Hobley talks in his autobiography of the times that he was taken out for a walk on Sundays. He expressed ‘and if we went near this school, I remember, I used to rub by as fast as possible lest I should be taken into it. So it seems I did not cherish much affection for my second school.’ Ironically, Hobley did not have much interest in school early on.
Because it is very hard to find any information about Frederick Hobley’s family, we must look for clues in his autobiography about what his upbringing would have been like. We learn that Hobley was in a Dame’s school when he was very young. An article called ‘Early Education for the Poor’ by Peter Higginbotham gives is an incline of what this would have been like for Frederick Hobley. According to this article ‘Dame schools were run by women of often little or no qualification who charged 3d or 4d per pupil a week and taught skills such as reading and writing to a rudimentary level.’ Dame schools were often seen as child-care services rather than schools.
We begin to get the impression that Frederick Hobley was not in the wealthiest family. Of course, being one of ten children, it was expected that education fees would become and issue for the family. We also learn through Hobley’s autobiography, of how children were treated in these schools as opposed to how children are treated in schools today.
Ultimately, we do not learn much about Frederick Hobley’s family life, nor was I able to reach out to any of his relatives. However, we do learn a lot about his school-life and that gave us some hints as to what his family and home life was like.]]>
Born 26 April 1833 at Thame, Oxon. Died 1908. One of 10 children. Educated at dame school (1836-7); National School (1837-), remaining there as a monitor; Oxford Diocesan Training School (1849-51); Sunday School. Married, 1858, with large family. Lived at Thame (1833-49); Summertown, Oxford (1852-?); Narberth, Pembrokeshire; Brightwell, Berks. (for 18-19 years); Slade End.
School monitor; schoolteacher (1852-71); commercial traveller (1871-?); book-keeper. Retired in 1899.
Both published versions are extracts from a longer manuscript autobiography, privately owned and not available for general access. The narrative is particularly useful for a history of education, with good accounts of schooling, training as a teacher and work as a schoolmaster. Other themes include dress and ‘breeching’; leisure (Nov 5th; cricket); election campaigning. The memoirs were written in 1905. The extract in Alta was reproduced as Hobley wrote it except for the omissions indicated and additions to complete the sense of the text.]]>
Within page 135 on Isaac Brown’s memoir, Isaac begins to go into detail about his ‘writing itch’, ‘As you will have gathered from previous chapters, I have always been afflicted with cacoethes scribendi – the writing itch; and I have written all sorts of things at different times – occasional verse at such times as Christmas, birthdays, weddings, coming-of-age…’ (135)
Isaac’s writing unfortunately did not see much to it I’m sorry to inform you. ‘…one full length novel, long since consigned to the flames’ he did however write a play I hope will be interesting for you to discover! I certainly found this interesting. Isaac writes, ‘…a play, remarkable only for the fact that I also produced it and acted the leading part in it’ Isaac diverts away from the topic of the play shortly, but continues to speak of the fact that despite the novel and the numerous articles he wrote pertaining to business life. In terms of his novel and poetic writing, he did so mostly for ‘the pleasure of self-expression than anything else.’ (135) Isaac made a couple of ‘halve-hearted’ attempts to have these works published, with a serious attempt to have his novel published ‘but these came to nothing.’ Isaac did however attain acceptance of his writings in the secretarial aspect of business, ‘And my book was immediately accepted by the first publishers to whom I submitted it.’ Sadly, Isaac really does not go into much detail within the memoir regarding specifics on publishing, so I discovered that trying to find his work quite a challenge. I really struggled to find anything. However, after approximately an hour searching on Gutenberg.org, Google scholar and Google books, I did find one book titled, ‘Introduction to Business Management‘ published in 1930, by a Mr Edward Brown, with its corresponding link here: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QFpPLWWT29UC&source=gbs_book_other_versions The dates would seem to correspond as would the nature of the book and the name.
As you will read from observing that previous link, the description of the book reads as follows: “INTRODUCTION TO BUSINESS MANAGEMENT A HANDBOOK ADDRESSED PARTICULARLY TO SECRETARIES OF INDUSTRIAL CONCERNS, AND COMMERCIAL STUDENTS BY EDWARD BROWN, F. C. I. S. VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE BIRMINGHAM BRANCH OF THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF SECRETARIES LECTURER IN SECRETARIAL WORK AND PRACTICE, CITY OF BIRMINGHAM COMMERCIAL COLLEGE. I hope that, with this, I have provided some light on the situation, but as mentioned, it truly is very difficult finding anything Isaac wrote and published. Other than this piece of literature, I have not managed to uncover much else by that author’s name, and I truly am uncertain whether this book was written by Isaac Edward Brown, all I can say is that I hope I have helped in some manner.
