John Sawyer (b. 1914) Habits & Beliefs – Writing Lives

John Sawyer (b. 1914) Habits & Beliefs

John’s life was full of so many hobbies and recreational activities that I tend to lose count! Whilst John attempts to establish his class through his working life, his social habits as both a child and an adult reveal his working-class identity. During the 20th century, a person’s recreational activities are believed to be a marker of class, otherwise known as a ‘social distinction’, according to Pierre Bourdieu.

Church Choir by Louisa Beresford (1887)

He joined the church choir of the only church in his town. Following his initiation ceremony, he admits that ‘returning to one’s seat in the choir stalls one felt humble and proud at having been admitted to the ranks of such as body’ (p. 9). John never confirms whether his parents forced him to join the church choir, and simply states that he ‘joined’ it. Additionally, he confesses in the later stages of his memoir that he ended up being chorister for 10 years, so he may have had a passion for religion and the church. However, this hobby seems to fade when he ventures into adult life, as he never refers to his position there again. This hobby therefore gets lost and only exists within his childhood, another being the Boy Scouts.

John seems to have enjoyed the Boy Scouts. He explains how it was a ‘popular organisation and well patronised’ (p.12). He repetitively boasts about the success he had within the Scouts, being ‘one of the largest troops in the county’(p.12), and he mentions their victories, declaring that they ‘did well at yearly rallies as victory rings on the County Flag bore evidence’ (p.12). He vividly remembers the yearly camps to Gorleston-on-Sea, trips that him and his scout mates would look ‘forward to with great anticipation’ (p.12) as they would stand at the Gorleston Cliff edge and ‘blow the Last Post out to sea’; he ‘felt very proud’ to do so (p.12). Interestingly, prior to 1914, the Scout movement recruited ‘broadly upper-working-class and lower-middle-class boys’ that traditionally and routinely ‘attended church or chapel’ (Beaven, p. 99). John had the typical religious upbringing that was required, yet he lived in a working-class town with primarily working-class leisure. The Boy Scouts, however, became a more ‘socially heterogeneous organisation’, which allowed for more Scouts from different classes and subsequently attracted ‘working-class membership’ (Beaven, pg.99). Issues such as class and identity are subjects that John, as a child, did not comprehend due to his infant knowledge and therefore natural lack of care, and instead, he simply enjoyed his childhood hobbies and pastimes.

Boy Scouts Association (1914-1918)

John also writes that during his schooling years he hated history and exams. However, this seems to be a fleeting dislike. Throughout his memoir, he consistently speaks of the history of certain locations, including the history of his hometown Ramsey: ‘The history of Ramsey began in Saxon times with the foundation of a monastery’ (p.5). He also goes back to the seventeenth century and explains how ‘fifteen dwellings were destroyed by fire on one occasion in 1731’ and that ‘over a hundred families were rendered homeless’ (p.6). After returning home to Ramsey after thirty years, he visits most places that are concerned with his own personal history, including old landmarks to see if they are still standing, and visits shops in the hopes of recognising old, familiar faces. He even goes to visit his old friends, such as the drummer in his band and one of his past love affairs. Finally, he admits how there was ‘so much to interest me, and so many things to recall’ (p.102).

Ramsey Village Welcome Sign. Photographed by Ann Williams

As a schoolboy, John loved physical activities such as football and cricket. He speaks of his skills as a bowler and admits that he ‘modelled himself on the sportsmaster. I think he realised it, and encouraged me’ (p.8). He also admits how he ‘enjoyed our soccer sessions’ (p.8). Some of his childhood hobbies still existed when he was an adult. For example, he still played cricket, yet more competitively, as he joined his works county club with colleagues. He also joined his local football team after leaving school, and would compete in matches most Saturdays. Football was the first organised sport to take place in the nineteenth century, and was extremely gendered, as only men were encouraged to play. Nevertheless, the footballer ‘as representative had become the working class hero’ (Hopcraft, p N/a), and therefore was solely a working-class sport. Therefore, John’s hobbies, particularly football, were inspired by both his gender and his class.

England vs. Scotland (1901)

As an adult, he attended as many dances as he could, and after the formation of his band, he played at many too. The band consisted of four members including himself. Every Friday night for years they would go to the same pub called ‘Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem’, and that same pub still exists today. He would drink, sing and dance, and they even ‘attracted customers’ (p.22) with their activities. Andy Croll states that ‘drinking in pubs, playing in brass bands, singing in choral societies, […] were instances of popular cultural practices that could be understood as being inscribed with class meanings’ (Croll, p.402). John submits to the popular cultural activities of his time and his class status, being working-class. This is not the same case for his identity at the workplace.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Pub in Nottingham


John Sawyer, One man in his time, or, the first sixty years; an autobiography. 38,000 words. Born 1914, Beeston Nottingham.

Beaven, B. (2009). Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850-1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Strange, J. (2012). Fatherhood, Providing, and Attachment in Late Victorian and Edwardian Working Class Families.’ The Historical Journal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Page 1009)

Croll, A. (1984). Popular Leisure and Sport’ in Chris Williams (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain. Oxford: Blackwell,

Hopcraft, A. (2013). The Football Man: People & Passions in Soccer: Aurum Press.

Images cited

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