Violet Austin (1910-1983): Life and Labour

Violet Austin never explicitly states in her memoir that her family were working class but she does mention that they were not very well off. Her parents ‘did all they could to make life happy and interesting’ (3).  Austin suggests that Slough was a largely working class town with the main industries being brickmaking and horticulture. She goes on to say that ‘it is well known that the bricks for building Eton College were purchased from Slough’(1) the inclusion of this suggests that Slough, as a working class area, was proud that its bricks built such a prolific school for the upper classes.

Austin talks about the workhouses she and her sister passed on the way to church and recalls that ‘it was sad to see the inmates… standing by the hedge…hoping passers-by would give them tobacco or cigarettes’ (9). She remembers the nationwide sadness felt after the war when soldiers struggled to find work and resorted to selling ‘matches or bootlaces’ (8) in the streets.

Aerial Map of Workhouse (Eton)
Aerial Map of Workhouse (Eton)

 

Austin explains that her father, who was a railway engineer, suffered a serious accident at work which resulted in one of his eyes being removed. The company he worked for offered him one hundred pounds or a job for life, as there was a risk he would struggle to find another job in his condition he took the job. This shows one of the struggles working class people faced due to the lack of ‘protective clothing and goggles, against the risk of accidents’ (16). Her mother was a housewife and all the children helped with the daily tasks.

She also mentions some of her school peers whose parents were ‘never at home… their mother was fit for nothing’ (29) but despite this all the children ‘obtained good positions when they left school’ (29), but Austin does not make a direct link with class.

Austin’s first job was in an office where she earned ’37 and a half pence’(33) a week. Once she had completed a trial period this was raised to 50 pence a week.  Throughout her memoir Austin has a neutral attitude to work, it is seen as something that must be done which links to working class lifestyle.

Austin, Violet, ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:22

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