‘A year or two after I commenced lecturing on Secretarial Practice I was asked by a small deputation of the students if I would take a class in Economics…Economics was one of the most difficult – perhaps the most difficult – of the C. I. S. examination subjects, this was a serious matter for the Institute Students. (138)
In addition to writing about such business matters, as you know from a previous post, Isaac loved poetry. He wrote to a close family member a poem each Christmas during and after the war years. Isaac continues on about drama, theatres and plays on page 180. ‘For some years, however, I was more directly interested in theatrical maters, as we ran an amateur dramatic society in connection with the Church we attended…We had a social and literary society…it was suggested that some dramatic sketches should be given at one of its meetings. (180)
‘I joined in with two or three others in producing the Trial scene from “Pickwick”…This was quite a success’ but as Isaac notes, he became slightly too ambitious in organising Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ in which there are 40 or so characters, ‘and we had only two or three people who had previously done anything at all in this way’.
I really hope that this update has shone a bit of light on Isaac’s writing days, I hope you have enjoyed reading!
1:93 BROWN, Edward, Untitled, TS, pp.199 (c.80,000 words). Brunel University Library.
‘Brown, Edward’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1984) vol 1, no. 9
Before I continue, I want to say a massive thank you to Nora’s daughter, Rosemary Macadam, Nora’s granddaughter, Ros Campbell, and Kevin Ashcroft, who is linked to Nora through the Monktons and Hamptons, for allowing me to contact them, and ask questions about their family history. It has been such a fantastic experience being able to get in contact with Nora’s family, and receiving pictures and new information has been fascinating. Above all, it has made my Writing Lives experience so exciting, and I hope I have done Nora’s work justice!
So, let’s start at the beginning, being faced with the ‘Burnett Collection of working class Autobiography’ was a nerve-racking experience, the power was in my hands to choose a memoir and put my all into the research and writing. As my mother is an English teacher, we discussed how exciting this module is and the prospect of researching someone’s life in depth. I told her that I would LOVE to find an author who was from the Midlands as that is where I grew up, and it would be so interesting to read about the places that are so familiar to me through someone else’s eyes, and in a completely different time frame.
I began scrolling down the long list of authors hoping to find a place name familiar to me, and that is when I found Nora Hampton, saying I was thrilled is an understatement!
From reading Nora’s memoir and researching into the time frame she writes has allowed me to develop an understanding how complex the term ‘working-class’ is. Before starting this module, I had always been taught that working-class individuals who lived in the 1900’s were extremely poor, in workhouses, and starving. However, Nora could not be further away from this, she had a lovely upbringing and continuously expresses how fortunate she has been. After reading Nora’s memoir my aim throughout all my themed posts was to teach others by portraying how not all working-class people at the time were in workhouses or extremely poor. Like Nora, they can be well educated, and go onto a highly regarded profession.
From connecting with Nora’s family, I gained an insight into the years which she missed out of her memoir due to falling ill and sadly passing away. I can fill the gaps through my blog posts as well as elaborate on the existing information and themes she covers. Also, I asked Nora’s family to provide me with images off her to add to and supplement her current work which has brought my blog to life. Also, adding parts of Rosemary’s life (Nora’s daughter) allows the Hampton story to become much more diverse, complex and detailed as Nora did not mention much about her children’s lives and her later life, I have now been able to fill in the gaps and build on the existing Burnett Collection of working-class Autobiography.
To continue, I have learnt that blogging is a fun way to present your work, you can express your writing style and personality through the layout of your work, adding images, and videos. Also, blogs offer accessibility for all as they are placed on the internet for free for anyone to read. Furthermore, the blogs offer a differing tone of voice to that of an essay which therefore allows for different reading abilities, you do not have to be highbrow to read a blog. Ultimately, this took the pressure off, as I could be myself and really explore what I found interesting in the hope that others would too.
Last year I took a module called Prison Voices, which was written on a similar platform to Writing Lives. I chose this module because I enjoyed prison voices so much, and I wanted to carry on developing my research skills. Furthermore, I have a great deal of experience with blogging already due to various journalism-based internships that I have undertaken alongside my academic program.
