A.W Todd: Audience and Purpose – Writing Lives

A.W Todd: Audience and Purpose

“In recording my memoirs of working as a mason, during these years in between the wars, I have endeavoured to relate the conditions in which a mason had to make his skill and tools provide a living for himself and family.”

In this blog entry I’m going to expand on the audience and the purpose of Todd’s insightful memoir, as well as say a little bit about the way I’ll be approaching it. Firstly, it is right at the end of the memoir that Todd disclosed the intentions in the above quote. With this being so far in the past, we can’t really call it an instruction manual as such, as circumstances are not the same and therefore we should probably consider this memoir more in the realms of common interest.

As we’ve already concluded this is certainly a memoir about working life rather than domestic life. He is somewhat an expert on the trade. Whilst this suggests a more narrowed audience, it also limits me to writing largely about his working life, though, where possible, I will try to bring some of the other aspects of his life to, well, life.

The fact that the memoir is about a specific trade as well suggests that what Todd is doing is writing a history of the trade of Masonry for people of the trade of masonry. This rather encapsulates his identity as a writer. Todd, almost by definition, is a working-class tradesman. Though the memoir is largely about his time as a Mason, there is a plot twist, and he decides that he would rather work with marble instead and seeks out a job in the marble industry. Despite his jump to another industry, both are working-class physical labor trades and so, the audience is more than likely a working class tradesman.

Todd’s memoir then transcends itself as a memoir and becomes more than that. We must also consider it an historical document. Regenia Gagnier wrote that “The autobiographers insisted upon their own histories, however difficult it was to write them, and they unanimously state that their reasons for writing them are functional rather than aesthetic.” Whilst Todd does insist upon his own history in line with Gagnier’s observations, he doesn’t exactly state outright that there is no aesthetic value in his memoir either. Though, largely, his memoir does appear functional if we consider it an historical document. The value of the document to history really does lie in its authenticity. It is not written by an academic historian researching the Masonry industry during this time but by a man who lived the experience. The balance between authenticity and literary merit hangs finely, as it does with most working-class autobiographies.

Todd obviously wants there to be documentation on record regarding the Masons of London and the work he did during his tenure as one of the rock stars of the South. Its status as an historical document is enhanced further as we see that it covers the general strike, also, a well-documented piece of British history.

The detailed descriptions of working as a stonemason, covering the formalities of an apprenticeship, stone yard etiquette and the actual process of stonemasonry really help to underline the audience here as well. His moving into the marble industry spreads the readership further and what we can say about Todd’s memoir is that it is unmissable for anyone with an interest in architectural masonry and construction.

So, if that’s you, and why wouldn’t it be, then enjoy and keep reading.


‘A.W. Todd’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:1030

Gagnier, Regenia, Social Atoms: Working – Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Victorian Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Spring, 1987), pp. 335-363

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