Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): Home & Family – Writing Lives

Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): Home & Family

A photo of Dora’s family home at 114 Renny Road, Portsmouth.

“My father was in the Royal Navy, and almost a complete stranger to my brothers and me. Like all naval personnel, he was sent away on commissions to outposts of our far flung empire. These commissions were for periods of about three years duration, and wives and children did not accompany their menfolk, but inevitably, when father came home after such long absences, another child was conceived, then off he was sent again leaving mother to cope with all the extra work, and it was HARD work in those days and very little money with which to clothe and feed the extra mouths” [p. 1]

As I have mentioned before (see Purpose and Audience), Dora predominately writes her memoir as a dedication to her mother, and the happy childhood that she provided for her. Dora celebrates her mother so much, as she appreciates the difficulties she would have had to have faced raising her six children, being on her own the majority of the time. As seen from Dora’s Memoir, although she grew up with her father, he worked as a Stoker in the Royal Navy, so was often absent from the house.

After her childhood, Dora married herself, to a John Hannan, and the two had a son together, and this may be why she focuses on her childhood so much, as she has now experienced marriage and motherhood, “I never realised until I myself married, just how hard my mother must have worked” [p. 6]. This is said to be common in female working class writing, as the writers, who would one day be mothers and wives themselves “Had a … personal relationship with the idea of parenting” (Steedman, 1982). Because of this, we see a very detailed account of the way that Dora’s mother raised her and her siblings.

The King family’s record in the 1911 Censuses of England and Wales.

Dora lived in Fratton, Portsmouth, in 114 Renny Road. She resided here with her mother, father and six siblings. She describes Renny Road to be full to capacity with families like hers, “The house was one of a terrace of back to back dwellings in a street of a dockyard town, just one among many scores of such streets and houses, mainly inhabited by dockyard ‘mateys’ or navy personnel of lower deck status” [p. 2]. She describes the house as consisting of “Two good sized bedrooms upstairs, and on the ground floor, a front parlour, a drawing room, living room and a large scullery” [p. 2]. 1877 saw new guidance to local authorities in developing housing regulations (August, 2007), such as more space, and we can see how Dora’s family benefit from this increased space in the downstairs of her family home, with the four separate rooms.

However, the house did not accommodate enough room for the large family, as Dora shared her bedroom with her siblings growing up. This situation was typical of this time, with one bedroom being for the mother, father and baby, and the second being for the elder children (Pember Reeves, 1979). It was sometimes an option to let out rooms (Pember Reeves, 1979), in order to help towards the cost of rent, as seen with Dora’s neighbour Mrs Rudden: “An enormous lady, whose husband was also in the Navy; she had two children, older than us, and she took in lodgers” [p. 5]. This was not available to Dora’s family however due to the family already taking all the space in the house. Dora describes that the family were not wealthy, and this is most likely due to being a large family living on a single wage, but her childhood has not been affected negatively because of this: “Life to me was simple but happy in spite of lack of material possessions. What we never had, we never missed; our toys were very few and far between, we made our own entertainment” [p. 1]

A Black and White Print Ad for Grape-Nuts Cereal from Postum Cereal Company Ltd.

There were seven children in total in the King family, all referred to by their middle names in the memoir. “First to arrive were twins, Martha and Steven, followed two years later by John … three years after this, I, Rosie, was born, to be quickly succeeded by William, and then at intervals of five years by Edward and finally Percival” [p. 3]. Unfortunately, for the family, John and Martha were to die in early childhood, John dying at just six months, of the scourge whooping cough, and Martha dying at the age of eight after a fall in the playground. Both events of course bought tremendous heartbreak to the family, especially as Dora’s father was sent away the day that baby John had died, “He felt very bitter about having to leave my mother at such a time” [p. 4]. To read more about this, see the Illness, Health and Disability post!

Dora’s mother seemed to have kept the family under a tight, methodical and organised routine, which is most likely needed as it is said that mothers of large, poor families have: “But one pair of hands and but one overburdened brain” (Pember Reeves, 1979), again, proof of her mother’s hard work, and why Dora commends her so greatly. When the children were all attending school, they would have a good wash in the evening before bed, with a “Proper bath all over once a week on Friday evening in front of the living room fire” [p. 6]. Before school they would be provided with a good breakfast. In the cold weather this would be porridge, or bread and milk, and at warmer times would be ‘Force’, ‘Grapenuts’, bread fried in dripping, or bread and jam. A sandwich was also taken to school to eat at playtime. At noon, the children would return home for dinner, always consisting of: “A good hot meal, with a nourishing and filling pudding” [p. 7], then back to school until four. After returning from school, tea would normally consist of herring, or eggs and toast, made from holding the bread in front of the fire, to shortly be followed by bedtime at seven. Dora’s appreciation of her mother is understandable when seeing the hard work she underwent to keep the children in a healthy and hygienic routine, and the success of her motherhood, is reflected in Dora’s nostalgic pleasure she feels when looking back on her childhood.

To read more on childhood in Portsmouth, check out this post by Lucy Daish (2018), on Frederick Charles Wynne!

Or look at the Home and Family section on the Writing Lives website, for posts surrounding the home and family in the 19th and 20th century.

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Works Cited

357 HANNAN, Dora R., ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’, TS, pp.36 (c.20,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Daish, L. (2018) Frederick Charles Wynne: Home and Family. Writing Lives. [blog] URL: /home-and-family/frederick-charles-wynne-home-and-family Date Accessed: 26/04/18

Steedman, C. (1982) The Tidy House, Little Girls Writing. Virago Press: London

Pember Reevs, M. (1979) Round About a Pound a Week. Virago: London


Google Maps (2018) 114 Renny Road. URL: Date accessed: 11/02/18

Ancestry (2011) 1911 England Census. URL: Date accessed: 11/02/18

Period Paper (2018) 1909 Ad Postum Cereal Grape-Nuts Breakfast Food Child – Original Advertising GH3. URL: Date accessed: 12/02/2018


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