Edward Cain (1891-1978): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Edward Cain (1891-1978): An Introduction

Edward Cain posed in a studio with Tommy Carter

Edward Cain, in his memoir ‘Memories’, recalls the ups and downs of growing up in North East England as part of a working class family.

Cain was born in 1891, well into the industrial age of the Victorian era. Growing up, Edward Cain experienced both highs and lows in his life, having to move around from colliery to colliery so that his father and he could stay in work at the pit. Cain also had to deal with turbulences caused by his father’s relationship with alcohol which he briefly touches on throughout his memoir. At the beginning of the memoir, he says that it reflects his ‘family struggles against the hard times, and also the good times.’ (pg 1)

The memoir shows the reader, the progression of Edward Cain’s life and how he managed to build himself up from being a miner and ended up being awarded an MBE for his work and services in County Durham. Cain also writes about his very brief experience with the army and being discharged due to illness.

The main themes that Cain talks about are the ones  around his involvement with politics. This had a knock on effect with his work as he explains that he was unable to get work in the collieries because of his involvement with socialist political parties and trade unions.

Although the memoir primarily revolves around mining and Edward Cain’s role in the mining community in North East England, he also shares small anecdotes from when he was young, growing up in a religious community and the consequences he faced at school when he and his family didn’t turn up to church the previous Sunday. Education isn’t the strongest theme in this memoir. Cain shares that in his younger years, he wasn’t well educated and that he worked harder to gain education when he was older in life.

All of the different aspects of Edward Cain’s life come together to create a picture of working class life. As Cain writes about his adult life, there is a lack of anecdotes and the detail he gives tends to focus mostly on the work that he was doing in the local grammar school and in different political groups.

Writing about his siblings’ deaths and when they occurred also highlights the lack of advancement in medicine and in the UK when compared to the mortality rates of today. In a tape recording, later transcribed, Cain lists what happened to his family members which shows the reader that he could have just as easily fallen severely ill and the list seems like a reflection on how lucky he is that he didn’t fall victim to an illness or an accident like his brother in a time where medical advancements were lacking. Overall, the memoir highlights the intricate details of Cain’s work and the labour aspect of his life and how he focussed mainly on his work.




Cain, Edward. ‘Memories’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:119

Featured image:  accessed on 10/10/2015


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