‘But there it is. The old order changeth’ (6)
Margaret Scutt is quite different to many of the other authors that can be found in the Writing Lives archive. Typically, the author usually maintains an incredibly personal tone when writing their memoirs or autobiographies, in order to provide readers an insight into how their upbringing and life events affected them. But in the case of Margaret Scutt, her memoir in the Burnett Archive consists of two talks she gave in 1950 and 1955 at Women’s Institute (WI) Meetings in her home county of Dorset. These talks help to reveal more of what village life was like for people generally, rather than revealing the specific nature of her personal life and experiences. For example, she states how all the cottages in Hamworthy ‘were rather small, and families were on the large side’ but never dives into details of her own family.
However, it can be assumed that due to her roots remaining firmly in the town of Hamworthy for the duration of her memoir, what she recalls resembles the way of life she knew too well. Readers can also note how Margaret’s memoir has been typed out by one of her children, as revealed by the second document which is entitled ‘Talk Given by My Mother at a Women’s Meeting at Lytchett Matravers in 1955’ (3). This shows how there may have been anticipation from the local community for this talk to be documented and, at the same time, notes Margaret’s significance in her local community.
Margaret Scutt grew up in the rural town of Hamworthy, Poole in the Southern coastal county of Dorset during the late-nineteenth century. From what we can understand from Margaret’s recollections, Hamworthy was a working-class town, where learning a trade was key in securing the spot as family bread winner. In an 1840 consensus, it was conclusive that the area of Poole was categorically a working-class area, as the findings ‘simply divided people into those employed in agriculture and those in trade of manufacturing’ (visionofbritain.org). Margaret’s memories of working-class life in Hamworthy help connect these statistics to the real people they represent.
Because of the societal norms at the time, trading and agriculture jobs were typically reserved for the men in the community; fathers, husbands, and sons, all working together to provide stability for their families. For the women, Margaret tells us how ‘[a]s a rule the girls went into service’ (3) when they turned eleven or chose to see their education through until to the end where they would be fourteen if they wanted to go into teaching- much different from schooling today! Margaret never tells us what profession she chose to take up, but from the detail with which she remembers the requirements for becoming a teacher could imply that this is the career she chose. Her talks at the WI Meetings may have also been an incredible part of her career, as the Canadian-founded organisation prefaces its morals on inclusivity and ‘pioneering campaigns to raise awareness of others’ needs’ (Robinson, 2011, 1).
Religion, village life, and education are central to Margaret’s speeches. In documenting these, her child has helped working-class historians to create a timeline for each of these central themes and compare what they were like and who they involved. It is interesting to study Margaret’s admiration of post-war education in a contemporary light as it helps to highlight how far education has evolved since the nineteen-fifties as well as late-nineteenth century. As well as this, contextualising Margaret’s speeches from a contemporary standpoint allows us to delve into the history behind the Women’s Institute and what it signifies.
1:0886. Scutt, Margaret. (c.4,000 words). Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography
Poole UA. A Vision of Britain through Time. https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10056548/theme/SOC
Robinson, Jane. A Force To Be Reckoned With: A History of the Women’s Institute. Virago Press: London. 2011.
An Accurate Map of Dorset Shire, Divided Into Its Hundreds. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center. https://www.flickr.com/photos/normanbleventhalmapcenter/5384790645/in/photolist-9cQsE2-5Jgw1j-gNjieo-mt6itu-i28cc6-bWETyq-od8hVi-R9WS2G-gNjczf-mt6Nyc-msWdan-oPj4q6-pBEuPG-e1dCE5-4wC6Uh-qqJWXG-aUMKmD-aUMBtD-6xw3sU-msW5wM-msUYY3-mt1kWW-mt4xja-dRUdvE-aUMBtz-wX43En-56imaS-6q8ize-cXq1Eq-oiT1Qa-RA39hK-msYQNP-zV87FE-oryAtL-acrrG8-oGY12H-82121B-XxyDFh-otc5eA-dYmtHG-cqqziJ-H6PEMa-e8Bkb5-xW9GSJ-ocVret-i7XFHR-ousf5t-aUMKmH-x1nqPE-otp2in
Poole – Dorsetshire Coastal landscape scenes around Great Britain. https://imagesonline.bl.uk/asset/29715