Allen Hammond (b.1894): Education & Schooling – Writing Lives

Allen Hammond (b.1894): Education & Schooling

Allen’s descriptions of his school are very complementary, without hesitation, he states: “It was a very nice school, a very nice school indeed”, “my education was pretty good”. The early 1900’s saw an increase in national focus on the education of children. This shift was in fact regarded as “an outstanding example of successful cooperation between private philanthropy and public intervention.” (Vincent).

Britain during the 19th century specifically gave many financial grants which would ensure the system would at-least provide literary skills that could be utilised before leaving into the labour work-force. “6,000,000 children at school taught by 150,000 teachers, basic literacy and numeracy brought to the mass of the child population” (Burnett)

Toxteth Park School

Though the speculation into the stimulus of having “Functional literacy’ – level of skill required for individual to participate effectively in society” (Vincent) – may vary from righteous catholic motivations to a mechanism of class control: “The main idea was to get us out to earn money. . . The schooling was based on discipline. Reading, writing and arithmetic were essential, and children were clobbered until they mastered them.” (Jim Tait, b. 1899. Burnett, p. 149)

Much to Allen’s emphasis, however, his passion for his studies persists during the interview: “I used to study quite a lot. As a matter of fact, when I was about eight, I think, I won a diploma from the Navy League. Had it presented to me at St. Georges Hall, for writing an essay on the need of naval power to Great Britain.”

Although his success is commendable, the motivations to reward children in this way has somewhat controversial implications. The Navy League during the 19th Century was infamous for being a “single, but most significant manifestation of the New Navalism […] The psychological climate was one of armed distrust (1895-1914), as every major European power feared aggression […] In England, the years 1899-1914 witnessed the extensive propagation of Navalist sentiment” (1) Therefore, not only is there evidence for Allen being controlled through the education system, but also moulded into an pro-imperialist. Allen being awarded and encouraged in such ways could be seen as evidence that schooling sought to promote a propaganda amongst young children, even rewarding them with diplomas for opinions that matched the national agenda.

Navy Poster: 1912

It was compulsory for a child in 1904 to leave school at the age of 10. Although this was changed in 1913 to 13, this meant Allen could not continue his education 2 years past his diploma. Even though he explains in the interview that he “wasn’t a dud by any means. I used to do quite a lot of reading.” Allen usually describes his admiration for scholarly work as it was a nostalgic missed opportunity, a loss of potential that was promoted through the working class necessity of labour.

“I did get a chance of getting a scholarship, but I’d passed the examination, but they wanted ten pound for the books then. […]. In those days you had to buy the book and I asked my father […] He hadn’t enough money for ale. Or my books. So for…of course… I had to give up the idea”

There’s significant philosophical conflict in Allen being forced to work instead of pursuing his passion as a child. Alienated from his true self, and turned into a labourer. There’s one obstacle between Allen and his educational future, and that was £10. “Things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but also, merely, to safeguard their very existence” (Karl Marx, 2)

Therefore the ‘safeguard’ of monetary safety meant many children like Allen where lost to the labour force, important voices that could have achieved much more. Allen converses about his own regret regarding choices he was forced to take during his childhood, Allen does mention that: ‘I would have become a school teacher. Myself.’ If he had the opportunity, because of his admiration of his own teacher who he talks about being a ‘wonderful man’.

Allen’s descriptions of his education insight some worrying aspects about the his childhood epoch, especially when you consider the propaganda placed within his education in addition to his regretful forced abandonment of his passion.


Memoir: Hammond, Allen, Programme number:P404/4. Transmission; 26 August 1963. Granada Television. Typescript, 15 foolscap sheets, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, available at


2- Marx, Karl (Fall 1845 to mid-1846). Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook. The German Ideology.

3- Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247

4-Burnett, John.Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day.London: Routledge, 1989

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