‘My father figured in my imagination as the strongest man in London – many a boy has such thoughts of his father…the way he handled heavy packages was a testimonial in itself’ (17).
What I find interesting about this statement from Jack about his father, is the way Jack chooses to focus on his father’s masculinity, rather than the job (London Porter) itself – there is no mention of working conditions, hours worked, whether his father liked or disliked his job – as to wages, Jack could only speculate as his father was ‘not I think likely to say’ (17-18). As to any details of what hard work meant, we have to wait until Jack swaps school for ‘the freedom of earning’ (45).
Jack’s first job was working for Leman’s Bakery, originally of Threadneedle Street, but later moved to London wall. Jack’s position at Lemans was secured for him by his mother, Rebecca, who had worked as a servant for the Leman family. There appeared to have been a mutual respect between Rebecca and her former employer as shown by Jack’s comment ‘She had greatly appreciated her service with them and they were probably as pleased with her for they readily agreed to take me into their employment upon leaving school’ (56). Jack’s initial experience of Leman’s was ‘a little daunting’ (53). Hardly surprising given that not only was Jack ‘plunged…into the company of about a dozen journeymen bakers many of whom including the heads were Germans’ (53), but also that Jack, owing to the early start of the working day, was expected to sleep on the premises. This amounted to total culture shock for young Jack who was ‘shocked by some of the manners and conversation by no means confined to the foreigners’ (53).
Jack soon acclimatised to his new routine, and even managed to pick up a smattering of colloquial German that was good enough to have him mistaken for being German himself; life experiences were continuing his education.
Thankfully, Jack was able to move back home, although this meant rising at six in the morning with no time for breakfast. As already mentioned in Jack’s introductory blog, there were a proliferation of street vendors and cafes in the 1870s and 80s, so much so, that Edward Callow saw fit to write about them in 1899 in his book Old London Taverns. Here he comments on the Pearce and Plenty (formerly the Gutter Hotel) chain of working class restaurants as being all ‘[part] of the new style of cheap eating houses…[where] working men and boys are supplied at remarkably low prices with meals throughout the day’ (Callow, p. 164).
Jack moved on from this noisy, chaotic world, to the more sedate environment of the offices of a wholesale jewellers dealing mainly in Whitby Jet and silver. Whitby Jet, made by Whitby fishermen in their ‘spare ‘time was made fashionable by Queen Victoria, who wore it as part of her mourning dress, which in turn made it fashionable within court [i]. Jack remained with the company for ten years, but being newly married, ‘decided to look about for a more remunerative’ (135) occupation. His employer mistakenly thought that Jack’s reason for leaving was because of feeling unappreciated and so presented Jack with a gold watch. Jack still left, along with the continued respect of his employer; and the gold watch!
Jack moved on to become an advertising canvasser. This was not a straight forward choice, the first couple of years gave, according to Jack ‘the feeling of having burnt my boats without first learning to swim’ (144). Jack’s gamble proved to be justified, but he must have spent many sleepless nights wondering if he had made the right decision. Luckily, it was and Jack soon started to notice some rather unexpected benefits to working in advertising – one being an opportunity for networking. In all probability, had Jack not taken the plunge and changed career, he would never had met such a wide range of friends and acquaintances – nor would he have moved in the circles that would help propel him out of relative poverty. A definite case of not what you know, but who you know.
274 Goring, Jack, Autobiographical notes, MS, pp.332 (c. 27,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Callow, Edward. Old London Taverns. London: Downey and Co Ltd. 1899.