Margaret Watson (b.1907) Habits, Culture and Belief

As Margaret’s memoir mainly discusses the importance of her work and family life, the cultural activities she remembers engaging in are almost mentioned in passing. With her husband frequently working away from home, Margaret recalls how raising her two children single-handedly whilst earning a wage herself left her with little time for leisure.

However, before she was faced with  the responsibilities associated with being a wife and a mother, Margaret remembers how as a teenager, she loved to go dancing at the local dance hall; “My girlfriend and I went once a week  to the dancing at the Dennistoun Palais [sic]. Of course, decked up, loads of “Evening in Paris” perfume, or “Californian Poppy”; we were all set to conquer” (p.16). It was when Margaret acquired a job as a waitress in a local Hostelry that her nights of dancing had to come to an end; “They required kitchen help from seven until ten in the evening… but there was one draw back, it put an end to our Palais [sic] dancing evenings or rather to mine… My friend Betty still went with another girl” (p.17). During the twentieth century it was not uncommon for working class men and women to compromise leisure in order to earn a wage. As their lives were dominated by work, it often left little time for recreational activities.

The Dennistoun Palais in 1938, where Margaret attended weekly dances. It was the biggest dance hall in Glasgow, with a capacity of 1,800.

The rise of the Workers’ Sport Movement during the first part of the twentieth century helped provide a solution to this problem. In order to keep moral high among working class men and women, factories and groups of workers established singing groups and sports teams. Margaret herself expresses her love of being part of the hockey squad when working at Templeton’s Carpet Factory as a teenager; “Our works had a Hockey Team; I joined, learned fast, was promoted to Goalkeeper because I was tall. Saturday afternoons we went to practice, or to play a home match against another team… It was a joy to go there, I was so proud of my big goalie pads and hockey stick” (p.13). Here, we can see how being part of a sports team not only provided workers like Margaret with a relief from the dull, repetitiveness of factory life, but also the opportunity to develop a sense of personal-pride and accomplishment missing at work.

One of Margaret’s earliest memories that she recalls in her memoir is how she and her younger brother, Chick, as children would “spend our time playing in the dirty back court”, and as “no one had dustbins”, they would often play with “the garbage and litter [that] lay all around” (p.1). According to David Levine, these are not unusual actions of a working class child growing up in the early twentieth century. Levine believes that as their parents were not able to afford toys for their children to play with, children of lower classes “required little beyond improvised equipment and a good deal of imagination” to occupy their time (Levine, 201). With Levine’s statement in mind, I think it is interesting to consider Margaret and Chick’s actions when they are “given a mouth organ” (p.9) by their father to play with; “Down to the back court [Chick] went. . I opened the staircase window and threw down halfpennies. Chick stopped playing, picked up the halfpennies and said “Thank you”… A few seconds later, a few coppers came down, that was the last of that little game” (p.9). Instead of simply playing the mouth organ, Margaret and her brother use it – and their imaginations – to engage in a role-playing game where Chick is a street performer, and Margaret is an impressed onlooker. It seems that even when they are given material objects to play with, Margaret and Chick are so used to having to improvise with their surroundings and imaginations, that playing together without doing so would feel unnatural.

mouth organ
December 1929: A group of children playing Christmas Carols with mouth organs in Southwark, London.

Once a wife and mother, Margaret’s discussion of her recreational activities in her memoir are almost always in reference to time she would spend with her own children; “I did not work on Saturdays, that was my big washday… Then cinema at night with the children… a special treat for them” (p.30). It is no surprise that Margaret remembers these weekly trips to the cinema as the cause for bringing her children great enjoyment, as during the early twentieth century, cinema-going was extremely popular amongst the working classes. Tickets were cheap and easily accessible, allowing even the unemployed to visit regularly and relish in an escape from the tediousness of everyday life. Discussing the escapism that cinema-going offered to the working classes, Jeffery Richards writes that,  “In palatial, sumptuously appointed buildings, they could for no more than a few coppers purchase ready-made dreams” (Richards, 1).

Also, the rise of railway networks across Britain and Scotland during the early 1900s made it possible for working class people, like Margaret, to get out of their manufacturing towns and into countryside and seaside resorts. Margaret recalls how one of her fondest memories is of “the summer I decided to take my family on holiday… I rented a little chalet at Strone in Argyleshire [sic]” (p.26). Whist turbulence and danger surrounded Glasgow, Margaret describes how for a brief time during the Second World War, “this holiday gave us a much needed change of atmosphere… The weather was lovely and the children did benefit. I shall always remember the simple but oh so happy times we had at Strone. War seemed non-existent” (p.26).

Argyllshire
Argyllshire in 1945, where Margaret took her children on holiday during the Second World War.

It is perhaps a result of the happy memories Margaret had of being at the seaside with her children that prompted her to move away from Glasgow towards the end of her life, to “the North of Scotland… to the peace and quiet of [a] little village by the Sea” (p.37). It is in her description of her home there that we receive the only indication throughout her memoir that Margaret is religious; “[Here] I have very dear friends and neighbours who help me in countless ways. We have not a palatial residence but it is my home… The pleasure of being able to walk on our stony beach, to look at the ever changing sea and to thank God” (p.39).


 

Burnett, John. Mayall, David and Vincent, David (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1897) Vol: 2 No: 802.

Levine, David. Reproducing Families: The Political Economy of English Population History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. pp.201

Richards, Jeffrey. The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain 1930-1939. Routledge. London, 1984.

Image References:

The Dennistoun Palais in 1939. (Accessed on 30/12/2014)

Mouth Organists in 1929. (Accessed on 30/12/2014)

Argyllshire in 1945. (Accessed on 29/12/2014)

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