‘The story of a life so quiet as mine would be of little importance except to personal friends, unless it is so written as to illustrate the social changes which I have witnessed, and in which I have to some extent been compelled to play my part. In the narrative which follows it will be my constant aim to write with that end in views.’
Thomas Raymont’s narrative could almost be described as a bildungsroman. From very humble beginnings which included living in poverty, to becoming a well-respected and critically acclaimed author in the field of educational writing, Thomas overcomes class barriers to achieve a great amount of success in both his field of education, and his life as a whole.
Growing up in Tavistock, a traditional copper-mining town in West Devon (The Devonshire Association, 2017), Thomas’ family dealt with the hardships of working-class life at the time with Thomas describing ‘During my childhood, my father carried on his business with ups-and-downs of fair prosperity and dire poverty, and I cannot recall with any pleasure the lot which fell heavily on my mother – how to feed and clothe us children.’ (pp.3) Thomas’ father worked as a farrier, a smith who shoes horses, explaining that his father was of ‘the great disadvantage that he had never been to school.’ (pp.2) The pain and anguish that Thomas witnessed in his formative years in the shape of his parents, dealing with the untimely and premature deaths of his siblings could go a long way to explaining why Thomas felt the need to continue his studies and become a teacher, avoiding unreliable and poorly paid manual work. The strain that was put upon his father, whose duty it was seen to provide for the family, and his mother, who was morally responsible for the welfare of the children, potentially scarred Thomas for life and went a long way to ensuring Thomas did not waste his time in education.
Thomas describes his life as a teacher in London’s Cowper Street Middle Class School as him being ‘happy in my work, though with poor financial prospects.’ (pp.14) Even being in the fortunate position of being a man of education and knowledge, although happy Thomas was not financially secure until his appointment as Master of Method and later a Lecturer in Education at ‘one of the new Day Training Colleges’ (pp.14) in Cardiff. Despite his achievement, it took Thomas until his mid-twenties to get to a stage of financial prosperity and Thomas describes this opportunity as ‘the real beginning of my professional career.’ (pp.14) As noted in previous blogs, Thomas went on to return to London as a Vice-Principal at Goldsmiths’ College, a post of which he held for twenty-two years before become deputy-warden, and then warden at the College. Aged sixty-two Thomas spent time in America and Canada lecturing, during which time he visited Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Denver and Greeley, seeing the Rocky Mountains along the way. (pp.17)
We could consider Thomas’ narrative as a kind of political memoir as the way in which he writes indicates that although he transcended class barriers and moved from working-class life to a much more comfortable and socially respected position, Thomas keeps his working-class identity in his writing as he minimises the emphasis on his own importance and points to much more universal elements in his writing. Regenia Gagnier says of working-class political auto-biographies that ‘Thus the political narrative is the self-conscious working-class answer to the bourgeois novel. Especially in its form of Bildungsroman, the novel channels all experience into one great conflict, the integration of social process and personal development in time.’ (Gagnier, 1987, pp.351) We can see from Thomas’ narrative that it is important for him to highlight these class differentiates and portray his own personal development as a result of his change in standing.
For a man with working-class beginnings, and little prospect in terms of quality of life and prosperity, Thomas managed to break down class barriers and work his way up the ladder of the education system to become an authority of educational textbooks, ending in him being a privileged and well-travelled man who would go on to live out his later years comfortably in Cornwall, and as he puts it spending his time doing ‘odd jobs, and an immense amount of reading.’ (pp.19)
Raymont, Thomas. ‘Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:571, available at: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/139278/BurnettArchive.pdf
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363
The Devonshire Association (2017) Mines and Mining in the Tavistock District (1914) [online]
Available at: https://devonassoc.org.uk/devoninfo/mines-and-mining-in-the-tavistock-district-1914/
[Accessed 12th April 2019]
‘The Village Farrier’, in
Eyre Crowe <https://eyrecrowe.com//>
[accessed 22 April 2019]
‘The Rocky Mountains’, in
Lonely Planet <https://lonelyplanet.com//>
[accessed 22 April 2019]