Norah Elliott (b.1903): Life & Labour

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, work dominated the lives of the labouring classes. Families worked long hours and had little leisure time, earning only enough to survive, and Norah’s ancestors were no different. A large section of Norah Elliott’s memoir is about the life of her Grandfather, Henry Pilch, and his laborious work.

Agricultural Laborers’ Union card, belonging to Henry Pilch (Norah’s Grandfather)
Annesley Pit 1909

Norah notes that her ‘grandfather was evidently a farm labourer’. However, she goes on to reveal that ‘farming could not have been in too prosperous a state at the time [and] in Nottinghamshire new pits had been sunk at Annesley and Newstead and in November 1873 [her] grand-father left Norfolk to work at Annesley Colliery’. Norah’s grandfather, Henry Pilch, travelled from Weasenham to Nottingham, to East Kirkley where he walked three miles to the Annesley Pit. His determination to complete two jobs (one in agriculture, the other in the pits) exhibits the hard life of an ordinary working-class citizen – working extremely hard whilst earning little money. Like the life of Richard W. Morris, Norah’s father followed in the footsteps of his father, and Norah’s brother did the same, as though this was the ‘natural progression and expectation’ (Wainwright, 2017).

Maltby Hall School, Norah’s first job placement

“I soon found out that Grammar schools had ceased teaching Botany… I was reduced to applying for General Science posts and obtained an interview for a science teacher at Maltby Hall School”

Being a woman, Norah did not follow in the footsteps of her father. After leaving college, Norah’s first job was a science teacher at Maltby Hall School in the West Riding. Having saved up enough money, Norah visited France during the summer holidays. Clerks, teachers, and small businessmen, as well as the more affluent members of the working-class, were those who took holidays such as Norah’s.[1] As she talks about her holiday in France, we learn about her cultural intellect as she talks about the Louvre, where she saw the “Mona Lisa” and “The Winged Victory”. She visited Notre Dame, the Church of St.Madeline and went up the Eiffel Tower.

All of these things would seem extremely extravagant to her ancestors, including her grandfather whose only holiday was to Norfolk. This difference highlights Norah’s so-called ’embourgeoisement’, in which working-class citizens like Norah embraced middle class values and social life. As British society moved into a postindustrial phase and its labour force became more saturated with white-collar service positions, most people became middle class in their standards of living and lifestyles.[2] In his extensive work on class, Robert Roberts wrote that the working class was not ‘a great amalgam of artisan and labouring groups united by a common aim and culture’, highlighting the variant nature of the working-class. Also, Norah was not married and had no family, therefore she needed to go out to work in order to support herself and to survive.

After World War 1, women were disparaged for taking ex-service men’s jobs, which in turn encouraged women to turn ‘back towards what was considered ‘women’s work’ like dressmaking, domestic work and work in ‘sweated industries’’[3], but not Norah. She had jobs in two schools during the interwar years. After being made Deputy Head (with no extra salary) at Maltby Hall School, Norah applied for a post at Carshalton West Secondary School and secured the position. However, following physical illnesses, ‘in 1938 feeling that life was getting too complicated, [she] went to the League [League of Empire] and started to arrange an exchange to Victoria [Australia] for the end of 1938 summer term’.


Works Cited

[1] Walton, John. Histories of Tourism: Representation, Identity and Conflict. Clevedon: Channel View Publications, 2005.

[2] Hurst, Charles. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Routledge, 2007.

[3] ‘Women and Work: 19th and early 20th century’. Web. Accessed April 14th 2017.

Elliott, Norah. ‘Untitled’. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Ed. John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989 (3 Vols) Nb. 2:242. Available at

‘Norah Elliott’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:242

Roberts, Robert. The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1971.

Wainwright, Lynne. ‘R.W. Morris (b.1895): Life and Labour.’ March 21st 2017. Web. Accessed April 14th 2017.

Images Cited

‘Annesley Woodhouse 1909’. Web. Accessed April 12th 2017. 

‘Maltby Hall School’. Wolverson Photography. October 29th 2014. Web. Accessed April 14th 2017.

‘Norah Elliott’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:242


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *