Charles William Esam-Carter: Introductory Blog Post

Charles William Esam-Carter was born in Thornton Heath, Surrey in 1899 and was the oldest of two children. The family did not stay in the same place for very long, often moving around. He does not recall his boyhood fondly, describing his initial family homes as ‘a succession of dreary dwellings.’ (2) When he was four years old, his severely disabled sister was born which he describes as the moment his childhood ended. Her birth had a disastrous effect on the family.

From his early childhood memories, it is clear his parents did not have a happy marriage. He recalls a memory from when he was a toddler, spending the morning in bed with his mother only to be interrupted by the angry voice of his father. He was immediately told to go to his own bed, his father telling his mother ‘you are making a fool of the boy.’

In his writing it is apparent that he has a fondness for his maternal grandfather, who he calls ‘grandpapa’ (3) and discusses in great detail his visit with his mother to his home in Dulwich. He was unable to recall much detail about his time spent there other than he enjoyed it, he notes that his aunts also joined their stay in order to celebrate the birthday of his grandfather. He reflects that he was unable to remember the location of the house before realising it was a house on Barry Road. He notes, ‘I passed the house a thousand times.’ (2)

From his early childhood memories, it is clear his parents did not have a happy marriage. He recalls a memory from when he was a toddler, spending the morning in bed with his mother only to be interrupted by the angry voice of his father. He was immediately told to go to his own bed, his father telling his mother ‘you are making a fool of the boy.’
In his writing it is apparent that he has a fondness for his maternal grandfather, who he calls ‘grandpapa’ (3) and discusses in great detail his visit with his mother to his home in Dulwich. He was unable to recall much detail about his time spent there other than he enjoyed it, he notes that his aunts also joined their stay in order to celebrate the birthday of his grandfather. He reflects that he was unable to remember the location of the house before realising it was a house on Barry Road. He notes, ‘I passed the house a thousand times.’ (2)

Imperial Hall in Dulwich, Surrey. He recalls spending time here while staying at his grandfather’s home.

I find Charles’ memories of his childhood refreshingly honest. Despite not having the happiest of upbringings, he does not appear bitter. He seems driven to ensure that all of the information he can recall about his life are written down, despite struggling to remember every day things.

From his correspondence through letters with Professor John Burnett, Charles began writing his biography in 1978, when he was 79 years old. From record that I have discovered online he died in the year 1987. He was initially interested in publishing the memoirs of his grandfather which had came into his possession. His grandfather was a teacher who later owned various schools across England. However, Professor Burnett was unable to find the information useful to his research so Charles himself decided to write a biography.

Charles recalls his early infancy and enjoying spending his mornings with his mother in ‘the big bed’ (2). He had a lot of love for his mother, recalling ‘I liked looking at her. She had slightly protruding teeth, which women don’t have now and she had a long, very thick pigtail which she could sit on.’ (2) Despite being scared of his father in his younger years, he did have an appreciation for him.


Thornton Heath, Surrey. The birthplace of Charles William Esam-Carter

Through his writing, Charles conveys his frustration with not being able to recall simple information, ‘I often cannot remember what day of the week or month it is.’ (4) yet he can continually recall specific memories from his early childhood. He recalls understanding the age when he noticed adults lying to him, whether in a bid to protect him or as a joke. His tells us ‘my father used to lie to me but I knew when he was joking. “if you hold a guinea pig up by its tail, its eyes will drop out.” He told me; but there was a laugh in his voice…’ (4)

Bibliography
Esam-Carter, Charles William. Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiorgaphies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

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