‘We used to meet our pals, lads and lasses going back to work through Tinkers passage and had many happy times together’ (‘White Knobs Row’, p. 5)
Labour is a big part of Ruth’s life and memoir. After starting work at the young age of 13, Ruth continues to work throughout her life and seems to have a real passion for working and providing for her family.
Ruth’s first mention of labour is when she tells us she ‘started to work at 13’. Ruth began working in the ‘slack mills in the weaving shed on three looms, weaving blankets and sheets’ (9). Ruth seems to write with a fondness that she was able to go to work and begin providing an extra source of income for herself and for the family.
She writes with great pride concerning her mother and father regarding their respective jobs. Ruth tells us that ‘Mother was in the Salvation Army’ and that she ‘worked very hard for the family’ (5). She writes that her father was a manager at ‘Goodfellows in Mottram Road, Hyde’ as an engineer. She doesn’t write much about her father’s job although it can be imagined that Ruth will have been filled with great pride that her father was not merely an engineer but the manager of an entire engineering plant.
Aside from paid labour, Ruth, as I earlier mentioned in my Home and Family post, writes about the jobs that each person had to do at home, away from the workplace. Ruth writes, ‘Bill had to do the shopping, brother Alf had to knead a dozen of flour to make the bread for us twice a week. I had to help with the cleaning with my sister Ethel’ (5). Through Ruth’s writing, you can see how a fantastic work ethic was instilled in her from an early age, Ruth does not complain or wallow over the fact that she had to work from 13, but rather that she thrived upon the independence of earning her own money. The communal family spirit in which I mentioned in my Home and Family post is present regarding Life and Labour, Ruth writes that the entire family ‘Came home for dinner time as mother always kept a nice table for dinner. We had an hour for dinner 12.30 to 1.30 pm. We used to meet our pals, lads and lasses going back to work through Tinkers passage and had many happy times together’ (5).
Ruth then moved on from factory work to helping with the war effort, something I won’t go into too much detail about yet but rather will write about it in my upcoming War and Memory post. Ruth’s work with the Women’s Voluntary Service may be a possible reason for Ruth’s pride when it comes to chronicling her working life. It seems as though Ruth was happy to be part of a team that strived to help others and help with the war effort, her voluntary work and the work of all the other volunteers helped to bring aid and shelter to those who needed it most during a tumultuous time in Britain.
To conclude, Ruth does not seem to wallow over her position as a working-class woman, instead, Ruth embraced work throughout her life and always gave the best she could in all aspects of labour. She was a woman who understood that her work would provide her family with greater financial freedom and thrived upon being given the responsibility to go into the work place.
Cox, Ruth, ‘White Knob Row’,1:184 TS, pp.11 (c.4,000 words). Brunel University
Slack Mills Photograph: Hyde Mills
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