Through this module it became apparent to me how powerful social media is as a tool for research. I was able to connect with the Black Country Museum and view various images and videos of the museum which looked extremely familiar to Nora’s description of her road, and Dudley Town centre. Because of this, I was able to gather a mental picture in my mind of what she was describing which really helped me to visualize her surroundings, and her life in that moment in time.
Finally, from taking part in this research project it has ignited a spark in me to document my life through writing. Nowadays we have our eyes glued to our screens when instead we should be experiencing the world around us. Nora has taught me that you should enjoy family company, and turn to literature for inspiration and comfort like she did.
Thank you so much to everyone who has read my work, it has been a pleasure!
‘Chritsy’s Old Organ”, “What Katy did” to “David Copperfield”, “Oliver Twist”, “Dombey & Son”, “Robinson Crusoe” etc. and Pears Cyclopaedia which dad had one Christmas‘.(Hampton, 27)
For many working-class authors reading and writing was a form of escapism. This was also true for Nora; it was one of her passions which she implemented onto her children. On a call with Nora’s daughter Rosemary, she told me that her mother passed her passion onto both herself and Frank. They were advised to read for fun and as a pass time. Because of this, both Rosemary and Frank thank their mother for introducing them to reading.
Nora describes how she read anything that came to hand, and she read the Bible until the ‘pages fell out’ (Hampton, p17). As the Bible was such a prominent feature in the home, Nora choosing to read the Bible before any other literature is not uncommon, as I mentioned in my Habits, Culture and beliefs post Nora would be at Sunday School from 9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., school for the rest of the week, and then on top of this helping her mother with her domestic duties, because of this, Nora would not have time to read for pleasure. However, Rosemary told me that while minding her baby brother Frank Nora used to place a Dickens’ novel on the pram and push her brother around while reading. Also, with the pocket money she saved she would buy each Dickens’ novel from the Birmingham Mail and would read the collection repeatedly. Nora briefly mentions this portraying how she ‘read “David Copperfield” when [she] was nine and anything of Dickens. “Robinson Crusoe”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Hampton. 17). Charles Dickens’ was popular amongst the working classes, Johnathan Rose in his study on ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences’, highlights which authors had the most influence on working-class people. with Dickens coming second before the Bible. Dickens regarded himself as one of the common people , he would sympathize with working people, exposing the injustice against them. This may be one of the reasons behind Nora’s fascination with Dickens as popular culture ‘accurately reflects the attitudes of the masses’ (1992, p48). At times, It could be suggested that Nora inhibits Dickens writing style, as when she talks about working-class people who are poorer than her (mentioned in my Education and Schooling blog post) Nora empathizes with them. Like Dickens, she exposes their injustice by mentioning it was the politicians at the time who caused mass poverty.
Throughout her memoir, Nora refers to Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’ several times. The Dickens’ novel traces the life of David Copperfield from birth to mature manhood, although Nora’s memoir does not discuss her adulthood it could be suggested that she would have included it if she hadn’t unfortunately passed away. her memoir follows the same structure as the Dickens’ novel so reading it during her childhood may have sparked her interest in writing the memoir of her life.
Emma Griffin finds similarly that many other female autobiographers ‘revealed that their life had already become filled with a raft of domestic duties long before leaving school’ (2020, p. 27). In this way, girls lost much of the freedom that boys had to themselves once their schooling was done: ‘part of the problem was that working with mother at home did not come with payment or any of the other rewards enjoyed by those who worked outside the home’ (Griffin, p. 31). From a relatively well-off family, Nora was lucky to get pocket money, although she does not say why she received this pocket money. We can perhaps infer that it was partly from helping her mother with the domestic duties.
Overall, Nora’s education seems to have been positive and she never mentions not wanting to go to school. However, she writes that for some of the poorer students, school may have been a relief from their difficult circumstances. Nora noticed some of her ‘friends and fellow classmates, coming to school with thin, patched, but clean (some of them) clothes. One girl who sat in front of me, Laura White, expressionless sallow face, dull thin black dirty infested hair, smelt so much it attracted the teacher’s attention’ and one girl who never spoke ‘was thin and miserable looking – with sore eyes and a rash all over her face and probably in her head – she had no hair that I could see’ (Hampton, p. 17). Nora acknowledges here that ‘whichever party was in power – the poverty was awful’ (Hampton, p17). I find it interesting that when Nora describes her schoolmates and also the local beggars, she classes them as her equals and friends even though her own life was much more comfortable. She does not recall being disgusting by them, scared, or intimidated, and this highlights Nora’s sincerity and compassion since childhood.
