‘”They” say that it is within the ability of everyone to write one book, at least I have heard it said – presumably the book of one’s own life. But some are incapable of expressing their sentiments and life seems to pass them without any noticeable effect – or does it?‘(Hampton, 1)
When Nora Hampton began to write her memoir ‘MEMORIES OF BAPTIST END, NETHERTON DUDLEY, IN THE PERIOD 1895-1918’, she was living in Towyn, Wales. She was born in Netherton, Worcestershire on the 20th November 1895.
As Nora’s memoir is about her childhood and young adulthood, she never mentions having a husband or write in-depth about her later life and children. So I decided to research her name, last name, and date of birth on Ancestry to see if I could find birth records, death records, or marriage certificates. Luckily, I came across Kevin Ashcroft who is linked to Nora through the Monktons. From contacting Kevin I was able to get in touch with Nora’s granddaughter Ros Campbell who put me in contact with Nora’s daughter Rosemary Macadam (officially Margaret Rosemary Bealy, but she goes by the name Rosemary!) Rosemary informed me that Nora had moved to North Wales after her husband Ernest Bealey died in 1951 in Hagley, Worcestershire. Rosemary was able to present me with so much detailed information about Nora’s later life which will be explained in the rest of my blog posts.
Rosemary informed me that in 1982 Nora was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. Nora told her children to look on the top shelf of her wardrobe where her wire top pad was, containing her memoir, and asked her children to close it up for her. She never told anyone about why she wrote her memoir before she sadly passed. With Nora’s memoir abruptly finishing on an unfinished tale, we not know if she planned to write about her whole life or to focus on her memories from birth to the age of 23, the period in the memoir’s title, ‘1895-1918’.
What we do know for certain is that Nora died at the age of 87 on the 30th December 1982 in Towyn, North Wales and seemingly she had not completed her autobiographical reflections before she passed away. So who was she writing this memoir for? And why?
On the first page Nora apologises for her lack of enthusiasm for writing her own life story:
‘I am not enamoured with the idea of writing about myself even for the benefit of my children, but I suppose the limits in which I have lived 1895-1980 are some of the most momentous and exciting and terrorising in history’ (Hampton,1).
It seems Nora does not feel worthy enough to write about herself, not even for her children’s sake. Her only motive is the period in which she lived being so momentous and that, perhaps, she did intend to cover her life up to 1980. This, however, I find ironic as she hardly touches on World War One and the politics of this time which is remembered to this day. Instead, she focuses on the sentiments which she seems to feel ‘incapable of expressing’ (Hampton,p1), about her education, friends, family, holidays, and festivities.
Writing about how working-class autobiographers express their feelings about their family, David Vincent argues that often what is significant ‘is not what is said but rather what is not said’ (Vincent, 1980, p226). This idea lends itself to Nora as she does not discuss her husband, children, and life after the age of 23. It is also seen in many working-class autobiographies, such as the memoir by Minnie Frisby (who was born in 1877 and lived only 17 miles down the road from Nora in Bromsgrove), who focused on the first 12 years of her childhood, leaving out the memories of her husband and children. Billie Gina Thomason (who explores Minnie’s memoir) agrees with Vincent’s statement, arguing that Minnie seems to have been happiest as a child. Nora also seems to have been drawn to happy childhood memories: ‘perhaps it is the sunny days we remember in the days of our youth’ (Hampton, p53).
For the most part, Nora’s memoir remains chronological almost like one steady stream of consciousness which she leaves and comes back to once she has remembered a certain time, person, or specific memory. This can be seen throughout her memoir as she goes through each of her school years. However, near the end of her memoir, she begins to digress and reflect on how she feels now looking back: ‘all this is very dull reading and not interesting; but it was my background and looking back on it now – well compared with the privilege and opportunities of today – it was another world – a much cleaner one morally speaking and we all accepted it without demur’ (Hampton, p38). It appears Nora aims to bring this ‘much cleaner and morally speaking’ past into the modern-day, potentially to open the world in which she lived to her family, enriching them with the truths and tales of her life story that can be remembered for generations.
