Charles William Esam-Carter: Fun and Festivities – Writing Lives

Charles William Esam-Carter: Fun and Festivities

‘I remember nothing of Christmas, which seems to me very strange… Aunt Grace will have sent me a toy for Christmas.’ (46) Charles was unable to recall many festive moments throughout his childhood. He does not mention his birthdays or Christmas in great detail, especially after his mother began to get sick. He remembers ‘I had a beautiful wheelbarrow from my aunt, but not at Christmas. It must have been for my fourth birthday.’ (46) There is a suggestion that Charles, perhaps is unable to recall the majority of his happier memories as a child.

The majority of his fun and festivities did not take place in his own household, or if they did, he was unable to recall. In his memories of happy moments with his family, all seem to be surrounding his maternal grandfather. He remembers visiting his grandfather with his mother for his birthday and mentioning that all his aunts were to attend the affair.

An example of what Christmas decorations would have looked like at the time Charles is talking about.

Clara, the maid of the Carter-Esam household, was the one who Charles shared his majority of festive holiday memories with. After witnessing his first ever snowfall, he tells us ‘Faggots were brought round by a man with a horse and cart and sold for three half pence each.’ (45) From watching Clara’s daily work routine, it is apparent that Charles had a keen interest in how bread was made, going on to explain ‘I never saw bread made in the bakers oven at Perrins but I learnt from Clara exactly how it was done. I made her tell me again and again and check I remembered it alright.’ (45) The sweet moments between Charles and Clara have stayed with him his entire life, reflecting on Clara’s baking tutorials he tells us, ‘To have a bakers oven and make any bread became one of my ambitions. I have, since the bakers went on strike, learnt to make my own bread, but the bakers ovens are not easy to come by nowadays.’ (44,46) To think that as a man in his late seventies, he is able to remember the exact process of bread making from when he was four years old highlights how sweet his bond with Clara was.

Charles’ idea of fun was running upstairs to the two attics in the Perrins, the household he lived in at Hawkhurst. The majority of his childhood entertainment came from his own imagination. He loved being in the two attics because ‘except for a few boxes of books, these were bare and I could set up any sort of game of make-believe I wanted.’ (42) One time while playing in the attic he mischievously managed to pull out one of the window panes and then, in a panic, he put it back, telling himself ‘I should hate to think I had set a fashion for boys to remove “diamond panes” from leaded windows.’

The type of window pane that Charles admired and removed as a boy.

Other than the attic, his favourite place to play was the large garden to the back of his family home. Despite it being ‘waist deep (to me) in weeds’ he found a certain beauty in it, going on to say ‘there are some flowers that will hang on to life and bring joy to him who is not too high to see them.’ (46) I feel like this is Charles’ metaphorical way of telling us to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, weeds, whenever one has the opportunity to do so.


Esam-Carter, Charles William. Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiorgaphies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

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