May Jones, born 1893: Habits, Culture and Belief – Writing Lives

May Jones, born 1893: Habits, Culture and Belief

“at about the age of four I became staunch or perhaps stupid vegetarian” (Jones, 49).

May Jones’s autobiography details her life growing up in the late nineteenth century. She focuses on her childhood growing up in the small village of Broken Cross near Macclesfield in Cheshire which highlights the themes of family, education and labour. Her memoir does not extend past early adulthood but two chapters in her memoir highlight May’s dedication to her beliefs. One story in her memoir affected her beliefs in later life more than others.

May dedicates a chapter in her memoir to her aunt’s revelation that the meat she eats for her dinner is from living animals. The chapter “I become a vegetarian” (Jones, 49) shows May’s horror that people eat living animals and subsequently how she refused to eat meat as a child.

On an Easter outing with her aunt, May describes a lovely spring day “morning the sun was shining, the sky was blue with little fleecy clouds, the blackbirds and thrushes were singing and we watched a skylark souring until it was out of sight. The meadows were covered with buttercups, daisies” (Jones, 49). She learns how to make daisy chains and played with the lambs in a field. One of the lambs was hand reared and May found that sheep more friendly than others. She played with this lamb and she “took {her] daisy chain off [her] neck and put it round the little lambs neck and loved it” (Jones, 50).

Linnell, John; Sheep; Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery;

This childhood experience playing in a field would be remembered by May, not because it was a lovely moment but because of a fact that her aunt reveals to her. This revelation would affect her beliefs for the rest of her life. When May refused to eat her dinner that night,  her auntie dropped a bomb shell. She said “come eat up your dinner it is that pretty little lamb you have been playing with in the fields”” (Jones, 50). May understood what her auntie was saying and refused to eat her dinner saying “I dont want to wat baa lamb I want to play with it” (Jones, 50). She was  overwhelmed with information about where meat really comes from. She started crying and was sent to bed by her mother. From then on May refused to eat meat no matter how hard her mother tried to force her. She went to bed hungry as meat made her physically sick and nothing else was offered to her.

May states that not even finding out that Santa Claus was actually her father was more shocking than  when she “learned about our relationship with animals, this revulsion is still with me at the age of 85.” May’s love of animals and her staunch vegetarianism resulted from this one childhood incident. It altered her belief system so much that she remained a vegetarian all her life. The only time she ate meat after this incident was by accident, one time resulting in a hospital stay that almost killed her when she had to have half her stomach and three feet of bowels removed. She says she was going to tell this story in a later chapter but she never wrote it.

A hedge sparrow or dunnock, the type of bird that Timothy was.

May’s love for animals is seen again in a later chapter titled “Timothy” (Jones, 53). Walking home from her job at the milliners she encountered an abandoned baby bird that she took home to look after when she believed that it was sick. She was determined to help the bird saying “Well I shall have a jolly good try” (Jones, 53) after her father thought she could not look after it. She fed it on an unusual diet at first feeding the bird on egg custard as it was what she had for lunch that day. Through May’s care the bird got stronger and she called it Timothy. May took Timothy to work with her despite funny looks from “fellow travellers [who] looked rather suspiciously at the basket I was carrying so carefully, especially when little chirps came from it.” (Jones, 53). Timothy flew around her workroom and when a friend offered her a cage she said: “no thank you it is a wild bird and when it is fully grown and I think strong enough I shall take it to our garden in the country and let it fly away.” (Jones, 55). May and Timothy grew attached to each other as she describes what Timothy got up to. He liked playing with string, sitting on her knee singing songs and “sometimes he was very mischievous and would perch on my shoulder and pull all the hair pins out of my hair.” (Jones, 56). When May tried to let him into the wild again he always came back to her. Sadly, Timothy did finally fly away as a loud noise scared him away one day and he never came back. This is May’s last anecdote in her memoir which she wrote about clearly and thoroughly. Her love of animals and devotion to vegetarianism are strong feelings in her autobiography. May felt that these values were important to her and she reflected on early memories in her memoir, highlighting the effect they had on her later life.


May Jones in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:401

Images Used

Linnell, John; Sheep; Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery;

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