Francis Alfred Peet (1882-1960) – Life and Labour:

“I AM THE SON OF HARRY PEET WHO WAS THE LEADING CARPENTER” (P.5). 

A High Street, East Hertfordshire, 1900. 

Work and labouring are major themes of the memoir and within the remembrance of Peet’s life. It is made clear from early on within the memoir that proudly, Peet comes from the working-class family background. It is also made evident that the men in his family were extremely determined and prominent labourers. When considering his family’s various careers, Peet only ever describes the professions of the men and none of the women within the family. Francis takes after his father in his decision to become a carpenter. He himself began work at the Carpenter’s shop in January 1897, at aged 14 and a half, “I myself began work on the estate in 1897 and retired from regular work in 1948” (p.14).  

In considering the professions of his male family members only, Francis’ grandfather, also referred to as Peet, “had been apprenticed to painter and plumber” (p.1), and of which he was extremely proud of his profession. Julie Marie Strange (2013) states that “the most obvious signifier of a man and home was the relationship between breadwinning” (p.272).  

Side Street Shops, Hertfordshire, 1900s.  

Peet reminisces about the social conditions during his younger years, and the issue of low income for his family following his father’s death, with his mother gaining entitlement to the Estate Widows Pension. Peet still never describes any career surrounding his mother but notes that many members of the village “were very sympathetic and helped her” (p.12) when the family suffered some money shortage problems. According to John Belchem and Kirk Neville (1997), “a male worker would be part of a family unit… female members would not be required to enter the labour market” (N.pag), which adds to the idea of Peet only considering the careers of his male family member’s. It is made clear throughout the memoir that just like his father, Francis Peet was extremely proud of his profession as a carpenter, with the trade and talent seemingly being inherited from his own father.  

Peet recalls fond memories of other town labourers throughout the course of his memoir, along with his days of working on the estate. Peet lists the various tradesmen of the village, “the carpenters were my father Harry Peet, Alec Cousins, Harry Taylor” (p.5); doing this shows the clear and positive impact in which the men projected onto Francis Peet and influenced his strong work ethic. When describing a job the older men carried out, Peet states that “I can see now that they were proud to have done such a job” (p.7). He describes his typical workday routine, with shorter hour-days in the winter, as well as weekends, but no less pay on such days. Peet also explains the varied salaries dependent on the quality level of an individual’s carpentry skills level within the area. Francis describes the Clerk of Works, Mr. C. Godfrey, who employed his father and later also himself, as “a very keen workman” and due to having started his trade in the same way as his employees, “gathered a good class of men around him” (p.4). Peet remembers him fondly throughout, which highlights his enjoyment of his profession due to the kind treatment he was shown throughout his life at work.  

The High Street – from New Road, 1900. 

At the end of his memoir, Peet pays a tribute to past friends who he knew who took up the life of fighting within the First World War, displaying the proudness and also sadness he felt towards them, “my schoolmates, my friends, most of them lie in France” (p.19). His enjoyment and passion for carpentry clearly assisted in shaping the identity of Peet into a grateful and hard-working individual. Peet describes his career through a tone of gratitude and happiness.  

Works Cited: 

551 PEET, Francis Alfred, ‘Recollections’, TS, pp.19 (c.10,000 words). Brunel University Library. 

Belchem, John and Neville Kirk. Languages of Labour. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997.  

Burnett, John ed. Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s London: Routledge, 1994. 

Strange, Julie Marie. ‘Fatherhood, furniture and inter-personal dynamics in working-class homes, 1870-1914.’ Urban History 40.22 (2013), pp 271-286 

Image 1: A High Street, East Hertfordshire, 1900. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/ware-places/high-street-ware-1911-part-1 [Accessed: 1st May 2021]. 

Image 2: Side Street Shops, Hertfordshire, 1900s. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/ware-places/high-street-ware-1911-part-1 [Accessed: 1st May 2021]. 

Image 3: The High Street – from New Road, 1900. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/ware-places/ware-then-and-now [Accessed: 1st May 2021]. 

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