In her memoir, Margaret Watson talks in great depth about her home and family life. From the offset, it becomes clear that these particular themes are prominent in her life story, and therefore had a great impact on the course of her life.
At the beginning of her memoir, Margaret reveals that her mother died whilst she was only five years old, leaving her already relatively small family even smaller. Margaret’s family consisted of herself, her brother Chic, and her parents. There was only about a year separating Chic and Margaret, which likely meant they were very close. Margaret says that “After I had finished school, Chick and I would spend our time playing in the dirty back court. This was the yard where no one had dustbins and garbage and litter lay all around” (p.1) This shows that Chic and she had a good relationship being the only two children of the family and spent a lot of their time playing even in the poor housing conditions they were stuck with. During the early 20th century, having only two children was uncommon, as families often decided to have several children due to the high infant mortality rates at the time, especially those living in poor housing conditions such as the Glasgow tenement home the Watson family lived in.
When her mother died, Margaret writes that she and Chic did not really miss her due to their young ages. “We were too little to miss our mother, as she was always ailing, this resulting in her having had to be often in hospital.” (p.1). This reflection shows that perhaps the death of their mother was not a surprise to the family, as her spending large amounts of time in the hospital shows that she must have suffered with frequent ill health. Her mother’s unfortunate frequent visits to the hospital could be a possible explanation for why Margaret did not have anymore siblings. After her death, Margaret and her brother were looked after by her father, who worked at a local power station. Her father probably struggled a great deal during this time, as he had to provide for his children by working, but also care for his children alone. Margaret reflects on this time, saying “At night we were put to bed by my father. He then left to go on night shift duty at a nearby Power Station. We were locked in, but during the night I heard him come in, to look upon us, see we were alright” (p.1) Her father would lock Margaret and Chic in at night to keep them safe, but would check on them when he was back from work. Although Margaret discusses the relentless efforts her father went to whilst juggling his responsibilities to his children and to work, her Aunt Maggie decided it would be better for the children to move back to Paisley to live with Margaret’s middle-class grandmother, where they were taught to “live like respectable citizens, not like heathens.” (p.1).
The class differences within Margaret’s family are extremely interesting, as when she and her brother moved to Paisley, they were thrust into a different way of living. Sadly, Margaret and Chic were separated during the move, as she went to live with her granny, whereas Chic stayed with their Aunt Maggie. Margaret comments that she considered herself “the most fortunate of the two in this choice” (p.1) due to the luxurious home that her grandmother kept, yet it will have been quite a transition for her to live apart from her brother that she was so close to. Chic seemingly adapted well to his new life, and Margaret developed a close bond with her grandmother, who became the female role model figure that Margaret lacked due to the loss of her mother.
This loving relationship Margaret had with her grandmother was interrupted when her father remarried when she was nine years old. He married a woman named Lizzie, who changed the dynamic of Margaret’s family a lot, as she was sadly brought back to Glasgow and separated from her granny. Her father was called up as a reserve in the army, so she and Chic were left alone in Lizzie’s care. Lizzie was not a nice woman, and Margaret says “our new stepmother was hated, drank a lot” (p.5) and goes on to talk of Lizzie and her father’s relationship, saying “blows were exchanged on either side” (p.5) which alludes to the relationship being an abusive one, which will have been traumatic to live with as a child. Neighbours of the children often gave Margaret and her brother food or money to help them get by, and eventually, whilst living alone with Lizzie, a neighbour contacted the ‘Cruelty to Children Inspector’ and they were then sent off to a Children’s Home, which Margaret surprisingly has fond memories of. I will discuss this further in the second part of this blog post.
Overall, throughout Margaret’s life her family and home life were unsettled, but often through her hardest struggles her working class neighbours prevailed, and helped her and her brother get by, acting as a makeshift family themselves. In her adult life, Margaret teaches her children the importance of family and the working community, and she provides for them through her several jobs. I believe her difficult upbringing cemented Margaret’s desire to give her own children a good life.
Watson, M. Untitled, T S, pp.39, Brunel University Library.
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