Mary Stewart (B.1909-): Life and Labour

“He had been wounded three times, won military medal and 3 others, was R.S.M and had four motherless children and that was the job he got.”

In Mary’s memoir, she describes her fathers and husbands trades and her mothers work during World War One but only explains in a short paragraph details of her own occupation.

In my authors memoir, she explains that during her father’s absence (due to volunteering in World War One), her mother took a job to support her family. “..father away to Salonica and Mother went to work at Smarts Cotton Waste place in Collyhurst.” [sic] During World War One, women came to the fore and partook in what were originally thought to be jobs for men only.  They moved from what was known as the domestic sphere and slowly made their way out of this previously confined occupation area (housewives) into the working man’s sphere. Mary’s mothers ambitions were simple and thoughtful she: “.. wanted to get a new side board by the time Dad got back home.” Unfortunately, Mary’s mother took a fall off the back of a lorry whilst unloading the cotton and broke her neck. Only a number of days later Mary’s mother sadly passes away from her injuries. It is important for us to realise that Mary’s family were given no compensation for this awful loss, even at such a difficult time in the children’s lives – a parent less home.

Mary’s father had returned from World War One to a home without his beloved wife and as she states “..four motherless children.” It was therefore even more important than ever that he had a stable job to support his growing family. He had “..wanted a job with horses.” This would not be uncommon for a working class man to wish to participate in such a job. For as long as we can remember men have worked alongside horses and this was still the case in the early 20th century. Although having horses was not uncommon within the middle classes, the working classes could not afford to own them for work purposes or even keep them for their own enjoyment. Still though, horses meant a lot to the working classes as they more often than not enabled them to carry out the jobs they set out to do. Even the milk was delivered in horse and cart and as cars were very uncommon during this period, a horse and cart was the next best thing.

Sadly, Mary’s father could not acquire work in his dream occupation and had to settle for working at Trafford Park, loading sulphur onto wagons. Trafford Park was a busy industrial estate, having been very successful in partaking in the building of weaponry for World War one. It had different factories and companies, including the biggest of the mid-19th century, Kellogg’s. It seems Mary’s father had somewhat of a rough ordeal during his time here as she explains: “He had malaria fever & would go to work all sweating & trembly.” [sic]  He still continued to work even through his illness as he always knew it was his responsibility to be the sole bread winner for the family.

workersImage: Working class men off to work circa 1900

Thankfully, Mary’s father is able to somewhat improve his standings after getting a job in the Manchester Chamber of Commerce buildings as a porter. This would have been a much easier job and would have been much less likely to endure injuries or illness in a much less hands on job.  Although she does not mention any work after this we can assume Mary’s father remained in this job until his suicide at the age of 41.

We are not given a definitive job role for Mary’s husband but we are told regarding her sons that “.. as soon as a brew lad was needed on the building sites, off they went with their father. They were only getting 30/- per week, so when Dad gets them a job at £10 per week, great!” Many working class men got their work in the coal mines or building industry, especially in cities such as Manchester due to the ongoing industrialisation movement, expanding from the mid 1800’s. Mary goes on to tell us her financial situation: “Now in the 27’s to 30’s my husbands wages were £3.15 per week. Of this I got £2 for housekeeping.”[sic] Mary’s large family at this point were struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line, with the house they were living in costing 75p per week and growing sons to look after. The hard labour the men endured was barely keeping them going. This is a far cry from what Mary imagined her later life would entail: “I thought I would be well off when they grew up, put each of them to a good trade…”

When discussing her own labour throughout her life, Mary only gives away this small amount: “I got a full time job in a grocer’s, worked 4 nights in a local pub & earned more for myself than I got off all of them put together.” We see Mary’s strong work ethic and independence here, just as much as we do in the other aspects of her life. She has chosen not to rely upon her husband as the sole earner and has taken it upon herself, to support herself. This would have been a much more accepted view in the mid-19th century, as opposed to the idea of Mary’s mother doing a similar thing in the early 1900’s.



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