Jack Lanigan (1890-1975): Life & Labour (Adulthood)

Have you ever walked miles on an empty stomach looking for work?

Jack Lanigan, ‘Thy Kingdom Did Come’, 18.

The way in which Jack Lanigan addresses the reader directly here evokes a huge amount of emotion, that being sympathy, even guilt. He places the reader in his position, getting a sense of the dire economic situation of the time in which Lanigan was beginning his adult life. Unemployment had been an ‘unsolvable problem’ (4), according to Lanigan, since he was a child. At the age of eighteen in 1908, his own unemployment did seem to be an ‘unsolvable problem’ with no labour exchanges to help people find work until 1909, Lanigan would depend on his own determination, will and luck to secure employment.

Figure 1 Labour Exchange in 1910.
Figure 1 Labour Exchange in 1910.

It was luck and the help of his brother, Matt, that got him out of this desperate situation. Matt had secured an interview for Jack at the Town Hall for a job as a drain examiner on the condition that he would lie about his age, ‘[Matt] insisted my age was twenty-one, and I would be receiving a man’s wage’ (19). Once again Lanigan evokes overwhelming emotion into the reader when he describes the moment his brother told him he had an interview, he states, ‘I could not answer for the moment, I was too overcome, tears in my eyes and a choking sensation in my throat’ (19). Thus, emphasising his desperation and joy at his hardship being alleviated. It was this bit of luck that would be the stepping stone to Lanigan’s life long career.

Jack Lanigan was now earning twenty eight shillings a week and ‘feeling on top of the world’ (20), and he states;

it took many weeks to shake off that feeling – shall I call it pride or snobbishness – because I thought everyone was staring at me carrying a pick and spade (20)

After being ‘laid off’ at various times in the year, Lanigan decided to progress in his job by studying to become a Sanitary Inspector and eventually qualified. His career was disrupted due to the First World War, however, he quickly returned to Sanitary Inspecting soon after the war. Lanigan had a various career, he was appointed in many roles until retirement such as a Public Health Inspector, District Sanitary Inspector, Canal Boat Inspector and Departmental Court Inspector, Pharmacy and Poisons Inspector and Rag Flock Inspector. In comparison to how he began his adult career, Lanigan ended it successfully, working his way up but always remembering his working-class roots.



Works Cited:

1:421 Lanigan, Jack, ‘Thy Kingdom Did Come’, TS, pp.92 (c.42,000 words). Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, Brunel University Library.

Lanigan, Jack, ‘Thy Kingdom Did Come’, TS, pp.92 (c.42,000 words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure. Autobiographies of childhood, education and family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1982), pp.95-9. Brunel University Library.


‘Are Job Centres Still Working’. www.TheGuardian.com. 6 February 2010. Web. Accessed 28 November 2015.




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