Nora Lumb (b. 1912) Life and Labour Blog

“During the post war depression father always had work.” (Lumb, pg. 4)

Throughout Nora Lumb’s 12-page autobiographical entry for The Burnett Collection, the life and labour topic plays a large part in her memoir, although it is not about her work, but her family’s.

Nora’s memoir concentrates exclusively from her earliest memory at two years old, until she is accepted into grammar school in 1923. Therefore, the life and labour Nora addresses in this is all about her family member’s and their work and how this affected her.

A child chimney sweep in the 20th Century, much like William Wright.

Despite Nora’s family being classed as ‘working-class’, she herself was never sent to work as a child, unlike other memoir authors such as William Wright. His autobiographical entry was titled, ‘From Chimney-Boy to Councillor’. In his blog, William talks about the struggles he endured as a working-class child, even stating his life started when his work started, “When I was eight years old my Father lost his brush in a chimney, and this was the cause of my start in life.” (Wright, pg. 7). This shows the overpowering difference between children’s lives, despite both being part of the working-class social status.

A housewife in the 20th Century, similar to what Nora’s mother would have done in their house.

Nora speaks of small jobs she and her siblings, would do around the house to help their mother: “Another daily chore which my sister and I took over when we were old enough was the polishing of all the brass fittings at the front door.” (Lumb, pg. 3) She goes on to explain these Brass objects included the front door step, name plates, bell pull and gate knob. This and other small jobs that the children assisted with around the house benefitted their mother, Agnes Walker, whos employment status on the 1939 census and on Nora’s birth certificate was ‘unpaid domestic duties’, or as is more commonly known now as a ‘housewife’.

The Sunderland Train Station in the 20th Century, where Nora’s father worked as a rail clerk.

Nora also comments on her father’s work. Her father, Charles H. Walker, had a job as a railway clerk in Sunderland where the family lived. Although Nora’s father held this working role as head of the family home, Nora remembered that he also spent a lot of time with his family and children, “Father loved railways and he liked to take us on picnics into the woods bordering the steep banks of the Wear.’ (Lumb, pg. 10). Therefore, although the working and earning role in the household fell fully on Charles Walker, he still made time for his children and family.

Volunteer Auxiliary Nurses, like Nora’s aunts would have been.

Nora speaks fondly of her entire family including ‘aunties’, and grandparents. She concentrates on her aunts’ field of work in her memoir mainly because of the time period it was written. Nora’s memoir runs from 1912-1923, when she finishes primary education. Therefore, she found it important to include how her aunts: “took up duties as auxiliary nurses in addition to their other work.” (Lumb, pg. 3) during the war effort. Nora also speaks of her time helping her aunts by entertaining the injured or sick troops at the church hospital, “My aunties took me to the Church Hall Hospital, sat me down at the piano in one corner and ordered me to entertain the troops.” (Lumb, pg. 3). This was the only ‘paid’ work Nora experienced in her childhood as she states, “I then reaped the happy reward of going to each bed in turn and being given a sweet here and a silver threepenny bit there and generally enjoying this profitable time.” (Lumb, pg. 3)

This relationship between Nora’s work, home and family life are only made relevant through her aunt’s and her father’s work because neither Nora or her two siblings were ever sent to work as children, so she uses their work as part of her memoir.

Despite the constant reminder that her entire family worked, Nora continually puts a strong emphasis on how close they were as a family and how their work didn’t deter them from their family life, “All these relations were so much part of everyday life.” (Lumb, pg. 6)

At the beginning of Nora’s memoir, she gives the audience her family background about their fields of work, “Of the four boys one went to sea and died of heatstroke in India. (…) Another boy went to Australia for health reasons and also for lack of work in this country.” (Lumb, pg. 2). This bit of additional background information about the family also informs the reader that work was not always readily available at the time.

A working-class family from the 20th Century, just like Nora’s family.

Therefore, because Nora and her family came from a working-class background, it was evident that work was a memorable part of Nora’s childhood and quite a lot of her story revolves around the topic. Nora makes it clear to the reader that her family is working class, and this is confirmed with some having multiple jobs and others having to leave the country to seek work.

Bibliography: Wright, William. ‘From chimney-boy to councillor – The Story of my Life’. See John Burnett, David Vincent, David Mayall. The Autobiography of the working class; an annotated critical bibliography. Vol. 1 1790-1900. 1st Pub. 1984. Item: 777.

Images Used: https://www.ctsweep.com/blog/top-sweep-stories/child-chimney-sweeps/

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