Ruth Cox (born 1890): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Ruth Cox (born 1890): Purpose and Audience

“Both of you are only sharing a little part of my life but I wished you both to read about the historical events from the age of Queen Victoria to the second Elisabethean (sic) age in the 1970s” (White Knob Row, p. 11).

This is how Ruth Cox concludes her autobiography, White Knob Row and it gives us readers the answer as to both the purpose of Ruth’s autobiography, and for whom it was intended.

Ruth’s autobiography was written for, and dedicated to, her great-grandchildren Oliver and Elanor. Ruth wrote her autobiography when she was aged 78 with the intention of immortalising her life experiences. It is not explicitly stated whether Ruth intended for her memoirs to be published but it could be assumed that she did not. Throughout she writes in a warm and engaging tone, most probably due to the fact she was writing for her relatives and for the future generations of the Cox family.

Regenia Gagnier argues that for most working-class autobiographers the purpose of their memoirs was to insist ‘upon their own histories…to record lost experiences for future generations…to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves’ (Gagnier, 342) and this is true of Ruth’s memoir. Her two main purposes for writing are firstly to give her great-grandchildren a sense of who their great-grandmother was, and secondly a sense of what the world was like throughout her life.

Ruth writes of information that may not seem important to the everyday reader; however, it would provide her great-grandchildren with knowledge of where their family came from. For example, she writes ‘My grandparents were landlords of The Railway Hotel, Globe Square’ (p1).

The Railway Hotel, Hyde


This piece of information gives them an idea of who their ancestors were. Ruth is able to tell her great-grandchildren about her own parents and what they did for a living. She also tells them the names of her own parents, ‘My Mother and Father, Alfred and Hannah Banks were your great, great grandparents’. It is through this direct and conversational style, that we can easily tell who this autobiography was written for.

Work is one of the main themes of Ruth’s writing. Ruth writes about work in order to give a historical account of what it was like to work in the early 20th century. Her great-grandchildren can use this information to compare and contrast just how different it is working in the 1970s, when Ruth wrote her autobiographical letters compared to when she worked as a young woman.

The Slack Mill in Hyde where Ruth worked


Ruth writes, ‘I started to work at 13. The school board allowed children to leave school if their attendances at school had been fully completed’ (p5). She writes of her work in the Slack Mills in the weaving shed as a 13-year-old, which for future readers including her great-grandchildren would be very different from the life they themselves live. Ruth is documenting a time where school could be left as early as 13, whereas now it is unthinkable to think of entering the adult work environment as early as 13. Ruth does not write of any displeasure in working at the mill and in fact she writes of her experiences in the mill as being positive: ‘We had an hour for dinner 12:30 to 1:30 pm. We used to meet our pals, lads and lasses going back to work through Tinkers Passage and had many happy times together’ (5).

World War II National Identity Card

War is another important theme of the memoir. Ruth shows how the Second World War was a pivotal part of her life experience. She writes of her own involvement of helping with the war effort through her work in The Women’s Voluntary Service. Volunteering is something Ruth seems immensely proud about, therefore it is natural that she would want to share her stories and experiences with her great-grandchildren who will also, undoubtedly be proud of her.

Ruth’s autobiography ultimately serves as a historical document that can be read and re-read by her great-grandchildren, their children and their children after that. Now it has been made public, the autobiography can be examined by people all over the world and Ruth would hope that this wider audience can see the impact Ruth had on the world around her.

“White Knob Row still stands as far as I know and I have travelled along life’s highway sharing my life” (11)



Cox, Ruth, ‘White Knob Row’,1:184 TS, pp.11 (c.4,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363

‘Hyde Slack Mill image’

‘ID Card Image’

‘The Railway Hotel Image’


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.