Maud Clarke (1887-1982): Life and Labour – Part 2: Men at Work

Maud Matilda Clarke (née Mills, b.1887) was very proud that in 1913 when she married her husband Nehemiah Clarke (1882-c.1965) she no longer needed to work. This is an attitude that she likely learnt from her childhood as her father Samuel Mills (1854-1930) managed to support 7 children as well as other live-in relatives for decades.

Derbyshire Miners Coal-getting at the Bolsover Face.
Drawn by D Macpherson.
The Sphere, 22 March 1919
The British Newspaper Archive

Both of Maud’s parents, Samuel and Maria Mills (née Hughes, 1859-1937), had fathers who were miners, so they likely considered that they had moved up considerably in the world on a combined plumber, shopkeeper and publican’s salary. Maud tells us about her father’s multiple jobs, but also refers to the vast numbers of industrial workers who had come to occupy Staffordshire during her formative years.

“There was little or no compensation for injury or death at work, and when father was ill & unable to work all the family suffered” (Clarke, 19)

There were high expectations and therefore huge pressures for men to be able to secure and maintain enough wages every week to support their families. For this reason, as John Burnett explains, poorer working-class parents tended to regard more than three or four children as unfortunate, and more than six or seven as disastrous (1982). Being the single-handed breadwinner with many mouths to feed was a responsibility that Samuel Mills handled admirably.

The reality for other men was not so easy. For one, Samuel was a skilled-worker, as a plumber he had a trade that he could apply to different tasks, such as when connecting his brewing barrels in his pub cellar. Many working-class men who had had no apprenticeship opportunities were destined to live hand-to-mouth existences always jumping between jobs. Samuel might earn double that of an unskilled labourer (Burnett, 1974).

These labourers who had only muscular strength to sell (Burnett, 1974) were exactly the kind of customers who frequented Maud’s father’s inn. She confirms that with wages so low, men might not be able to afford housing as “this was the time of “The Industrial Revolution” and The Midlands had a great influx of cheap labour. The men had no permanent homes, and usually lodged with the local people – hence their need of drink” (39).

To make things worse, there was no job security for those who needed it; “the unions at this time, were very scarce and almost powerless, and very vilified by the employers. Many firms refused to employ a “union” man” (Clarke, 19). As if it wasn’t hard enough at the time to gain entry into higher classes. Even for those who had done better than their parents had, like Maud and her father, they were rather part of a lower middle-class (Savage) than the established middle-class.

Luckily, Samuel Mills always had something to fall back on. When Maud was very young, they owned a shop, probably much like this one. When his family grew in size, he bought the Magpie Inn which he ran successfully until Maud was 16. Finally he “went into another form of business, much more satisfactory to my mother” (Clarke, 40), and became an iron merchant. His sons Samuel Herbert Mills (1885-1952) and John Arthur Mills (1891-1977) went into similar work in the iron and metal industry.

The security her father provided goes some way to explain why Maud was content to give up her own career (see Life and Labour – Part 1: Women’s Work) and rely on her husband’s income. Nehemiah worked as a constructional foreman – according to the 1939 register – so would also have enjoyed a healthier wage than a general labourer. It is encouraging to find that the men in Maud’s life were willing and able to work hard to support her and the family.


Clarke, Maud. ‘Untitled’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 156, available at

‘Maud Clarke’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 156

Burnett, John. Destiny Obscure. London: Allen Lane Penguin Books Ltd., 1982.

Burnett, John. Useful Toil. 1974. London: Allen Lane Penguin Books Ltd., 1976.

Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. Milton Keynes: Penguin Random House UK, 2015.

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