The house in High Street was a very desirable residence with a vine growing over the back, a small yard behind the house enclosed by a wall and a nice garden. My Father was an enthusiastic gardener and looked forward to happy hours spent in cultivating vegetables and flowers, rising early for that purpose (p.7).
In the late 19th-century, men had more leisure time than women (Bourke, 1994). They did however, spend a lot of it at the home (Bourke, 1994), as we can see above with Frank’s description of his father “looking forward to happy hours spent” in the garden (p.7). The house in this quote refers to a house that Frank lived in as a young child. It was located in Berkeley, “in the High Street, next to Dr Bridgeman’s Surgery” (p.6). Born in Berkeley, Gloucester, 1863, Frank was the second eldest of six children. He lived in Berkeley with his family, until September 1875, when they were all relocated to Sharpness.
With the opening of the new docks, the Dock Company decided to have an office there and to transfer my father thither […] The Dock Company said they would build an office, with a dwelling house attached, for my father as they wished him to live on the spot instead of walking from and to Berkeley as he had done for some 25 years (p.136)
Unfortunately, Frank’s father did not receive the new build that was promised and instead he and his family lived in one of the houses that were intended for the Lockmen. And so, Sharpness became Frank’s new home growing up, a place he described as being “strange” at the time (p.138). Frank writes about the emptiness of Sharpness and how it was very different from that of Berkeley:
Turf huts there were plenty, occupied by the navvies and other men still engaged in finishing the work around the docks. The first grain warehouse was being built. The railway from Sharpness to Berkeley Road was under construction. There was […] no school, no church, no shops but a kind of general store and post office. We had to use condensed milk and get our meat once a week from a butcher who came with supplies to a public house, formerly a farmhouse, at Oldminster (p.139)
Here, Frank captures living in the moment before the growth of Sharpness as a town. Having no immediate access to fresh food and produce, as well as a limited means of transportation, meant that simple daily tasks were more difficult for his family. Nevertheless, they still carried on.
In terms of his family members, Frank writes a great deal about his father in his memoirs compared to his mother. Reading the many descriptions and discussions of his father, I could see that Frank admired his father very much. Frank’s father, Oliver George Marling, worked as a clerk in the Dock Office in the new Sharpness Dock. He was later also given the position as a Sub – Postmaster. This was because the old Post Office was relocated to the new Dock Office in Sharpness.
Sadly, Frank’s father died on the 31st August 1892 at the age of 65. This information is listed at the start of Frank’s memoirs in his family lineage (see my Purpose & Audience post), but is not discussed in his memoirs. His father’s death would have happened before Frank decided to write his memoirs. After realising this information, I began to read Frank’s many accounts of his father differently.
Frank writes in a style that recalls upon the simple details of life that he would have never before noticed or appreciated as a child or young boy. As he mentions how his father spent 25 years walking to and from Sharpness every day, it is clear that Frank wanted to look back at the times when his father was alive. It is clear that Frank admired his father and had great respect for him, which is perhaps why he seems to have written a great deal about him: For 25 Years he walked backwards and forwards to Sharpness every day in all winds and weathers. He was there punctually at nine each morning and so regular was he that in houses where he passed people set their clocks by him! (p.106).
Julie Marie Strange notes how autobiographers expressed their feelings towards their fathers by recalling upon the things that their fathers did for them, rather than talking explicitly about their emotions towards them (2014). Frank appears to be doing the same, as he writes fondly about his memories of him. The admiration in his writing for his father signifies Frank’s ability to express his emotions, something that David Vincent suggests was not the case for many writers (1980, pp.226-9).
Reading his memoirs, Frank appeared to have had a happy childhood and home life despite some difficulties he and his family may have faced. There was however, a very heart-breaking account of the death of his younger brother, Percy. Percy died just a month before his second birthday. This was because of an accident in which he fell onto a pair of scissors he found. Frank explains how at the time, there was no means of getting a doctor to tend to him quick enough to stop the bleeding. It is a very heart-breaking account to read and I cannot imagine the pain and heartache this would have caused to Frank and his family. This account is detailed further in my Purpose and Audience post.
Read more about Frank’s childhood and other family members in part two of this post.
- Burnett, J. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Routledge, 1994.
Bourke, J. Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class andEthnicity. London: Routledge, 1994.
- ‘Frank George Marling’ in Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)
- Gagnier, R. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Victorian Studies. (Spring, 1987). 30(3), pp. 335-363.
- Marling, Frank George. ‘Reminiscences’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 1:492.
- Strange, J.M . Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.
- Vincent, D. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class’. Social History. (May, 1980). 5(2), pp.223-47.
- Aldridge, E. (1986). ‘New Docks, Sharpness, Gloucestershire, No.4 Steam Dredger’. Gloucester Waterways Museum. [Image]. Available at: (Accessed: 22/02/18)
- Barton, R. (2016). ‘Oliver George Marling’. [image]. Available at: (Accessed: 10/03/18).
- ‘Dark Green Doors, High Street, Berkeley’. (2013). [Image]. Available at: (Accessed: 22/02/18).