Bessie Wallis (b. 1904) Habits, Culture and Beliefs. Part Two – Writing Lives

Bessie Wallis (b. 1904) Habits, Culture and Beliefs. Part Two

‘I have fought argued and stuck up for myself’ (6, 31).


First Post
First Post


When previously looking at Bessie’s habits and culture, I focussed mostly on her relationship with a railwayman’s daughter Alice and also her relationships with members of the community. In this post I wish to look at how Bessie’s family life is portrayed within her memoir and this influenced her throughout her life.

Bessie expresses her life in a very descriptive manner due to the purpose of memoir; you can read more about the purpose on my purpose and audience post. What is expressed continually throughout the text is how Bessie’s family unit was evidently close. The concept of a close family unit is something which was expressed by most working-class families in the twentieth century due to their small living quarters, meaning they spent lots of time together, ‘most family’s only had two bed-roomed houses’ (2, 2). Talking about her father, mother, siblings and grandparents, Bessie gives readers a close analysis of her relationships with them.

Although Bessie was close with nearly all of her family, the person who Bessie talks most fondly of is her brother Danny. Bessie portrays many happy memories with her brother something which I find incredibly warming as a reader. Bessie and her brother were extremely close and Bessie describes her worry for Danny’s welfare, ‘I worried a lot about Danny’ (2,3). As I have stated in my home and family post both Bessie’s father and brother Danny worked in the pit. For young boys the pit was not somewhere you wished to be due to the dangerous working conditions. For Danny the only way to be a real teenager and escape her trauma of work was to use girls as an escape. ‘I knew how much he hated the pit. Girls were his only escape’ (2, 3). This section identifies Bessie’s worry that Danny would shame the family by getting a girl pregnant. Although younger than Danny Bessie states ‘there was no mystery about sex’ (2, 3).  Although it is evident Bessie worried for her family’s stance in the community being ruined, it is appropriate to add that Bessie worried that Danny would meet a girl and it would result in her being left.

A habit of Bessie’s was to disappear on weekends into the woods to see a woodman’s wife who Bessie had a close connection with; Danny would usually accompany her on this adventure. Bessie expresses how the lady was ‘was very kind to us’ (3, 12). Although Bessie was a happy child, the tension between her and her mother made life a little difficult, for Bessie and Danny since their ‘younger brothers took all the attention’ (3, 12). The woodman’s wife ‘sympathised with me as I was the only girl’ (3, 12). Bessie enjoyed her company as Bessie enjoyed feeling valued.

West Melton woods, where Bessie would spend many weekends
West Melton woods, where Bessie would spend many weekends

When Bessie left the family home to become a servant she portrayed her life as ‘a human nightmare’ (5, 21). This was due to her ‘ missing her family, especially Danny’ (5, 22). Bessie had been made by her mother to be a servant for an aunt who was of higher class than themselves. Bessie articulates feelings of entrapment for her and her brother Danny, ‘ it seemed we were both trapped’ (5,26) due to their class.

An image of a woman servant in the 1900s
An image of a woman servant in the 1900s

When Bessie returned from being a servant, West Melton did not hold what she longer wished for: ‘I felt so much older than my brothers. Was this good or bad?’ (5, 28).  Although for the working-class to be in the servant occupation this was not what Bessie wished for: ‘I was adamant… I would not be a skivvy’ (6, 30). This feud was something that continued and never was forgotten. Bessie states that her family believed ‘a child did as its parents bid it’ (6, 30), but this was not something Bessie was going to abide by. Bessie wished to enjoy her life, not abide by rules because of her class.

Bessie left West Melton and went back to school. Although Bessie was from a working-class background it did not stop her from achieving her high goals. Bessie believed ‘life is what one makes of it’(6, 31)  not what class you are assigned too.


‘Britain in 1914 was an immensely powerful country. At home, British life was strictly stratified into a class system. The upper and middle class people were brought up to believe the lower classes were dirty and inferior, although they were prepared to employ them as servants. There were over two million servants in Britain at the turn of the century (80% of the population)’ (BBC, The Class system in 1914 Britain).




BBC. The Class System in 1914 Britain BBC Two History File: .


Wallis, Bessie. Yesterdays, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:0794


Image References

Alan. Late Summer early Autumn: West Melton.  Accessed 23/01/2016

Hodgson, Rachel. Bessie Wallis (b. 1904) Habits Culture and Beliefs.

Pinterest, 1900 Maid. Accessed 23/01/2016

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