John Edmonds (1911-1984): Researching Writing Lives

Writing my author blog on John Edmonds has been an informative and unique experience. Before beginning the project, I had some experience blogging, but in a completely different sphere. My other blog was based upon sexism in the music industry, and therefore was more entertainment-based. My author blog, however, taught discipline in adhering to restrictions on content and style. By catering to a completely different audience, I feel as though Writing Lives has enhanced my ability to write for different kinds of people. I now have a more comprehensive and holistic ability to be selective in certain situations when writing. I would ideally like a job in which I can write in some capacity. This blog has both afforded me evidence of my work as well as inspiration to continue writing in a world wherein digital media and communication is becoming increasingly eminent.

St. Katherine’s Church, 1920s.

Researching John’s life has been thoroughly enjoyable. That he was just a normal lad from a working-class area without any acclaim in part mirrors my own upbringing. What stood out to me about John was the relative simplicity of his life. Other autobiographers’ lives were full of the trauma of war, a job they loved, or consumed by a passion for politics. I thought that it would be interesting and rewarding to take John’s ordinary life and give it the same treatment as heroes of war and mini-political icons. My first job, back in January 2018, was to transcribe John’s memoir. Despite being longer than recommended for a transcription, I really wanted to be able to digitise ‘The Lean Years’ so that others could hear John’s voice directly. The fantastic audience that this has generated has proven that this was worth the effort. I have been really pleased with the amount of people that have been in contact to thank me for my work and to discuss John’s memoir. Whilst conducting my research, I learned how to be precise and selective. I feel as though the discipline of researching one man developed my research skills exponentially and assisted in the research of my dissertation that I wrote alongside the blog. Working with figures in the charts, graphs, and census records for posts such as Life and Labour (Part Two) has increased my confidence in using sources that I was previously unfamiliar with. Whilst not feeling particularly adept with numbers before the blog, I feel much more at ease with them now and feel that I can use them to illustrate my point.

Tooley Street, London Bridge Train Station near Borough and Bermondsey with Hay’s Wharf, 1930s

I think that one of the main things about the project for me has been the championing of working-class people. Writing Lives is fantastic, in that it gives these autobiographies the care and attention they deserve. John’s memoir went unpublished, and despite my constant asking of people living in Bermondsey, there is absolutely zero knowledge of him and his life that I could find before writing my blog. Therefore, it has been great to be the vehicle to get John’s voice out to a wider audience. I feel as though I have contributed to public history with my blog. I am receiving many messages by people who are fascinated by John’s life and the importance of him as a figure in the local area. By giving John the platform to allow his words to endear and excite fills me with pride. That his story has been taken up with such fervour by local historians is very encouraging.

The handwritten front page of John’s memoir, ‘The Lean Years’, 1970.

Whilst John is clear that times were tough growing up, he holds a natural affinity with Bermondsey, and the streets of SE16 are alive in his every word. His evocative descriptions of places and people mirror the humble excitement of South East London street life in a time when hope was fleeting. It has felt extremely rewarding to be able to pass on John’s story to the people of Bermondsey. I have been posting my work in many local history Facebook groups, and it has received quite a buzz. That John’s life is once again resonating in the place that was so integral to his good character feels right. People who were born just a door or two down from him on Eugenia Road are now also reading and loving his tales of the place they grew up in. The interest from local people has been excellent, and I think a true testament to John’s ability to render Bermondsey as a living, breathing entity in his wistful prose. The local paper, Southwark News, have run a story on John and my blog, and I’ve been very grateful to Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Twitter accounts for sharing my work to increase circulation of John’s memoir to the people he would be most pleased to have read it.

The social media aspect of the project has been great for sharing my work. That it is such an interactive platform has allowed the project to feel more personal, rather than just uploading a blog post and hoping someone reads it. Instead, I have cultivated good relationships with users on both Facebook and Twitter, and the support of these people has been phenomenal. Twitter has been particularly fantastic for reading the work of other bloggers Writing Lives bloggers. Being able to open your phone and have such a wealth of fantastic posts from such talented people is amazing and has certainly enhanced my experience of the project.

The skills that I have learned in writing this blog are invaluable and are sure to put me in good stead for subsequent projects. I’d like to thank my fantastic followers on Twitter for their support, the friends made on Facebook for allowing John’s story to be heard, the other amazing Writing Lives writers for inspiring me with their exquisite work, and Helen Rogers for always being so supportive, kind, friendly, and overwhelmingly helpful. A final massive thank you to everyone who has read my blog – it has been a pleasure.

 

Bibliography

2.237 EDMONDS, John, ‘The Lean Years’, MS, pp.89 + 3pp. list of illustrations (c.18,000 words). BruneI University Library. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9517

 

Images

St. Katherine’s Church – Postcard sent to me by William Stew

The handwritten front page – 2.237 EDMONDS, John, ‘The Lean Years’, MS, pp.89 + 3pp. list of illustrations (c.18,000 words). BruneI University Library. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9517

Tooley Street, London Bridge Train Station – https://www.pinterest.co.uk

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