Working-class children all had access to school due to the Elementary Education Act 1880 (“the Mundella Act”), which required attendance upto the age of 10 everywhere in England and Wales. In 1891, elementary schooling became free in both board and voluntary (church) schools. Nora mentions her grandmother’s wealthy aunt, Ann Parsons, called Old Aunt Nance Parsons had ‘endowed a school in Dudley, for poor children, which is still going now. “Parson’s School” in Parson’s Street’ (Hampton, p. 20). Nora was fortunate enough to not be enrolled in a school for the poor but instead at the age of 15 started at Dudley Girls School. Her ‘father had to pay a fee per term as I was too old to sit for the scholarship’. She described herself as ‘very much indebted to my father for his thought in sending me there – it opened a new world [for] me.’ (Hampton, p. 42)
Dudley Girls School enabled Nora to pass her exams with the aim of going to Teacher Training College. Becoming a teacher offered ‘working class girls a living wage and the prospect of independence’ for the female teacher’s salary was sufficient to allow women ‘independence from a male breadwinner’ (Griffin, 2020, p59). By the end of the 19th century, teacher training and clerical work was the furthest most female autobiographies were able to go, (Griffin, 2020, p60), even those from upper working-class families like Nora. Her father ‘decided that Dudley Training College was good and I could go there’ but ‘in the end I didn’t go anywhere, but continued as an uncertified for several years’ (Hampton, p. 58). It was not until her husband Ernest died that Nora formally qualified as a teacher.
As you can see, Nora took full advantage of her education, and you can see how she took full advantage of her reading in my post on Reading and Writing.
‘On Sundays we were in our “best” cream cashmere dresses with lace in our sleeves and neckline and leghorn hats – cream with big bows’(Hampton 29)
As mentioned previously in my Home and Family posts, community is extremely important to Nora which is why religion plays an extremely significant role in both her and her family’s lives. She explains how ‘we were Baptists – puritanically disposed in those days – my grandfather and great grandfather were very intricately connected with an old chapel – called in my day the Messiah Baptist – along Cinder Bank Main Road to Dudley’ (Hampton, p6). As you can see, for Nora, religion ran deep in her family and as soon as she was of age to go to Sunday school her parents enrolled her. Rosemary (Nora’s daughter) informed me that herself and her brother also went to Sunday school and had an Immersion baptism.
Nora describes her Sunday school experience highlighting how:
‘Sundays from 9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. was spent by all of us at the chapel and Sunday School. Mother dressed Cis and I alike and people thought us twins. On Sundays we were in our “best” cream cashmere dresses with lace in our sleeves and neckline and leghorn hats – cream with big bows. I detest being my best – as I was a ‘tomboy’ and didn’t like to have to be “careful” to keep my dress clean. I detested the trouble of changing in between times of morning service and afternoon – didn’t like Sundays at all in those days, especially the boring lay preachers and the hour’s Sermon, – all hell, fire and damnation‘ (Hampton, p29)
Sunday school and attending the chapel was a whole day affair which also caused for a Sunday dinner attended by the whole family, it was a celebration and a chance to have a day of rest from your domestic duties, as a woman, and work, as a man. For the children it was a chance to learn respectability and meet their friends.
Nora elaborates on her Sunday school experience explaining how there was ‘a new minister – a young man fresh from college – Rev A. R. Boughen’ there was ‘200 hundred of us’ the day he arrived (Hampton, p38). Sunday school for all Black Country working class individuals was extremely important as you can see 200 children attended one Sunday school in the Black Country, imagine the total number of attendees for the whole region! Parents wanted their children to attend Sunday school as they ‘made an essential contribution to basic education, and they pro-pounded the values of industry, thrift, cleanliness, and self-discipline that the parents of the scholars themselves endorsed’ (McLeod, 1978, p3).
