In Claude Robinson’s life, hard work was a source of pride and solidarity. As we uncovered in my introduction blog post for Robinson, whilst his father was a schoolteacher and that clearly had an influence on his career choices, one must not forget that his mother was a mill girl and because of this he was no stranger to working-class jobs from a young age. There always seemed to be a duality of academia and labour in his life; for instance, during his university vacations whilst he attended Oxford University he worked for a living at different jobs, including a job as a personal tutor. For him to attend and succeed at the highest level of education, Claude Robinson had to work like anyone else to get where he wanted to be. Of course, compared to other working-class memoirs, Robinson’s academic employment may appear manageable and perhaps even lucky since many people found themselves working physically intensive and demanding jobs when he was climbing the education ladder. As I’ve touched upon in previous posts, however, Claude Robinson was never a stranger to the plights of the working class and those that laboured near the bottom of class division. Instead he embraced and fought for them in not only political protests but also during his time as a teacher at Jarrow School.
Female factory workers in the late 1800’s,
His position as headmaster was by no means untenable at any point during his time in charge. Robinson was often the first target for blame when inspections were rough or children were struggling – at the time, as seen in my Education and Schooling posts, he was dutiful and almost sacrificial when the judgement hammer came down on Jarrow School. In retrospect, this memoir tells us that Robinson was furious at this injustice and used what little power he could to challenge the higher ups into benefitting the school, but he had to temper his more radical political beliefs. The root of all the school’s problems came from lack of funding and a general lack of attention from Jarrow Council, but nonetheless Robinson and his staff felt all the pressure. His staff were constantly under siege, at risk of losing their jobs, dealing with lack of equipment or underpaid, in a lot of cases: all three of these applied. Whenever his colleagues were being scrutinized or struggling in their work, he approached the governors that oversaw the school and argued for the sake of the workers. One such occasion was in 1938, when inspectors ‘complained of lack of amenities for the staff’ (pg.35) to which Robinson remarks ‘they would have done even more if they had known the wages they were paid’ (pg.35).
‘In 1937 the average wage for a maid was 5s. 6d per week, prior to that probably less, and that of the cook £1 a week.’ (pg.35) Robinson, C. (1898) These We Have Loved
Robinson ‘was able to bring pressure to bear in the governors’ (pg.36) as he played to increase the low wages for the non-stop labour that the maids and school cook endured. Eventually, after an anxious attempt to improve the workers’ conditions, he was able ‘to get agreement to increases of 60% for the maids and 50% for the cook’ which was a notable increase in pay for any time. This is but one example of the headteacher’s fight for the working class in his own working environment. The work of his staff was clearly very important to him, and he was in their corner at all times as their labour was scoffed at by the council.
Robinson, C. (1898) These We Have Loved