Winifred Till: Life and Labour

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Winifred’s memoir focuses specifically on her childhood and there is not much information available to its reader about Winifred’s adult life. Winifred does on occasion however give small bits of information about her adult life such as her job, and the fact that she marries and starts a family. Winifred goes into a fair amount of detail about her parents and their work during the memoir: ‘my father worked a 54 hour week five and a half days per week. He started at six A.M and finished at 5.30 P.M Monday to Friday and from 6 till 12 on Saturday’ (p21). Winifred’s father worked long and hard hours leaving him little time for leisure. Winifred describes some of her father’s rare leisure time being spent with her on outings into London to see the sights and old architecture. Winifred’s mother is a great and industrious house wife and Winifred describes her ability in the home as very skilled. Most of Winifred’s mother’s skills in the home were learnt through her years as a domestic servant.

A Victorian train and locomotive workers. A train much like the ones Winifred's father would have worked on.
A Victorian train and locomotive workers. A train much like the ones Winifred’s father would have worked on.

Winifred reflects on her childhood with a knowing sense of class status in her memoir, as she describes her school as a very good one and her parents as both hardworking and independent. Winifred’s identification of her parents as hardworking and independent indicate that Winifred, despite being from a working class background, considered her family respectable, and of a higher class than other families in the working class. This factor is especially highlighted by Winifred’s awareness of other families amongst the working classes and their vices: ‘There was a fair amount of drunkenness amongst the working class’ (p17). Winifred highlights on a few occasions families she knew who had suffered at the hands of drunkenness, such as her aunt Emma whose husband was a ‘drunken brute’(p17) whose drunkenness and lack of interest in his livelihood caused him to become a ‘down and out’ (P17). Robert Roberts discusses this same sense of differing status amongst the working class in his book The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter if the Century: ‘Inside the working class as a whole, there existed, I believe, a stratified form of society whose implications and consequences have hardly yet been fully explored’.  Roberts highlights a ‘stratified society’ amongst the working class that very much centred on respectability and traits such as how hardworking people were, much like how Winifred compares her family to others in the working class.

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A typical working class housewife
Despite Winifred being very proud of her mother’s abilities as a house wife, she does feel the need to justify her mother’s occupation being that of a housewife: ‘It must seem surprising that at a period when wages were very low so few women worked outside the home. I think the reason was two fold. Firstly it was an understood thing that when a woman married she also gave up her own interests and devoted the rest of her life to the management of the home’ (p22). Winifred highlights how during the early Edwardian/late-Victorian period it was very much an accepted convention in society that women devoted their lives to their families. Winifred might have felt the need to highlight this in her memoir as she is writing it during the 1970s, a very different time to that of her childhood years. During the 1970s second wave feminism had resurfaced in British culture and had a resurgence, which may be one factor which caused Winifred to feel she had to justify her mother’s occupation in her memoir, as women being defined to the domestic space was a main issue in feminist criticism.

Winifred talks very little of her own occupation during her life time and only on one occasion does she allude to her profession: ‘The emancipation of women made very little progress until the first World War, when women were able to prove that they could fill and succeed at jobs hitherto exclusive to men. I myself took over a male clerk’s job with a large building merchant’ (p24).  The First World War gave Winifred an opportunity to work in a job that was not a manual or an unskilled labour position, and was a position only previously available to men. Winifred’s job highlights the changes taking place during the 20th century in comparison to previous generations such as her mother’s, as women such as Winifred had more work opportunities available to her. However not all working class girls were as fortunate as Winifred, looking at memoirs such as Ellen Gill’s highlights this. Ellen who lived during the same period as Winifred, throughout her life could only get hard working factory jobs with very long hours. Even the war only brought Ellen the prospect of voluntary work for the Women’s Voluntary Service.

Bibliography:

Roberts, Robert. The Classic Slum: Salford Life In the First Quarter of the Century. London: Penguin books, 1990.

2-0763- TillW. ‘The Early Years of a Victorian Grandmother’, TS, pp.39(c.13,000 words). Brunel University Library

www.writinglives.org/ellen-gill/ellen-gill-b-1888-1988-war-memory

Images:

http://www.rrmuseumpa.org/about/rrpeopleandsociety/women2.shtml

http://activehistory.ca/2012/07/2012-london-olympic-park-through-time/

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