Jessie Ravenna Sharman (b. 1892): Life & Labour

Jessie Sharman explores the hardship families of Norwich experienced in the early twentieth century, which was also applicable for many other working-class families across Britain, in her memoir Recollections of Jessie Ravenna Sharman. The way in which she describes the occupations available implies that people were very limited to the jobs they could be given. Not only was it a struggle to become employed, but after eventually finding a job, wages were sparse. Sharman goes on to say that people on ‘… those working farms in the country, was expected to bring up a family on one pound a week’ (Recollections of Jessie Ravenna Sharman, page 6) The working-class people at this time could barely afford to support themselves and their families with the little wage they were entitled to, let alone afford luxuries; This depravity is demonstrated by Robert Roberts as he wrote, ‘All in all it was a struggle against the fates, and each family fought it out as best it could.’(Robert Roberts, a Ragged Schooling)

Despite men having certain trades, they could not always find a job in their skilled area. This is demonstrated in Sharman’s memoir whens she states that ‘The largest factory at that time was Colman’s with the best working conditions, and many men who served apprenticeships in bricklaying and other trades went to Colman’s factory where there was no short time and their wages assured.’(Recollections of Jessie Ravenna Sharman, page 6) As wages were guaranteed and factory working conditions were in the process of being improved, people opted for jobs there instead.

Norwich, Colman's mustard factory on the River
Norwich, Colman’s mustard factory on the River


For Sharman, however, working in a factory was never an option; she dreamed of becoming a teacher and her family enabled her to fulfil this aspiration. By stating that ‘…working-class girls had not much choice of work – it was either go into a factory or service’ (Recollections of Jessie Ravenna Sharman, page 6), Sharman almost excludes herself from being in the social category of the working-class. She was not entrapped to working in a factory or service – she was a teacher, despite apparently being of a lower class. Her parents could afford the tuition for her education, which was required in order for her become a teacher. This was not necessarily an amenity other working-class families could meet the expense of.

Despite Sharman being of a working-class status, her life and work failed to represent this. She was a well-educated woman, who came from a family who could afford luxuries such as tuition fees for her private education; this was uncommon for working-class families at this time as they received no financial support for exclusive education. Unlike other women of her social class who went to work in factories or in service, she became a successful teacher, despite the limited employment availability for the working-classes.


618 SHARMAN, Jessie Ravenna, ‘RecolIections of Jessie Ravenna Sharman’, TS, pp.8 (c.2,000 words). BruneI University Library.

Roberts, Robert, A Ragged Schooling: Growing Up in the Classic Slum, Mandolin; New edition edition (5 Jun 1997)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.