned out to be until somebody either left or died!’ (2) Ellen conveys the harsh working conditions that working-class children had to cope with whilst also touching upon the gender inequality issues that arose within the time that she worked. During the 19th and early 20th century women were seen as inferior to men and had no say therefore being disregarded within the workplace. Ellen states how men were let off from doing any sort of dirty work and to no surprise her employer was a man, pertaining to the gender issues of this time.

When she meets her husband Arthur Gill she seems to distance away from conversing about work as we learn that she left her job at 21 to marry and become a devoted housewife. Unlike Ellen, Arthur’s memoir dedicates a large proportion to his ‘Working Days’ and, like I mentioned before, jobs were difficult to maintain during this period and we can see this from reading his memoir, especially when the slump hit after the World War.

The Great Slump, was a period of national economic downturn in the 1930s, it was Britain’s largest and most profound economic depression of the 20th century. (1-wiki) Through Ellen’s anxious tone, we learn that this was a dull moment for everyone as she mentions her brothers were out of work, ‘they had to draw the ‘dole’ which wasn’t much at the time’ (p 11). Trade was very bad especially in Arthur’s line of work which forced him to go into working from home.

Work was important to Ellen in order to maintain a home and family, even when she was pregnant and Arthur was at war she yearned to go out and work to earn a little, however there was no employment. Like most woman who had no jobs it was obligatory to join the Women’s Voluntary Service to help those effected by the War, Ellen was too a member of the W.V.S. I came across an old newspaper article from the Yorkshire Evening Post dating back to 1938, pictured below which I am sure Ellen would have read herself.

A Call to Every Woman
A Call to Every Woman



Image one: http://www.leodis.net/display.aspx?resourceIdentifier=2844

Image two: http://wrvslearning.wordpress.com/

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