As Nora’s memoir occasionally jumps to her present thoughts, she expresses how ‘last year in fact – the church has been razed to the ground – which is a catastrophe as a church has been on that ground for hundreds of years – we were immersed there – married there and several of my ancestors buried there. There was a Baptist Church in Netherton in the time of Oliver Cromwell’ (Hampton, p6). Here, Nora identifies through the denotation of ‘razed to the ground’ how the church which holds significant family memories has been destroyed and swept away completely. As her father years before the church was closed kept it afloat by paying ‘Mr Boughen’s salary for some time as the chapel at the time was very poor’(Hampton, p39). The way she underlines this phrase may have been conducted intentionally to take centre stage as well as using this type of language to metaphorically convey the church being swept away has caused her family’s good doings there to be swept away and destroyed.
It is suggested that the working classes’ recreational activities consisted of ‘drinking in pubs, playing in brass bands, singing in choral societies, betting ‘on the dogs’, pigeon fancying’ (McLeod, 1978, p3) all were instances of popular cultural practices that could be understood as being inscribed with class meanings. However, Nora never mentions any of these activities being uptaken by any of her family members. Rosemary highlighted how Nora and her husband Ernest used to be part of the Church committee organising the Harvest festival and afterwards Ernest use to organise the auction sale. Rosemary also exposed how Nora and Cis used to paint, copying the cover of magazines and Cis was a fabulous painter, also one of Nora’s paintings is hanging up on one of Rosemary’s walls. Nora joined the WEA – Workers Education Association, undertook an architecture course, and was extremely interested in furniture and antiques which could have stemmed from her interest in her grandmother’s antiques I mentioned in the Home and Family post. When Nora was a child, she never mentioned her mother participating in any clubs, this is because there was a lack of associations for women where they could go and congregate together.
One yearly habit for the Hamptons was a holiday, and Rosemary told me that they used to holiday for free in Towyn, Wales at least five times a year. Her first holiday was near Abersoch, Wales in a red stone farmhouse, and you would cross the road and be right on the sand dunes looking out onto the beach!
Sounds lovely don’t you think?
Nora expresses her vivid memories of her family through writing in detail about her relationship with her father, grandmother, sister, and how her extended family living nearby and sharing a tight family bond with its own community feeling.
Julie-Marie Strange suggests that ‘many children simply did not spend much leisure time with their fathers… playing or in activities that were for children’ (2015, p112-114). John Hampton however made the effort to interact with his children. He ‘could play the piano and violin and when he had given up his work, for an evening he would play a jig up and down the piano, which set us children dancing’ (Hampton, p.12). The same vibrant family setting could be seen at Christmas when Nora depicts how Uncle Elijah sang the song ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ and they all joined in the chorus. All are remembered in Nora’s memoir:
In her book on working-class autobiographers depiction of their fathers, Julie Marie Strange suggests that Nora intertwined ‘memories of exceptional family’ to ‘mark milestones’ in her life. Often, autobiographers like Nora, she argues, convey affection for their father by relating memories of their fun and games together rather than stating explicitly how they felt about him: ‘To Nora, her father playing the piano on an evening, and the family gathering at Christmas are memories she still cherishes in her later life.’ Similarly, Albert Mansbridge, also quoted by Strange, implied that children ‘from ‘normal’ ‘decent’ working-class homes, derived ‘happiness, even exultation’ from simple pleasure’ (2015, p121).
Nora’s grandmother features heavily in her memoir, since she spent a lot of time with her as a child and looked up to her. She had ‘some quite good pictures and ornaments which I thought ugly but which would be precious antiques now’, Nora remembers: ‘There were several Staffordshire dogs and two pictures of St. John and Mark and St. Peter and James’ (Hampton, p. 9). Perhaps Nora initially began her memoir with the ambition to leave something behind for her own grandchildren. Wistfully, she wishes she had asked her grandmother more about her childhood, indicating how much she wanted to keep grandmother’s legacy alive.
When Nora was 8 years old her family moved to Park Road. It ‘still had no bathroom nor hot water system – but we were on our own with a nice back kitchen with a fire grate, a water C. and a big garden to ourselves – the garden father was soon to make into a pen run for his fowls. I have a vague memory of a pigsty and I think we had a pig once but can’t imagine mother enjoying that experience and extra work’ (Hampton, p.19). The video below made by The Black Country Living museum showcases a traditional working-class family in the 1900s that correlates with Nora’s description of her home on Park Road. It also documents how it was common for working-class families in the Black Country to own a pig. The Black Country was known for its iron and coal industries, so to supplement the family income many women would work as chain makers to supplement the family’s income, and this would be at the back of their house or just down the road.
