Marriage is an important aspect of Mountford’s memoir, with his deep affection for his wife Dora taking a forefront in early chapters. He met Dora early in life and has been a lifelong, reliable companion all the way through to the present. After the chapters regarding growing up and schooling, the third chapter, named ‘Dora’ describes how he became great friends with her during his time in the male voice choir, where she accompanied him playing the piano and singing duets. He talks about the fond memories of performing together with the choir, and how they quickly arranged to be married. Their marriage plans, however, were impacted by poverty:
“We made our plans and arrangements for the big day, 26th September 1931, but the week previous I was thrown out of work. […] Married life on the dole! What a way to begin a new life!”
Mountford tells of how the next couple of years were difficult, with only earning 25 shillings a week (with the rent being 15 shillings) and having a child newly born into their refreshed state of poverty. Although he puts emphasis on the difficulty of living with poverty at the time, he reiterates that together he and Dora always overcame every obstacle that came their way:
“Dora and myself worked hard to make all things bright and beautiful and to give our boys anything in our power that would make them into good and honest men and to face life whatever it may be”
If the memoir were fiction, ‘poverty’ would certainly be the antagonist, and their marriage would be the protagonist. The way in which we hear of no discrepancies in the marriage suggests that their relationship was legitimately strong, as we can see through the poverty theme that Mountford is not shy on sharing his troubles in the text. They manage to overcome every obstacle thrown their way, and they rely on each other and stick by one another until the end.
The memoir has many “old school” lessons about hard-work, labour, and I think his emphasis on marriage is one of them as he shows young reader’s a true love-story that had to endure through poverty, war, and other strenuous circumstances to survive. Andrew Davies discusses the masculine role in poverty, and how ‘pub-culture’ was an essential activity for masculine identity in his book Leisure, Gender and Poverty (1992): “Others spent heavily on leisure at the expense of the family budget, even if this meant that their wives and children were left short of money for food and clothing” (30-31). With this in mind, it is clear that Mountford never felt any need to identity with that specific masculine pub-culture, while the sole purpose of every hour worked was to supply for his wife and children and be a good husband and father.
Unfortunately, the recession is a recurring factor throughout Mountford’s life, and he is yet again out of work at the age of sixty-four. There was still a long way to go until his pension was due, and he testified that work was still as scarce to come by, especially at an age when your work options were restricted: “But now no one wanted old men” (26). He did however find a part-time job at an amusement arcade, looking after and repairing the machines until he reached age 68: “The time had come when I had to say, enough is enough. Everything was a trouble. I was tired and worn out. Very reluctantly I had at last to give in. After all, I was 68, and in my latter years at work tried to make some provision for this time of my life” (27). He goes on to talk about how he then sold his car and began taking the coach when travelling long-distances, as this was a care-free way to live, and the burden of driving and worrying was something he was happy to relinquish. After this, he talks about how he happily embraced his membership of the ‘”Old Aged Pensioners Retired Society” (27), and that he has a home worked and paid for, money in the bank, a family and a wife. It seems that with the tone throughout the memoir focusing on his poverty and troubles, it is old-age that has granted him happiness; as if everything he has worked for has led to this moment, where after moving house a number of times and being out of work, he finally has a home and disposable income, with the knowledge that his children had made it and started their own journeys through his guidance.
Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.
Davies, Andrew. ‘Leisure, Gender, and Poverty’ in Working class culture in Salford and Manchester, 1900-1939. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992.