Wilfred Middlebrook (b.1899): Purpose and Audience

There are numerous reasons as to why autobiographies have been written in the past and remain a key source of interest, and study. Autobiographies can offer an insight into historical moments; social, cultural and political practises of the time and highlight the progression made from then, to the contemporary, modern world now. However, despite all being prevalent in Wilfred’s memoir, none of these reasons stand as the ultimate explanation behind his work.

Instead, Wilfred’s purpose was his family. His memoir was completely hand-typed and Wilfred produced copies for each of his children. Alongside his memoir, Wilfred also researched both his and his wife’s family history–corresponding with many living relatives in the process–and this was presented as an additional volume to ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ in his children’s copies. Wilfred’s memoir was very much something to be treasured by his family, and to be passed down along the generations. This passion for family history transcended through Wilfred’s family line and inspired his grandson, Ian, to continue researching the family history back in time–even, creating his own website.

This love of family is a motif that runs throughout all of Wilfred’s memoir. He begins his memoir by introducing his father and then his mother, after– dedicating a chapter to both of their childhoods and upbringing, each. This illustrates the close relationship he had with his parents and how highly he thought of them. In the second part of his memoir, Wilfred discusses his own children and we see this close relationship transfer between them. For me, this indicates that family was of upmost importance to Wilfred and he strived to have strong, meaningful relationships.

Additionally, Wilfred had a love for writing. Prior to ‘Trumpet Voluntary’, Wilfred had written many articles and monographs about work, looming, textiles. In the second part of his memoir, Wilfred reflects on his first monograph: ‘I had taken the first steps in a project that had been on my mind… I had decided to write a short booklet on the tuning of looms, with the idea that the firm might publish it’ (p.101). Wilfred’s technical monographs are listed in the British Library catalogue and this demonstrates another purpose behind his memoir. Wilfred was an intellectual man who possessed a great skill and passion for writing. His memoir gave him the opportunity to combine two loves of his– writing and family– together, and leave something behind that would transcend through time.

Power loom weaving

In her work titled Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender, Gagnier notes that ‘in conditions of long work hours, crowded housing, and inadequate light’ (1987, p.338) it was difficult enough for working-class autobiographers to contemplate themselves, but they also had to ‘justify themselves as writers worthy of the attention of others’ (1987, p.338). Thus, Gagnier continues, ‘most working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness, encoded in titles like One of the Multitude (1911) by George Acorn’ (1987, p.338). In contrast to this view, Wilfred starts his memoir in chronological order– beginning with his mother and father, before delving into his own young life from a baby. Perhaps his first-hand experiences with writing made him much more confident, whilst he recounted his life and created his memoir.

Wilfred in his retirement years

Wilfred wrote his memoir, during his retirement years. Perhaps then, this is another purpose for Wilfred’s writing. The memoir gave him something to be occupied by, and abide his time with. Throughout Wilfred’s memoir, we read of his work; his labour; his time during the war and this brings us to the realisation that he lived a rather busy, bustling life that never seemed to stop. I would think during his retirement years, Wilfred would of preferred to take advantage and relax, revelling in the prospect of having a break. However, maybe after such a bustling life, Wilfred missed having his time taken up and writing his memoir gave him an opportunity to relive this.

As Rogers and Cuming note in their work titled ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, a large majority of the ‘Burnett autobiographers were writing in older age’ which renders the ‘broader theoretical insight that life-writing is intimately connected to the body and the passing of time’ (2019, p.185).

Wilfred looks back on his life with a sense of fondness, holding a calm, unvarnished and, at times, comic outlook. Wilfred never complains of any struggles, only speaking of himself and his experiences in a blissful, simple manner. His memoir was written retrospectively, so perhaps there is room to suggest the more harsh or bleak realities of the working-class have been lessened over time to Wilfred. Nevertheless, Wilfred’s memoir is an intriguing, wonderful read that has offered an insight into life during the 1900s and has spoken to the simple pleasures of life that we should all appreciate.

Bibliography

Cuming, Emily and Helen Rogers, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Journal of Family and Community History (2019)

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Middlebrook, Wilfred. ‘Trumpet Voluntary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:0527

Images

[1] Power Loom Weaving [online] Accessed 25.04.21. Available: https://medium.com/@larissafschiavo/industrial-revolution-66aee1b2cc2d

[2] Wilfred during his retirement ages. Accessed 23.04.21

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