When Nora was fifteen she moved again, this time to a house her father built on an acre of land next to his brother’s plot. The Hamptons were moving up in the world, now owning land and their own homes:
Previously we had been tenant and paid rents – now we owned our own place with quite a big garden with a tall wooden fence and a drive. There were three large bedrooms and a large kitchen with a big range which heated water for washing up etc. we also had a scullery where there was a gas cooker. We also had electric light and an electric kettle – I think dad was very forward looking to have electricity installed – it was quite an adventure at that “early age” (Hampton, p. 41).
It is interesting to see the transition from the Hampton’s previous home, which had a ‘hanging paraffin lamp and no light above the stairs’ (Hampton, p. 41) to having three bedrooms, heated water, gas cooker and electric lights and a kettle. The upwardly mobile Hamptons now had a detached house with many of the features of the suburban newbuilds that would become popular after the First World War.
Nora’s sister Martha Maude also plays a prominent role in Nora’s memoir. She notes that because she couldn’t pronounce Martha Maude she called her sister Cis instead. This has obviously stuck as when I was on the phone to Nora’s daughter Rosemary, she referred to Nora’s sister as Cis too. Rosemary has provided me with insights into her mother’s adult family life, telling me how they had grown up with cats, and that she and her brother Frank had a privileged childhood with a lovely garden, house, and holidays. John Hampton, Nora’s father, had brought an area of land on South Road, Hagley next to his brother’s acre, which Nora and her husband Ernest bought from her parents and lived there. Nora’s father, nicknamed Nandy, was loved dearly by the whole family. Unfortunately, Rosemary revealed that Nora’s husband died of lung cancer at the age of 52 due to being offered free cigarettes when he was part of the horse regiment in Egypt during World War 2. After her husband’s death, Nora’s doctor advised her to call the Stourbridge office and apply to be a supply teacher, which she did, and then was successful in retaining a permanent position at a school in Cradley Heath.
Rosemary told me that in her later life Nora moved to Wales as she liked the mountains and had fallen in love with the place as a child when her family used to holiday there. Cis brought a house in Wales first with her husband Syd and then Nora moved and brought the house next to her. It is clear to see that Nora and her sister had an incredibly close bond, and that family meant everything to them.
Key facts from Nora’s daughter Rosemary:
1. ‘Nora had a brother Frank, who became a doctor, training at Birmingham QE. Then in 1922, she had her first child they named Frank. He had to go straight into the navy from King Edwards Grammar school Stourbridge, into the war although he had a scholarship to Oxford’.
2. ‘Aunty Lil was Lilian Taylor who married Nora’s brother Leonard Hampton’.
3.’Cis, who was Martha Maud Hampton married Sydney Monkton. I think 3 Monkton cousins married 3 Hamptons.!!’ Just shows what a small world it was then!’
4. ‘Nandy was what we called our Grandfather, Nora’s father, John Hampton, and we called our Grandmother, Nora’s mother, Nana. I think my brother Frank named them as he was their first grandchild, and we all just knew them as that! Nana’s maiden name was Mary Jane Hubble and when I heard that, as a mischievous little girl, I wrote it all over her sewing things in her work-basket! They lived next door and I was very fond of them.’
Nora’s memoir focuses heavily on the theme of home and family and so I have written two separate posts. This one covers the sexual division of labour, domestic ideals, and inequality in working-class families. The second post will explore family life, affective relations, and memory.
In the early 19th century, a new sexual division of labour in the factory system was introduced and most workers were women and children, with men in supervisory roles.
Women factory workers were paid at higher rates than in many other areas of female work, such as domestic service. However, they did not earn enough to support the whole family. Men were employed in the higher paid supervisory roles of ‘overlookers’ and only these workers might earn enough to comfortably support their whole family. It was among workers like these that the ideal of the male breadwinner developed as they earned a ‘family wage’. Nora’s childhood family life, however, was closer to ‘models more suitable to the conditions of middle-class authors’ (Gagnier, 1987, p.357) than to many of the working-class autobiographers on this site
Due to her father’s occupation as a thriving shoemaker, Nora had a stable home-life. John Hampton (Nora’s father) had the ambition to be a ‘cabinet maker, but under the circumstances then existing’ he ‘took the first job offered – at a boot-making factory, in King St Dudley and afterwards Bakers, of Wolverhampton’ (Hampton, p. 3). His ambition, however,
had always been, to be his own master, so a year or so before he was married, and in preparation for that event, as he has known my mother for several years, he rented a small house, along Cinder bank opposite the Netherton Council Schools… There he repaired and made shoes. In those days shoes were sensible – lace ups above the ankles, and the more “fashionable” if that is the word – button ups, at the side. His work was in the front and the back was where they lived – that is where I was born, mother said he would often work till midnight and sometimes, to fulfil an order’ (Hampton, p. 3).
