“Look at a piece of masonry closely, and you will notice the lines separating the different stones which comprise the whole feature. Take, for example, a beautiful Tracery window, and notice the separate pieces of stone which have been used to make the completed article”
The man to which we must attribute this statement is London Stonemason, A.W Todd. Much the same way he encourages us to look closely at the individual parts that make up the whole, we will look closely at the individual parts of his memoir that make up the life of a London Stonemason. Consider Todd the Tracery window under observation, if you will.
I was initially attracted to Todd’s memoir because of the themes that, after early inspection, appeared to be developed throughout the memoir. Early on, he tells us that “as we have moved on to the modern tower-block construction, so the Mason’s work has dwindled, and its place has been taken by facing slabs, produced by machines”. These anxieties surrounding modernity and the changing landscape of the working class manual labour job, as well as the changing physical landscape that will follow technological advances, are themes that I hope Todd will build on throughout his writing.
Though he does mention his family in passing this does appear to be very much a memoir about working life rather than domestic life. The centrality of work to his writing mean that we have to approach his memoir differently as we have less to talk about regarding more popular themes in autobiographical writing such as family. The memoir was written in 1987, suggesting it was written towards the end of his life. He was most likely born around the early 20th century, something we can infer due to his mentioning that he witnessed the General Strike.
So, who exactly is A.W Todd? Well, one of five children, he had early ambitions of working as a carpenter, but when employment opportunities in that industry dwindled, he decided his only option would be to follow in his father’s footsteps, who was, as you have probably already deduced, a stonemason. What’s interesting about this is that, though I’m sure his father was happy to see him progress into this industry, his mother was less than happy, harbouring concerns regarding “worries of work and sack, long periods of unemployment with no money coming in, and the heart break of a man tramping round, asking for mark”. Therefore, what we have here is the possibility of some degree of family divide that may prove itself rather interesting! His working class social position appears apparent from his employment opportunities as well as from the way he describes the limited financial resources of his family.
The memoir itself was an interesting prospect because, unlike a lot of others, this one is typewritten. The accessibility of the memoir in this sense makes it even more interesting. It is around thirty eight thousand words long and includes many pictures and illustrations that support Todd’s story and help bring it to life. Talking of bringing it to life, there’s an interesting little feature of this memoir that gives it more of a personal touch and a sense of authenticity and that is the handwritten address present on the memoir that reads “Mr A.W. Todd 67 WYNASH GARDENS CARSHALTON ROAD. CARSHALTON SURREY SM53”. The presence of this gives us the exciting prospect of finding out even more about his history!
Throughout his memoir, Todd details the linear time frame with which he entered the industry of masonry, worked as an apprentice, swapped trades and much more. Due to the heavy focus on work life, the following blog posts will center around various aspects of his working life and any tangents away from that will be explored.
Anyway, that’s enough of me talking, as Todd himself said, “It seems fitting that some account of the life of and work of the Masons during these years should be made and who better for the task but one of the Masons himself?”
‘A.W. Todd’ 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): 2:1030