Margaret Watson b.1907: An Introduction

“In spite of my many hard times I would not have my life any other way.”

Margaret Watson was born in 1907 in the Scottish town of Paisley, just outside of the bustling city of Glasgow. In her 15,000 word untitled memoir, Margaret recalls how she spent much of her childhood back and forth between Paisley, where her grandmother lived, and Glasgow with her father. Tragically, Margaret faced the loss of her mother from a young age, as she was only 5 years old when she died. My first impressions of Margaret upon reading her memoir are that of great admiration, as she discusses the hardships of her childhood strongly and bravely. Sadly, from the first page we learn that the death of her mother meant that her father, a worker at a nearby power station, had to take care of her and her brother Chic by himself.

Margaret remembers life with her father after her mother’s death, saying “we were locked in, but during the night I heard him come in, to look upon us, see we were alright, depart ever so silently; I pretended to be asleep’. (p.1) This recollection of her father checking in on her and her sibling after coming in from work after his nightshift shows the struggles that he faced in both having to provide for his children and also care for them alone. I felt this to be an interesting and touching moment in Margaret’s memoir, as it’s clear her father was struggling to make ends meet as a single father, but his care for the two children is blatant. In general, Margaret’s life with her father in Glasgow was poverty stricken, and in her memoir, she discusses in depth the hardships of growing up in this environment.

Interestingly, Margaret’s memoir is not a straight forward working-class story, as her grandmother soon decides that it would be best for her and Chic to come back to Paisley and live with her there. Margaret’s grandmother was a middle-class woman who provided Margaret with quite the change of lifestyle, as she recalls her and her brother were to be ‘taught to live like respectable citizens, not like heathens.’ (p.1). It is this aspect of Margaret’s life that I found so unique when reading her memoir, as she experiences a sort of ‘rags to riches’ transition, and she writes in great detail how she copes with these changes when growing up.

One of the things I find most thought-provoking about Margaret’s memoir, is the difference between her two different lives and therefore two different classes. Her life in Glasgow with her father is drastically different to that of her life in Paisley with her grandmother. Although it’s easy to say her Grandma gave her and her brother a ‘better life’, Margaret initially expresses conflicted feelings towards the middle-class lifestyle. There are obvious changes she welcomes, however, such as the use of a working toilet in Paisley, where she says “we had never had such before. At ann St. we shared one W.C with four other families, often pee running out under the door.” (p.2).

 In contrast to her positivity here, she expresses disdain at her new school, claiming she hated it, as she ‘was not very clever, this owing to have done a lot of plunking at Cowcaddens school.” (p.3). Admitting to skipping school back in Glasgow is reflective of her old working-class lifestyle, however she would not be able to do this in her new private school. As well as this, she complains of her discomfort in her school uniform, saying the hat made her scratch and the string was tied too tightly around her head. Her feelings of unease in her uniform are generally reflective of her feelings towards the school and her new life on the whole; she feels out of place at such a ‘posh’ school because she was not raised ‘posh’. Understandably, she is not used to the lifestyle that her grandmother has presented her with.

Overall, I believe Margaret’s memoir is an important insight into the lives of working-class girls in Scotland during the early 20th century. She has written this account of her life in order to shed light upon the hardships that she and many other working-class people had to face during this period, including the poor conditions that so many lived in. I have chosen to write about Margaret not only because of this, but because of her unique experiences as a middle-class girl too. I believe her account of life with her grandmother gives us an interesting comparison between working and middle-class life in the 20th century. To me, her memoir is not only an insight into the hardships of her life, but also a commendation of the working class, as fittingly she says at the end of her memoir In spite of my many hard times I would not have my life any other way.”  (p.39)

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Watson, M. Untitled, T S, pp.39, Brunel University Library.

Secondary Sources

Abrams, L (2010) A History of Everyday Life in Twentieth Century Scotland, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh

Cleland, J (2009) The Rise and Progress of the City of Glasgow, Read Books

Devine, M (1996), Scotland in the twentieth century, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh

Kirk, J (2009) The British Working Class in the Twentieth Century, University of Wales Press, Cardiff

Paterson, L (2003) Scottish Education in the Twentieth Century, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh

Zweiniger-Bargielowska, I (2014) Women in Twentieth Century Britain, Routledge

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