Margaret tells us a lot about village culture. A community where everyone knows everyone, so much so the locals ‘could almost tell by the surname where a person came from’ (8). This tightly knit community would have been very important to the locals that built it, as the commutes from one village to another were made very difficult by how rural and distant they were, so you had to rely on who and what was around you.
‘Our nearest town was four miles away, and could be reached in two ways- by walking, or once a week by the village carrier in an open wagonette- not so bad if dry, but if wet uncomfortable. You also had the pleasure of walking up all the hills and sometimes down, on roads either thick with dust or deep in mud.’ (3)
So what did this mean for the people who lived in these rural villages?
Margaret lists many of the usual jobs of the villagers, these include ‘carpenters, a fairly large blacksmith’s shop, a mill and two bakers, (…) the schoolmaster (…) and a policeman’ (3) as well as the staple farmers. Clearly, the typical lines of work for villages folk in rural nineteenth-century England were practical by nature. This was most likely because villages like Hamworthy had to become microcosms for self-sufficiency, Margaret even highlights this as she says ‘we had nothing that we did not provide for ourselves’ (3). It made sense for village locals to pursue these hands-on jobs as a way of supporting their families because their occupations will never not be needed by another facility in or outside of the village.
Coming from a rural village, the principles of The Women’s Institute (WI) to aid members of their community may have been Margaret’s motivation to join the WI in the first place. For women in these villages, the WI would have helped them to form their own little community with new friendships and develop new hobbies outside of domestic life caring for their husbands and children. This would have greatly impacted the whole community not just the women, as it would have helped to deconstruct the restrictive gender roles and allowed women to be seen as more than mothers and wives. It may have also helped women to enter new and, at the time, outrageous professions. Margaret was a teacher, although there is nothing to say that some of the farmers wives would have started to help their husbands out in the fields, or carpenters’ wives who learnt how to make a horse cart. It was mainly in the post-war periods that women were seen expanding their horizons with different lines of work, however, White states that the backlash to this was the result of the ‘perceived threat to normalcy, including domesticity for women’ (2016, 98). This perception of a cultural breakdown was inherently misogynistic as it stemmed from society’s anxiety towards ‘women [who] were behaving like men’ (White, 2016, 98) and not staying at home waiting for their husbands to return from war. The role of organisations like the WI during this time would have been to help these women take up non-domestic professions to earn money. The more women entering male-dominant professions meant that the more attitudes changed towards gender roles, because until these women remarried, they had to take on the role of bread of winner to support themselves, their family, and the community.
The travel restrictions faced by village natives meant that courtships were also a difficult part of village life to navigate. Margaret states how the ‘young men were not encouraged to go to any of the neighbouring villages for their girls’ (8) and if they did, ‘they were pelted with clots and driven off’ (8). So whilst it sounds violent, these strict societal norms were most likely enforced to maintain the strength of the community, and also ensure you know who you’re about to marry. Because of the villagers’ familiarity with one another, it meant that weddings were a community event, blurring the lines between blood relatives and close friends.
‘A procession was formed at the bride’s home, and they walked to church and back. After a meal sometimes the procession would reform, and they would walk round the village, or some would go for a drive in their finery then home to the evening’s jollification’. (9)
Even though Margaret tells us ‘[t]here was not much time for recreation’ (8) after the long hours of work, people of the village still found time to set aside a few days a year for a village fete. The annual Band of Hope Fete shows how traditional village life was, and the upholding of these traditions came from the people of the village, as they signified the continuation of culture and community. Even though Margaret acknowledges pastimes such as this to not be the most entertaining ‘we did have what would seem nowadays to be very mild pastimes’ (8), it is clear that she is making sure to highlight just how vital days like this were to the families in the village. Firstly because of the obvious break from work, but mainly because it led to the making of memories that children, such as Margaret, can keep forever.
1:0886. Scutt, Margaret. (c.4,000 words). Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography.
White, Bonnie. ‘”What to Do with the Girls?” The Legacy of Women Farm Workers in Britain, 1919—1939’. Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques. Berghahn Books. 2016. Vol. 42, No. 2. pp. 97-114.
Maypole dancers: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/6491457575/in/photolist-BRq8xC-AwBzeB-d7dpgu-4i9rfT-62dgXY-egNJte-4idx9h-5ZvEoe-4i9zoF-orBrv9-tByvgR-4i9rbx-ouEmwr-owqbuX-4idxej-aTCqbk-ds5xuT-5Uci56-ds5xmF-ouobJd-ow8VJK-odX83s-oeTaYb-ousLQS-ovZj9J-otShjm-ovUehn-sFUCRo-ouW1Qa-oedzLZ-5ZvDZk-ovksgo-owsmQc-oeFkQZ-ougKLu-ovQZbP-odsmsF
Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers. British Library. https://www.britishlibrary.cn/en/works/the-pickwick-papers/