Lilian Westall (born 1893): Life and Labour (Part 2)

To tell you the truth I was beginning to feel tired.’ (10)


Lilian Westall started working from fourteen years of age. But, before that she was doing work for her mother. Running to the ‘butcher’s shop before seven o’clock’ (3). Westall knew how to work, it was all she knew to do. It is all she talks about in her memoir.

As David Vincent suggested in one of his writings, ‘As a generalization, the less literate the writer, and the less he was involved in specific activities of self-improvement or political activity, the greater his preoccupation with the details of his life as a worker’.

Figure 1, Maid in Edwardian England.
Figure 1, Maid in Edwardian England.

Westall had no care for books throughout her life. She never mentions outside activities, politics or her own personal view on things apart from religion. Vincent is right in saying these people preoccupy themselves with their work. Westall spends her life occupying herself with how to work and getting job after job. It is never ending.

Even during the Great War/ WW1, Westall joins a munition factory whilst her father joins the army. At the time of the war, women stepped up to jobs traditionally considered ‘men’s work’;   engineers, mechanics and electrics. Most women found this amazing, finally being able to do more than work as a maid or nanny. Westall did not feel strongly about the munitions work. She went straight back to domestic work because she needed more money for her family. Work does not even give Westall an emotional feeling. Work is work; work gives money and that was that.

Figure 2 Women working in a munition factory in England during WW1
Figure 2 Women working in a munition factory in England during WW1.

The way in which Westall describes her work is also very informative. ‘In the morning I did the housework; in the afternoon I took the children out; in the evening I looked after them and put them to bed.’ (4). Westall never mentions being happy or satisfied. She explains her life like it was a manual. This is a very working-class way of writing and Westall exploits that effectively in her memoir.

Westall shows that she has worked hard by stating how tired she had become over the years and when she turned twenty-one she expressed how she had ‘packed a lot into those first twenty-one years.’ (7)

As a reader you constantly feel sympathetic towards Westall. I believe that is because she does not ask for sympathy. Her life is written clearly, in black and white. She had a hard life and it was full of work and trying to make ends meet in the worst conditions. Westall made it through and kept a bit of humor with her, right until the end of the memoir.

I’d had enough. (10)

Have a look at Part 1 of Lilian’s Life and Labour 


Vincent, David. ‘Bread, Knowledge, and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-century Working Class Autobiography.’ Methuen, 1981.

Westall, Lilian. ‘The Good Old Days’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:746

‘Westall, Lilian’, entry in The Autobiography of the British Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, ed by John Burnett, David Vincent, and David Mayall (Harvester, Brighton 1984), vol 1, no. 746





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