E.Robinson (b.1894): Home & Family – Writing Lives

E.Robinson (b.1894): Home & Family

The theme of home and family for Mr E.Robinson can be seen in two different sections. Firstly, the struggles of family life through his childhood are seen, due to the state of poverty seen in society in the earlier 1900’s. The second shows Robinson in relation to the family and home he has created for himself, highlighting how his hard work has led to him having a better standard of living.

Throughout his autobiography ‘I Remember’, Robinson speaks of the harsh conditions his family were subject to due to the economic situation at the turn of the 20th Century. During his youth, Robinson’s father often struggled to find work  as a

An example of a Hansom Cab Driver, the profession of Robinson's father.
An example of a Hansom Cab Driver, the profession of Robinson’s father.

Hansom cab driver and left his family with no money, stating “sometimes he would not earn 15/. so there were no wages for my mother” (pg. 7). The unfortunate situation of the family’s finances forced them to move around South East London in an attempt to find cheaper housing to live in, leaving Robinson without a settled home.  Robinson describes one house which they lived in, where he and his siblings were forced to share one double bed, as his father could afford no better.

Also by constantly moving around, Robinson never became settled at a school either, attending three different schools in seven years, which also left him without any meaningful friendships.

His lack of friendships however did not stop him in joining the other children in playing in the streets where he lived, writing how “there was no radio, television, or Picture Palaces, youth clubs were unheard of, we made our own enjoyment” (pg.3). His enthusiasm towards partaking in the juvenile activities highlights how the lack of stability in his home life would not stop him from having fun.

A group of children playing in the streets of East London (c.1900-1910)
A group of children playing in the streets of East London (c.1900-1910)

Robinson shows no real sign of a relationship with his father as he is always away trying to find work. However, he signals a strong bond with his mother throughout his childhood. He writes telling of how his mother was the head of the house, and how she controlled everything; what the children wore, what food was bought, where they would go to school. He describes her was the “complete housewife and mother” (pg. 4). Women during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were stereotypically seen to stay at home and raise the children, but the Suffrage Movement around this era tried to force a change and gain more rights for the female population

He recalls the time when he left school and found his first job and the elation he saw in his mother’s face when he told her, as she knew there would be more money to support the family. Robinson was not bothered about his personal gain through working as he gave the majority of his wage to his mother, but she allowed him “three pence pocket money per week” (pg. 18). His working class background has taught him to priorities him family and follow his father into employment, albeit at a young age.

His father mainly features in the autobiography when Robinson is discussing him in relation to his search for work in the author’s adolescent years. The only time where his father his mentioned in context to anything else is when Robinson discusses his father’s socialist views and the works of Robert Blatchford. Robinson’s father definitely had an influence on his personality and character however, as he installed the working class beliefs and values onto his son, along with sharing his political support of the Labour Party with him.

A lack of description can also be seen for Robinson’s siblings, who he only mentions during the brief introduction to his earlier years. He was the eldest of his parent’s four children, three boys and one girl, but he never refers to them throughout the rest of his memoirs. Although he states the importance of his family to him, he never speaks in great depth about them, apart from this mother.

Map showing the different places Robinson lived in reference to Camberwell, London
Map showing the different places Robinson lived in reference to Camberwell, London

Even through his adult years, Robinson is very evasive regarding information on his family and home life. He finally settled in Eastbourne in 1926 for ten years, the first time he had been able to do this in his life. He moved after the death of his first wife in 1934, after 17 years of marriage, but again gives no real detail about her, not even mentioning her name or the names of any of the children from the marriage. His first wife died giving birth to their third child and, leaving Robinson to raise his new born daughter and a 7 year old boy. He had suffered grief two years previous to his wife’s death, as his 14 year old daughter contracted meningitis and passed away in 1932.

It was all too much for Robinson to take, writing “I had no choice, so I struggled on single handed to keep the home going as best I could.” (p.69), and he inevitably had to let his sister legally adopt his newly born daughter, as he could not cope following the passing away of his wife. Robinson remarried 1935, the year of George V’s Silver Jubilee year, to a Post Office Counter Clerk named Myra Hines. It is out of character for Robinson to name this woman, as he does not mention anyone else’s name through the entire autobiography. He states the “kindness, love and understanding” (pg.69) he has for Myra and she helped him through his time of need and depression. It is the first time that he really opens up about his feelings for his family, and he states his pure appreciation for Myra by praising her. He later moved with her to a cottage in Hellingly, Sussex, a far cry from his city upbringing.



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