However, many times throughout her memoir Nora exposes her reluctance to carry on her writing as if it has become a chore. She exclaims: ‘I have not done anything nor added anything to this script for weeks’ (Hampton, p 40) and ‘It has been some months since I wrote anything in this abominable narrative’ (Hampton, p 53). This could be because life has taken its course, and she became bogged down with mundane day-to-day activities. But what is interesting is that every time she comes to write the next segment of her memoir, she once again undermines herself and her life story, calling it an ‘abominable narrative’. This seems very harsh considering her life successes, becoming a teacher, and living through two world wars. However, it seems to her that her memoir is not ‘worth continuing? – just thoughts and memories getting dimmer and worthless’ (Hampton, p 40). Perhaps like other working-class writers, Nora believed her life to be too ordinary. Similarly, many autobiographers express concerns about their writing ability, confessing they are not as literate as other authors whose works made it into print. She claims to be filled with embarrassment at the thought of replaying her life and hopes to be ‘judge[d] kindly’ (Hampton,23) by whoever may read it. Nora, could however, be as critical of other writers as herself. She detested Shakespeare’s The Tempest but could remember the whole of the poem “I remember the house where I was born” by her favourite poet, Thomas Hood.
Despite Nora’s apparent reservations, she continued her writing ‘for the criticism and amusement of my children and their children’ (Hampton, p 23), especially her daughter Rosemary. At the start of her memoir, she is doubtful that her tales will benefit her children, saying her writing is worthless. However, the tables turn and near the end, Nora becomes sentimental about her past, even though now and again she intertwines her feelings of regret about writing the memoir calling it ‘silly doings’ (Hampton, p. 53). Apart from this, she begins to realise that her family are not familiar with her life because they have not been able to live her life while she lived most of theirs.
Nora questions who else will read her memoir (I bet she never would have thought that it would be a third-year student at LJMU!), and exclaims: ‘so I continue this silly tale – for the amusement and very likely – contempt – of whom I wonder? (Hampton, 53). Nora had no motive to gain financial profit from her writing and instead she wrote on behalf of the Black Country working-class, aiming to share her tales with her family or whoever stumbles upon her work.
At the start of her memoir, Nora reflects that her memories are ‘full of scraps and scenes almost photographic of those days’ (Hampton, p4), and she goes through her memories like pictures: ‘the next picture in my mind’ (p. 6) as if she is piecing together moments in her life and ‘living [it] again’ (p. 53). As Cuming and Rogers have argued, Writing her autobiography almost as if she is going through her photograph album is similar to the autobiographical style of other working-class writers such as Lilian Wilson, who was born in 1896 in Ilfracombe, North Devon. Lilian uses the ‘suggestive’ analogy of a jigsaw puzzle, evoking ‘the idea that memories belong to something that was previously whole and has since fallen apart (and can therefore perhaps be re-collected)’ (Cuming and Rogers, 2019, p. 188). This same idea is highlighted through Nora’s tales as she pieces together her memories much like a jigsaw or picture book so that her family can paint a scene of not just Nora herself but the world in which she lived.
Clearly, Nora had conflicted feelings when putting pen to paper. However, she presents us with a rich, and diverse memoir, integrating the lives of other working-class individuals into a collective record of her era, highlighting both her hardships and theirs, as well as intertwining the joyful moments of everyday life. Although Nora’s memoir was not intended for my eyes, she fulfils her aim of educating us about her life and youth as well as entertaining us with her tomboyish tales.
Key facts from Rosemary:
- Frank William Bealey, who was the Professor of politics at the London School of Economics (LSE) asked his secretary to type out his mothers memoir!
- Hampton, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 3:68. Accessible by: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10931
- 3:0068 HAMPTON, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’, TS, pp.63 (c.26,000 words). Brunel University Library.
- Birmingham Live, 2016. Dudley. [image] Available at: <https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/gallery/dudley-10714749>
- Cuming, Emily and Helen Rogers, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of WorkingClass Autobiography’, Journal of Family and Community History (2019).
- Flickr, n.d. High Street, Dudley 1893, 1937_395. [image] Available at: <https://www.flickr.com/photos/blackcountrymuseums/5257010765>
- Gagnier, R. (1987). Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Victorian Studies, 30(3), 335-363. www.jstor.org/stable/3828397
- Macadam, R., 2021. Nora with her puss named Tibbie. [image].
- Vincent, David, (1980) ‘Love and Death in the Nineteenth-Century Working Class’, Social History, 5(2): 223-247.
- Feature image: Campbell, R., 2021. Nora and Ernest on their wedding day 21 st July 1921 – this is the back garden of 52 Swan Street Netherton. [image].
- Interviewing Nora’s daughter Rosemary Macadam: Macadam, R., 2021. Asking Rosemary about her life and her mothers – Nora Hampton.