Frank does not divulge his reading habits at any point in his memoir. Frank does reveal, however, that through his work as a journalist and taking a course for his role as stationmaster, he ‘cultivated an interest in newspaper articles and books, most of which [he] had no time for in the past’ (47).
After leaving formal education at the age of fourteen, Frank struggled with his spelling, which was an issue, as he had to pass examinations to advance on the railway. His parents employed an elderly tutor, who Frank resented, to help him with his spelling and writing. Frank writes that ‘my weakest subject was English and spelling… I greatly resisted having an elderly woman as my tutor but with her guidance and certainly some effort on my account I was, at the third attempt just able to satisfy the examiners and was given a temporary position as a Clerical Learner at 5/0d a week’ (18-19).
As mentioned previously, Frank took on a role as a journalist to improve his wage. [See Education and Schooling] Frank admits that it was hard work due to his lack of skills in writing and spelling but received help from several secretaries. Frank writes that ‘this work was without doubt improving my capacity to write and express myself and I found all my senses becoming sharper, seeing and hearing things that up to now appeared unimportant and of no interest to me’ (41). For Frank this role not only improved his literary skills but opened the world around him. Frank writes that ‘my spare time work on the local newspapers had considerably broadened my outlook and the further responsibility of a young family brought home to me the urgent need for financial improvement’ (47). ‘To this end, in 1935, when I was 31 years of age, I completed a correspondence course in mental and physical training’ (47). Frank took this course in order to advance himself on the railway; he needed to pass this course to become a stationmaster. Frank admits that ‘it was not easy to spare the money for the necessary fee, I can say this small outlay repaid me over and over again in the years to come’ (47). Frank was very keen to pass the course and not repeat the mistakes he made during his education ‘and with the daily physical and mental exercises becoming a routine I soon found myself interested in things around me, both at work and at all other times that had previously gone unnoticed’ (47).
The part time role as a journalist along with the course Frank took in 1935 inspired Frank to write a diary. Frank writes that ‘here I decided to commence my daily diary, and it is some satisfaction to me that I have, to this day, maintained a daily record which has been invaluable to me on more than one occasion’ (48). Frank writing his memoir in 1968 looks back on his daily records for 1935. He writes that ‘turning over the pages, memory and my reactions to my daily life at that time comes vividly back to me’ (48). Frank’s life evolved and developed because of his new-found interest in reading and writing. Not only did he develop an interest in aspects of life that previously went unnoticed, but he started writing a daily dairy, that no doubt led him to writing his memoir in 1968. Frank regrets not writing a daily diary sooner as he feels that he let life pass him by and he is not able to look back on his life vividly as he can from 1935 onwards. Also, writing encouraged Frank to become more active and he would carry out daily exercises and evening walks.
View from Box Hill, Surrey
On 24th March 1939 Frank was appointed as a permanent relief clerk at Eastbourne station. Frank writes that with this appointment ‘my financial position improved considerably with this appointment and I decided that the time had come for me to give up my part time newspaper reporting duties as I had not the time now to do justice to the work’ (60).
Writing appears to benefit Frank’s life in several ways, not only did it encourage him to take more notice of his surroundings, but it also inspired him to keep daily diaries which led to the writing of his memoir. This supports Regina Gagnier’s statements that ‘autobiographers insisted upon their own histories, however difficult it was to write them, and they unanimously state that their reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others; to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves’ (Gagnier, 342). Frank’s diaries, and in turn his memoir, are functional. Frank wanted to write his memoir to encourage fellow railway workers and he kept a daily diary to be able to look back at his past experiences.
Gagnier, Regina. ‘Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender’, Victorian Studies, Vol. 30, Issue 3, 1987. 335-363.
‘Frank Prevett’ 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): 2:638.
Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection
Umbo, the Roving Reporter – SmartHistory.org
Box Hill, Surrey – WalkingBritain.co.uk