‘Someone wrote a hymn ‘we won’t give up the Sunday school’
Miss Wilson’s memoir focuses on sharing the lives of her family therefore it is only fair that some time is taken to focus on them. Some of her aunts lived in industrial Manchester during the peak of its’ industrial fame. The cotton industry’s heart was in Manchester and with the opening of the world’s first railway to connect the thriving city to Liverpool’s docks, their dominance grew. The life of the average person working in the mill, however, could not seem further from a thriving metropolis. Poverty, famine, crippling disease and illiteracy were commonplace, and the life of Miss Wilson’s aunts would be hard. Religion played an important role in keeping their family moral high with such pestilent living conditions. There was no welfare for the poor so it was left to kind- often religious- groups to succour them.
At the age of fourteen her aunt began working in the cotton mill on Rodney Street, as did most of the families children. They needed to prove their age but the only form of proof they had was their grandfather’s family bible which had their date of births in it. It was given to him by local millworkers after retiring from being the mill overtaker. He was there for seventeen years. Her grandfather gave Miss Wilson this bible, which she still had as she wrote her memoir.
The family lived on the corner of Rodney street and her aunty would get up at 6am to make it over the street. She felt lucky they lived so close. She wouldn’t wake up until 5:55am but would always be on time. They’d have ham for breakfast at the mill then would go home for dinner at 12:30. Often once they finished working, around 6pm, they used to go to the Mill Girls Institute which was situated next to Ancoats Hospital. It was a kind of night school where the women would learn domestic skills like sewing, cooking and general household management. She notes they always seemed to have fun and quite a few of them would meet at Piccadilly station to travel together.
On Saturday nights they used to meet up on Oldham Road and go to the evening markets. Although they would be cat-called, they still said they enjoyed themselves. They would enjoy the hustle of men selling, shouting, making jokes and pies served in a cup. On Sundays they all would attend church and St Audrie’s Sunday school. It was built from 5 houses in a row. The boys would be taught upstairs and they girls downstairs. Even when the church was closed, they wanted to keep the Sunday school open. They believed this so vehemently that they wrote a hymn called, ‘we won’t give up the Sunday school’ and they sang it every anniversary up until it’s closing in 1954, soon after her Aunt Emma passed away at 88.
After her aunt’s father died, her mother began to cook for all the millworkers in the area and even people who would come down the canals from Oldham and Rochdale. The canal past at the back of their home on Rodney street. Her grandmother would give the workers second helpings and wouldn’t ever charge them for it although she didn’t have much money. The men would pay anyway because she was such a generous woman. Miss Wilson’s other two aunts who lived there worked on manufacturing tools and commonly would have to work ‘deadhouse’ which meant consecutive shifts without breaks. Another aunt worked in Stewarts on Butlers street and saw themselves as slightly higher brow then the rest of them, a chip on their shoulder that one of them never managed to get rid of. It seems as though Miss Wilson takes the vast majority of her time recounting the lives of her family, it is as much an account about their lives as it is about her own. In this vein, I believe Miss Wilson is trying to encapsulate the lives of all of her family members and their plights.
2:843 WILSON, Miss P., Untitled, MS, pp.12 (c.3,750 words). BruneI University Library.