Jean Court: Life and Labour

‘All the ironing, washing up and pastry making were done on the wooden kitchen table, scrubbed every day until it was almost white. Grandpa spent all his days in his bedroom.’ (p. 3)

We learn that Jean’s mother does not seem to have a job outside of their home. ‘On Mondays she spent the whole day down in the cellar doing the washing,’ (p. 3) although this was probably expected of their mother, given her gender, age and employment status, it seems she was a kind mother and daughter who took pride in a clean home. It is evident that their grandpa does not help around the house. This could be due to his ill-health and elder age, or his expectations of his daughter. ‘By the mid 1920s unemployment had risen to over 2 million. Particularly affected areas were the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some places.’ (Johnson, 2014)  After the First World War, employment went on a decline, leading to the general strike in 1926. So Jean’s mother may not have had a job but instead, as a single mother, she looked after her father and children at home.

The General Strike 1926

            ‘Sometimes we earned money by running errands for neighbours,’ (p. 2) Jean tells us how she and her sister earned some pocket money. ‘When I grew older about nine years old I was asked to take a baby out for walks…for these trips I was paid the magnificent sum of sixpence, riches to me,’ (p. 2) here, we get an idea of the meaning of money to a working-class child. A sixpence would be around 2.5p in our era and although items such as groceries were a lot cheaper then, it was still not a great deal of money. Jean and Mary’s errands show that they did not have to involve themselves in child labour. During the 1920s, child labour and employment in general had vastly decreased, so the girls probably would not have been expected to work, besides some chores around the family home.

‘Mary and I would be sent up to his room to thread needles’ (p. 3). This is an example of a favour and chore they would be required to do for their mother and grandpa. The siblings are portrayed as well-behaved and willing to help where they can. Unfortunately, this behaviour and portrayal of the siblings differs from the time we live in now. Children now do not tend to be required to do regular chores, never mind thread needles. Small expectations and chores like this would be nice to have within our society today.

‘If my grandfather had only been a good business man we might not have been in these circumstances but he was a dreamer’ (p. 1). As we see in my education and schooling post, Jean’s grandpa is a well-educated man, but it is apparent that he did not take full advantage of this. ‘He was always filled with political ambitions,’ (p. 1) although we are never told what these political ambitions are, we get the gist that they ruined his potential of a secured career, who was ‘trained as a compositor with a leading local newspaper’ (p. 1). ‘Why he gave this work up and decided to open a newsagent shop I have no idea but after his marriage this is what he did’ (p. 1).

The real conception we have of labour, especially in earlier generations, is not specifically explored or exposed within Jean’s memoir. The unemployment of herself, Mary, her mother and her grandpa are the reasoning’s for there not being much information on manual labour. The working-class in the 1920s undoubtedly worked hard in their homes, as we can see from the mother, but within the memoir we do not get a true insight into what working lives and employment was like in the 1920s, although this does not seem to be a problem within society or their family. Unemployment was very common and the girls evidently appreciated their mothers hard work at home.

At the end of Jean’s memoir, their mother is left the newsagents after her father’s death. ‘Grandpa was able to leave mother the shop and house at Hill Avenue.’ (p. 11) This ending is positive and pleasing for the reader. It is delightful knowing that his shop will re-open and be run by a family member. ‘The shop was completely empty and mother would have to take up the reins as shopkeeper’ (p. 11).  Their grandpa would have been pleased and proud, their mother will have been fulfilled in her employment and new career and no doubt the girls went on to live a happy life with their mother on Hill Avenue.


188 COURT, Jean, ‘Living in the Lane’, TS, pp.11 (c. 10,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Johnson, Ben. ‘The 1920s in Britain,’ Historic UK. (2014). [ONLINE]

The Great Strike 1926. [IMAGE] URL:

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