John Hampton wanted to be a an independent master so he could provide for his family and his children could go to school, while his wife Mary Jane Jane Hubball could be a moral arbiter of the home without having to take on paid labour. Nora’s mother had a woman to help her on wash days: ‘Mrs Nickless who lived near to us and used to stay late in the Kitchen to do the ironing – father being still at work’. (Hampton, p7). Employing an individual to help with domestic duties is more commonly associated with the middle and upper classes but some in the upper echelons of the working class could afford domestic help, though rarely a live in servant. With Nora’s father working hard to be his own master, Nora’s mother was able to stay at home and undertake the traditionally middle-class domestic housewife role, and was admired by some of her neighbours for her respectability.
Some historians suggest that the working-classes began to imitate middle-class values, with ‘working class women begin(ing) to withdraw from industrial life into the home, where they tried to emulate the domestic lifestyles of the wealthy’ (Rosemary Collins, cited by Bourke p. 62). Julie-Marie Strange explains that ‘the sexual division of labour tended to identify home as women’s realm, especially in working-class culture where space was limited, and men spent long hours in work’ (2015, p. 83).
By contrast, Lucy Luck who lived in the same period as Nora, experienced an extremely different home and family life. After her father deserted the family, Lucy’s mother had to seek help from the local parish, resulting in the family entering a workhouse. While Lucy was sent as a pauper apprentice to work in a silk mill, aged nine, Nora received ‘half a penny per week for spending money!’ (Hampton, p. 29) and her father ‘was about the first in Netherton to have electricity installed in the house’. (Hampton, p47). Comparing Nora and Lucy’s childhoods highlights the diversity of working-class upbringings, yet though Nora was very fortunate compared with Lucy, she still placed herself in the category of working class and did not look down on those in poverty.
At particular points in her memoir Nora touches on the theme of class, evidence of this can be seen when she portrays how:
I suppose we were working class although my dad was his own master. He had worked exceedingly hard to become so. We had enough of the best food – plenty of milk in a jug from the Milkman, Mr. Guest, at the door – twice a day, plenty of butter, home-made jam, porridge for supper or breakfast – plenty of oranges and apples. We didn’t have much meat, bacon or cheese although dad kept fowls, we had one egg per week! [and] we always had a turkey for Christmas and plenty of sage and onion sauce – plum pudding and mince pies, all home-made (Hampton, p. 33).
I find it interesting how she uses the phrase ‘I suppose’ as this denotes someone expressing slight uncertainty. Throughout the whole memoir Nora never looks down upon those who were worse off than herself and her family. She expresses concern for the various beggars, remembering their names, and what they looked like, while at the same time identifying how she is equal to them by placing her family in the same class strata.
In her study, Julie-Marie Strange quotes a ‘speaker at the 1913 “Workers of the World” conference at Browning Hall (a settlement in Camberwell that promoted labour politics and religion)’ who noted that ‘men did not sit at home telling their families they loved them; they went to work to prove it’ (p. 25). Before my research for Writing Lives, I thought that working class families in the early 1900’s struggled to provide the basic necessities such as food, and clothing. And among the working-class autobiographers she studied, Emma Griffin has found that the families of 20 carpenters, 21 millers, 22 shoemakers, 23 printers, and 24 small shopkeepers, ‘all reported that they had sometimes lacked food to the point of hunger’ (2020, p.198)’. By contrast, the Hamptons had a ‘comfortable’ home and ‘everything went smoothly’. Due to her carpenter father they had ‘enough to eat – wholesome – but no frills – or tinned food – let alone frozen’ (Hampton, p. 7). Nora does not mention mentions shortages of food until she touches on rationing during the war.
It is clear to see how prosperous the Hamptons were, and how aware Nora is of this. In my second post on Home and Family I explore Nora’s family life, affective relations and memory.
‘”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: