Edna Bold (B.1904): Life & Labour – Writing Lives

Edna Bold (B.1904): Life & Labour

Edna Bold was an example of many from her time that moved from working-class to lower middle-class. Her memoir entitled THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT BEING THE RECOLLECTIONS AND REMINISCECES OF EDNA BOLD, follows her upbringing in Beswick, Manchester. Bold’s intelligence created her wish for self-improvement and she was ultimately successful in becoming a teacher.


Bold was born into a “neither rich nor poor, but hard working”[1] family. Bold’s father “converted two small cottages into a bakehouse.”(28). His business was successful, but at the cost of his health;

“He worked round the clock. He worked in heat and dust with sweat running from every pore. He worked till he reeled like a drunken man. He worked till he collapsed and could work no more. He sold out, bought a house in Whalley Range, and lived on the proceeds he received from the sale of the business.”(30).

After the “small capital had drained away”(28) Bold’s father was forced to sell his “pretty suburban house and with the proceeds started a small run-down bakery business in Gorton”(31).  The family had to move in with their widowed Aunt Lizzie and their father “began to make a meagre living”(31). Labour is depicted as a source of pride amongst the working-class and Bold says her father suffered “financial embarrassment”(32) after selling his business. The Unemployment Insurance Act was introduced in 1911 and extended in 1920 to “cover manual workers and non manual workers […] for a maximum of fifteen weeks in any one year”[2]. Bold does not reveal her age at the time she lived with her Aunt, but given that she was not yet in secondary school I would suggest it was before this act was brought in. Bold’s father would not have received any support after his financial crisis, his only option was to sell his house.

Whalley Range, Manchester, 1905.


Bold’s Aunt Lizzie lived on “the main road which ran like an artery through the district of Beswick”(2). Here Bold describes the road;

“The ‘Road’ was a social centre where everyone met, shopped, talked, walked. The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the milliner, the draper, the barber, the greengrocer, the pawnbroker, the undertaker were friends, confidents and mines of information. All needs from birth to death could be supplied from these little shops. As soon as legs were strong enough, every child joined the ‘club’ that supported these small businesses, for every child was obliged to run errands for mothers, relations, neighbours.”(2).

Ashton Old Road, Manchester, 1912. (Ashton Old Road is the main road which runs through Beswick to Manchester centre).

It is interesting that this road, where everyone worked, was their social centre. Andrew August notes that “neighbourhood streets provided the most important settings for working-class leisure”[3]. This image depicts a sense of solidarity and fellowship amongst the working-class.

Although Bold and her family suffered hardship after her Father’s financial crisis, Bold was aware that they were ‘better off’ than other working-class families. Bold describes walking to her father’s “bakehouse”(7) on Haddon Street where she knew something was wrong “for here we saw children with unwashed clothes, lank uncombed hair and red, bare feet.”(7). There is a sense of pride amongst the working-classes when Bold says “we were not encouraged to ask questions, to pass remarks”(7). This pride is followed by solidarity and fellowship. Bold’s “father rendered first aid to every hurt and needy child, fed the hungry families and subsided penniless widows and orphans.”(7). Bold continues to say “when we were older my father would speak of the brawls and fights that occurred, of screaming women running from the savagery of drunken husbands”(7). This is much like the image we conjure up when imagining working-class life in the early twentieth century. Bold was by modern standards working class, yet despite living with her Aunt, her family stood somewhat above the ‘very poor’. Her father “was safe in his mean, cramped property as if he had been in Haddon Hall itself”(8).

Children queing for soup, Manchester, 1900’s.

Jackie Bennet

When visiting her father’s “bakehouse”(5) she met a young boy named Jackie Bennet who she could not “develop any serious friendship with”(6) because he was inarticulate. Bold states “children like Jackie had to make themselves useful as soon as they could walk”(6). It was only the more intelligent children, like Bold, who continued in education. “Most children regularly went to school for a minimum of five years [because] attendance long continued to be interrupted by the employment of children”[4]. Bold was “lucky” to be intelligent which meant she was able to continue on to secondary school. Bold describes this moment as her “transition from working-class to lower middle-class”(32).


Bold’s work ethic certainly came from her father and after completing a teacher training course at college she got her first job at a school in “The squalor”(62) part of Ardwick. Bold states “The prospect of years on unending years working in such a place was terrifying”(62). Regardless she worked “For a mere pittance”(62) stating “I endured it because I must.”(62). Despite the unpromising picture, Bold was successful in transforming the school and her pupils;

“The children attracted the attention of a limited, selective ‘public’. Inspectors, Art specialists, visiting teachers and heads of departments from Manchester schools came to ‘pick up tips’.”(65).

A photograph of the run down streets of Ardwick, 1930.
A photograph of the run down streets of Ardwick, 1930.

Bold says “After eight of the happiest years of my working life”(65) she transferred to Infant school. Bold’s critics told her she had “demoted”(65) herself, but she says “I knew where I was going”(66). Bold was a woman who knew what she wanted and through her hard work and determination she was successful. After her uninspiring education (see Edna Bold (B.1904): Education and Schooling) she wanted to make a difference to her pupils education. Bold was “ready to live work and play with children who had not yet been tailored to fit the system.”(66).

Bold’s memoir serves to prove that we are not bound to our social class from birth. Through her hard work and wish for self-improvement Bold was successful in breaking the class boundaries. Her memoir is an inspiring tale for which people of the working class can still relate to today.

[1] Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s. London: Alan Lane, 1982. Pg.106

[2] Burnett, John ed. Idle Hands: The Experience of Unemployment, 1790-1990. London: Routledge, 1994. Pg. 258.

[3] August, Andrew. The British Working-Class 1832-1940 (Studies In Modern History). London: Longman, 2007 pg.129.


[4]Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s. London: Alan Lane, 1982 Pg. 148.


N.B. All images link to their original source.

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