Susan Silvester (1878-1968): Habits and Beliefs

At the start of the memoir, Susan provides an introduction to life in Minworth in the 1880s. This includes some of the local cultural events that she recalls looking forward to. She states that the main one for her was ‘the Druids’ Club Walk, when the members of the club with a lot of followers used to walk in procession with a banner and a brass band to Curdworth Church’ (5). I gather, from finding nothing on the web other than Susan’s memoir itself referring to this event that it was small, only attended by Minworth residents and most likely discontinued. This also means I unfortunately could not trace the history behind this event. Susan carries on to explain that there was ‘a good deal of drinking on this day’ (5) but that the attraction for her and the other youths was ‘the fair was held on the village green’ with ‘coconut shies, and other stalls’ (5).

Curdworth Church interior, 1920s.

It seems that this event was one of possibly few times in the year where Minworth residents could let loose, so to speak, as later in the memoir Susan sheds light on the social life of the villagers:

‘There was no other kind of social life in the village and very little in the way of  entertainment. There were three public houses, but respectable women didn’t go into them, and heavy drinking was such an obvious evil in those days’ (10).

This highlights the attitudes towards drinking during the late 1800’s, compared with today it would seem that people held more of a stigma against drinking, especially drinking amongst women. Cannadine outlines, ‘Victorians did indeed believe in respectability’ going to explain that in the Victorian era ‘drunkenness was reduced’ (1998, 191). This would imply that drinking was more frowned upon in women as they were expected to be more respectable than men. This demonstrates how cultural values of respectability informed Susan’s leisure, along with her gender. 

It is also interesting to note that Susan described her parents as ‘radical and independent… always politically liberal’, her mother being ‘a keen suffragette’ (10). Although it is unclear whether Susan classed herself as politically liberal although it is most likely as she grew up with parents such as she describes.

Susan also recalls Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, making Susan nine at the time. She remembers fondly how sports were held in a field by an inn, where she won one of the races and ‘a set of table mats with the Queen’s picture on as a prize’ (5). I would argue that these local events brought this small, working-class community closer together; raising the morale of all the hard-workers of Minworth not only by the enjoyment of the events themselves, but also because they were days to look forward to.

Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee procession in Regent Street, London 21 Jun 1887.

Another cultural event that sparked my interest was what Susan referred to as ‘gleaning’ (4). She explains that she used to do this after every corn harvest, but did not explain what it actually entailed. I discovered that gleaning was the process of picking the unharvested crops from farmers’ fields, as it would be unprofitable for the farmers to harvest their fields again for a small amount of crops. This was a customary practice performed by the lower classes, which Hussey writes that ‘as much as one-eighth of a labouring household’s annual earnings in central and southern England could come from this source’ (1997, 62), which highlights the importance of this activity to the working class. This practice was slowly phased out due to more efficient methods of farming, ‘the twentieth century was bringing an end to the ‘traditional’ culture and society of the countryside’ (Hussey, 1997, 61). This event also gives a sense of Susan and her family’s position in society and how they had to make the most of what was available to them, even quite literally, leftovers.

‘Boys Gleaning’ – William Collins, 1847. Credit: The Whitaker.

Susan’s working-class village life entailed cultural activities that were very important for her and her family’s well-being. Local events brought her community together, while agricultural practices were absolutely necessary to keep her and her family fed. It seems as though Susan and her family took pleasure in activities that benefited the village community rather than entertainment that was more exclusive, such as today (like watching TV or playing video games). I gather that everyone in her community needed as much help to get by as possible. So everyone helped each other, for example her mother would mangle clothes ‘for other families who hadn’t got a mangle’, in exchange for ‘a penny a dozen’ (4). 

Bibliography

Cannadine, David. “Morals.” In History in Our Time, 188-96. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1998.

Hussey, Stephen. “‘The Last Survivor of an Ancient Race’: The Changing Face of Essex Gleaning.” The Agricultural History Review 45, no. 1 (1997): 61-72.

Images used:

ourwarwickshire.org.uk

artuk.org

rct.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *