The subject of reading and writing is not a particularly prominent one in C.V. Horner’s memoir. Both the very beginning and end, however, there is mention of his writing—as referenced in my Purpose and Audience blog—although this is merely to address the process of writing his memoir. Instead, he chooses to focus on memories that relate to his father, gamekeeping, or his war services, as well as other topics. Despite claiming to enjoy his time at school and considering himself a ‘good scholar’, (14) Horner makes no reference to the development of his reading and writing during his school days, which is perhaps down to the tediousness he felt and the fact that his activities outside of school ‘came to mind more readily.’ (15)
In the winter evenings, Horner recalls the numerous family festivities that would prevent the season from seeming ‘long, cold and un-ending’. (24) One of which featured the “Old Clock Almanack”, which was written in Yorkshire dialect and would be read as such. Horner writes: [a]s I was one of the eldest of the family, I spent many hours reading aloud to my younger half-brothers and sisters […] there were many humorous stories at which we all had a good laugh.’ (24)
During the time in which Horner had his first job, he remembers being a member of West Witton’s village “Reading Room Club”, ‘somewhat a small library in that it housed books, a few magazines, [and] a daily paper’. (31) A daily morning errand for Horner involved travelling to the village for milk and cream for his employers, so he would take this opportunity to go to the Reading Room and read the daily paper for a short time. In a rather general comment from Jonathan Rose, he states: ‘remarkable is the lack of knowledge of current affairs, even in a century when the daily newspaper habit became universal’. (Rose, 2010, 220) Although Rose may have observed this in a number of cases, it is incorrect to assume that the working-class as a whole had no knowledge of contemporary events; although Horner does not mention his purpose for reading the daily paper, it would not be implausible for him to have at least some knowledge of the events at that time.
Some years after the end of the First World War, Horner recalls writing letters to a friend of his—referred to as Mr. Colling—with the purpose of updating him on North Country news. In his typical, jovial fashion, Horner remembers one such response he received from Mr. Colling: ‘[o]nce when I had not put pen to paper for some time, I received a postcard in his hand writing simply saying “Have you no b—– ink”?!’ (64) Though he is clearly able to write, Horner evidently chose not to do so on a regular basis, instead focusing his efforts on the things more important to him.
When detailing his experiences of the Second World War, there is another mention of a local paper, yet Horner—again—does not add a name to this paper, leading to speculation about whether this is the same paper he used to read in West Witton’s Reading Room Club. In this instance, Horner recalls an article he read during an extremely harsh winter, in which a butcher from West Scrafton was unable to reach the village due to heavy snow. He adds that the village was ‘often jokingly referred to locally as “The Holy City” as it had two chapels but no public house.’ (99)
To bookend this particular blog, the subject of reading and writing only receives a passing mention throughout the memoir. When the subject is addressed, it is only done so within a sentence or two in order to add depth to a greater topic, such as grouse-shooting or the array of colourful characters he encounters. In regards to the memoir itself: while Horner claims by the end that he has ultimately enjoyed writing it, saying it will have been ‘worthwhile’ (241) if his readers have enjoyed it, he does admit at the beginning that ‘Ups and Downs’ only came to be after being persuaded to pen it.
- Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.
- Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. 2002. London: Yale University Press, 2010.
Featured Image: Hope Cottage (Sykes Cottages).