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

I now wanted to tell the world I was now a man, working and helping my mother

Jack Lanigan, ‘Thy Kingdom Did Come’, 9.

boys haggling at market
Figure 1 ‘Boys haggling at the hen market’, Salford. From Robert Roberts book, ‘The Classic Slum’, p.112.

Jack Lanigan was earning money and providing for his family from an early age. As a young boy he and many other boys from Salford would beg outside factories and fish and chip shops where you would hear the cry of, “Can you spare any scrapings, Sir?” (1). This was ‘The Common Scene’[1] in Salford as Robert Roberts puts it in his book, The Classic Slum. As he shows in the image provided, children also took on the responsibility to provide and earn whether that be through begging, haggling, running errands, a day’s work for a child was just as important to the family economy.

Lanigan began regular, paid work at the age of ten as a lather-boy at a barber shop and an errand boy. He clearly remembers the day he was successful in gaining work as an errand boy for a local grocers earning six shillings a week, as one of pride and joy, the time he became ‘a man’ (9) and he describes the positive effects this had on the family;

I had not seen [mother] smile for years…this wonderful and glorious dream of tucking into something to eat, a pair of trousers to cover my backside, shoes on my feet (9).

Starting work is something many memoirs discuss according to the six hundred autobiographies studied by Jane Humphries as she states, ‘the autobiographers had no difficulty in identifying this milestone even when it was far away in time and space’[2], (in Jack Lanigan’s case it was over 70 years). Humphries also argues that;

The author’s attention to this occasion is fortuitous. It provides an escape from the necessity of defining work, hard even in the modern context, and in a world where the boundaries of the workplace and the home were permeable and where not all work was remunerated individually or in cash, likely insurmountable. [3]

From this moment of employment at the age of ten, Lanigan gained a sense of determination and hunger for work and would not give up until he secured employment. Despite experiencing hardship such as the death of his mother and father which exacerbated his economic situation, Lanigan had the strive to carry on which is conveyed throughout his memoir with work being a prominent theme.

Jack Lanigan also took on the role of a counter hand and butcher’s assistant at John Williams & Sons until the age of 18. However, this came to an end when the manager told Lanigan to hand his notice in as he thought more about his hobby of singing. This was the first time Lanigan experienced unemployment, he states;

this experience was something new to me and I could not understand I was out of work. (17)

Now unemployed, Lanigan faced a new challenge in his life, the search for work at a time when it was hard to come by. Lanigan tried everything to find work from searching through the papers, walking ‘miles and miles to no avail’ (18), and as a keen singer he tried securing singing engagements at local pubs, all without luck. Unfortunately, Lanigan was beginning his adult life and career in a desperate position[i].

[1] Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum, (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1973), p75.

[2] Jane Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p173.

[3] Humphries, (2010), p173.

[i] For more on Jack Lanigan’s life and labour as an adult take a look at the corresponding post ‘Jack Lanigan (1890-1975): Life & Labour (Adulthood)’.



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.

Humphries, Jane. Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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.

Roberts, Robert. The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1973.


Fig. 1:

Roberts, Robert. The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1973.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.