Thomas Waddicor (b.1906): Life and Labour


The memoir is driven by Thomas Waddicor’s working situation and labouring of the Waddicor family. The Waddicor family was under a lot of pressure from their mother who encouraged working from an early age. Thomas speaks about his family occupations in the first pages revealing just how important work was to him, and the family. His father and uncle worked as cotton trade packers and makers, contributing to the industrial commercial expansion. During the First World War, Thomas admits ‘with two older brothers away in the army…mother was finding it more than usually difficult to make ends meet.’ (p.4). Thomas and ‘Brother Gerald, was also pressed to find a part time job to help to boost the family income (p.4). At the age of eleven Thomas worked as an errand boy at a local draper’s; working early morning, all day Saturday and calling in at dinner time and evenings – except Wednesdays. His brother, also supplementing the family income, worked at a barbers as a lather-boy. All of this was done around school which meant less, or even no, time for them to have a childhood. Thomas writes about waking up at six o’clock in the morning and ‘adding two long leisurely hours to days which were never long enough for all there was to do, gave me great satisfaction.’ (p.7). Sleep, leisure time or relaxing was not a priority. Thomas however does not complain at his situation, which was quite tough for a young boy who was also attending school.

Thomas is lucky to have moved through the class system and work his way up. He begins the memoir speaking about hand-me-downs and later reveals he buys a brand new car; buying luxury items which he would not have been able to previously indulge in or afford. In his research on life in Salford in the early twentieth century, Andrew Davies has argued that ‘financial constraints are portrayed as the main factor shaping working-class social life’.  Thomas strove to break out of these constraints by working his way up from office assistant to having his own business.

Relationships in the Waddicor family are not described with a great deal of closeness or affection. It seems to be an unconscious parasitical relationship between the parents and children. Burnett observed, correctly in my opinion, that ‘the larger the family, the lower the level of affection.’ This seems to be the case with Thomas and his parents. From what he reveals it cannot be said that he has a close bond with his parents or siblings and he seems to simply coexist with his family. However, Ellen Ross points out that working-class ‘children universally made a domestic and economic contribution to the family economy’, something which is evident in Waddicor’s memoir. Children were expected to support the family income and help around the house as soon as they were old enough (E, Ross. 1993, 152-3). She argues that the ‘child’s labour was directly related to it being ‘loved’: “working for” mother would earn her love.’ In this case, Mrs Waddicor seems to be very impressed when Thomas begins to work with Mr Hobson. She is extremely pleased when he gets more money than agreed and takes the extra shillings.

Works cited

Burnett, John. Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from 1820s to the 1920s, 1982.

Constantine, Stephen. Unemployment in Britain Between the Wars, Essex: Longman Group Ltd, 1980

David Vincent, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom. 1982

Davies, Andrew. Leisure, Gender and Poverty, Buckingham: Open University Press, 1993.

Eric, Hopkins. Childhood Transformed: Working class children in nineteenth century England. Manchester University Press, 1994.

Hedrick, Harry. Children, Childhood and English Society 1990-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Griffen-Foley, Bridget. From Tit-Bits to Big Brother: a century of audience participation in the media, Macquarie University, Australia. P533-4

Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers. Gender and Fatherhood in the nineteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007

Marjorie Cruickshank, Children and industry, Manchester 1981.

Mike Savage and Andrew Miles, The Remaking of the British Working Class 1840-1940. Routledge London, 1994.

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 53. 1 (1992): 47-70

Ross, Ellen. Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918. Oxford 1993, 152-3

Thompson, Paul. The Edwardians: the Remaking of British Society. St Albans, 1977.

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247.

Waddicor, Thomas. ’Memories of Hightown and Beyond’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:787


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