Purpose and Audience: Harold Heslop, 1898-1983.

Harold Heslop’s autobiography offers a detailed account of his life as the child of a miner, his own experience of working in the mines, his later interests in Marxism and his time working in London with an extended trip to Russia during the interwar years.

A Fraternity of Men Who Sought their Livings Beneath the Fields.

Heslop identifies himself as being ‘a member of the fraternity of men who sought their livings beneath the fields’[1] and his memoir serves as a representation of the people and the cultural conditions of which he was a part. And yet at the same time Heslop stands outside of it as his testimony bears witness to the working and living conditions of the proletariat at the beginning of the twentieth century. Heslop assumes the authority to write a working-class history, ultimately resulting in a political representation that cannot be confused with a personal account.[2] The inability to separate his political view point is evident in the tone of Heslop’s autobiography. For Heslop’s class-consciousness is such that his memoir separates him from the working-class author who wishes to record a history of working-class life and instead defines him as a proletarian writer who is making a political statement. For examples of working-class men who wrote in order to create a historical account of their lives, it is useful to look at Richard Morris’s memoirs. Morris was also a coal miner from the North East of England and was commissioned to write his memoirs by the Beamish Museum. His memoir avoids being overtly political and yet provides a detailed account of life underground.

Leningrad: Heslop has a lengthy stay in Russia.

It is because of the tone of the first half of Heslop’s memoir that I am led to consider he began writing earlier than 1971 – the year he hints at towards the end of the autobiography — as the memoir, can be described as structured in two halves. The detail which Heslop goes into in the first half portrays ‘the miner and the mining community as representing the industrial working-class’[3] and is highly political in its tone, whilst the second half is rather more reflective. And whilst it does reveal Heslop’s interest in Marxist theory and his political leanings, it does so without any significant details.

Heslop discovers Marxism: William Craik, lecturer at Central Labour College.

There are many pages missing from the memoir and it is impossible to say definitively why this might be. Still, it is, in my opinion, not only the details that Heslop chooses to include, but also those that have been omitted, which lead me to consider that Heslop was preparing his memoir for publication, and was writing with a public audience in mind.

Clues may be gleaned from the pages that remain as to what has been omitted from the memoir, and these appear to be those of a more personal nature. For example, Heslop begins to reminisce about his Grandmother Heslop towards the end of p26, but the following two pages 27/8 are missing and his shared memories are concluded on p29 with a few closing paragraphs. This is a recurring theme throughout the memoir as the pages where Heslop appears to go into detail about his family life are removed. Indeed, despite there being some 292 pages of manuscript there is very little detail about personal family life and virtually nothing at all about his marriage and children. Instead Heslop describes a collective experience of ‘mining folk [who] exist in…primitive conditions [as] life was shaved to the bone’ (4). In blunt terms he describes the vulnerability of the mining family: ‘A female child was a misfortune…until old enough to go out to place [while] the family lived entirely on the earnings of the father,…until the lads were able to go into the pit.’ (4). Through these descriptions, we can understand how, for Heslop, a collective representation of working-class life was paramount in his writing. For Heslop, the miner represented the capitalist production system that he came to loath.

Works Cited

Bell, David. Ardent Propaganda: Miners Novels and Class Conflict, 1929-1939. Uppsala: Umea University Printing Office, 1995.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies. 30:3 (Spring, 1987). 335-363.

‘Harold Heslop’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 3:0075.

Heslop, Harold. ‘From Tyne to Tone: A Journey’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 3:005, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/11000

Wainright, Lynne. ‘R.W. Morris b. 1895: Purpose and Audience.’ 12th February 2017. Writing Lives. Web Accessed, 20th February 2017.


[1] Heslop, Harold. From Tyne to Tone: A Journey. 136

[2] Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’

Victorian Studies. 30:3 (Spring, 1987). 335-363.

[3] Bell, David. Ardent Propaganda: Miners Novels and Class Conflict, 1929-1939. Uppsala: Umea University Printing Office, 1995.


Image Courtesy of: The Forgotten Conscript.

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