Doris Hunt (1900) : Habits, Culture and Belief – Writing Lives

Doris Hunt (1900) : Habits, Culture and Belief

‘I have a few early memories going back to about 1903’ (p1).

This quote is from the first sentence of Doris’s autobiography, after she briefly introduces herself noting her place and date of birth. It is interesting that this is the first thing she goes into, before discussing her family or home life.

She tells us one of her earliest, most vivid memories from the age of three ‘when I looked down the street and saw, in the middle of the road, a fully- grown, brown, dancing bear with his trainer, usually a Russian’ (p1). A brief time later, she was sent on an errand to the shop and ‘came upon this bear in the empty street playing ball, throwing it against the end wall of a house and catching it like a child’ (p1). The fact that Doris, looking back, compares it to a child suggests that she now sees through the bear’s scary exterior to its vulnerable reality of its life in captivity.

Street performer with dancing bear

Although she assumes that these ‘bears must have been quite tame in spite of their ferocious appearance’ she ran back home in fear as there was no trainer present. It is evident that this is etched into Doris’s memory from an early age as she tells us that the size of the bears ‘alone was enough to frighten a three-year-old child’ (p1) . Andrew Davies tell us in Leisure, Poverty and Gender that ‘performing bears were used by a range of entertainers’ (Davies, 1992, 121) He notes a description by Mrs Holden who described a man walking a dancing bear round the street’s of Bolton:

‘he came along, leading this bear on a chain… it would come, ambling up the cobblestones… it would go on its back paws and sit up, looking at us’ (interview with Mrs E.H– Davies, 1992, 121)

Whilst reminiscing Doris talks about two other forms of street entertainment which donned the streets of Manchester during her early years of childhood: German Brass bands  who came over to play from Germany and also barrel organs played by Italians ‘sometimes with a monkey on top’ (p1).  Andrew Davies informs us that ‘In Manchester and Salford, street musicians were an important feature of city life throughout the Victorian period and the early decades of the twentieth century’ (Davies, 1992, 116). This is shown in Doris’s writing as she tells us that children often gathered round musicians or bands and ‘danced in the street’, indicating that they gained great enjoyment from street acts (p1). It is evident that working class families in the 20th century had low disposable incomes and had very little extra money to spend on family outings or toys for their children. Street entertainment was important to such families as it ‘provided a means of to fill in leisure time for those with least money spare for leisure’ (Davies, 1992, 116).

An organ grinder with a monkey

Doris informs us that ‘these free street entertainments ceased with the onset of the First World War in 1914, never to return except very occasionally’ (p1). The fact that she mentions the ceasing of street entertainment suggests that she noticed its absence.

Before her father’s passing there is only one time mentioned in the which the family spent time together. Doris tells us that the memories she has of the house in Littleborough ‘are evenings round the open fire’ when her father would ‘sing to us and teach us all the old ballads he loved’ (p5). The fact that she mentions this as a particular memory from the house suggests that she cherished this time spent with family.

Doris tells us how she used to earn her Saturday penny by picking up pins from the carpet, minding her younger sister and also keeping an eye on her other sisters. Doris tells us that this was ‘the era of the Magic Lantern, before the ‘movies’ (p6). The Magic Lantern was a forerunner to the movies – an initial type of image projector, projecting images on sheets of glass. On Saturday afternoons Doris and her family ‘spent our weekly penny on going to the local picture house… to watch colored slides, mostly of popular songs with the words on the screen’ (p6). Doris refers to this as the ‘bright spot in their lives’ implying that is was something they looked forward to. This is evident as she tells us that they ‘learnt all the words by heart and sang until next week, until the next week, when new ones would be seen’ (P6). After the death of her father and the responsibility she and her mother gained as a result, that this weekly outing was a type of escapism.

Just before mentioning the weekly Magic Lantern trips, Doris discusses the money her mother earns from teaching Lancashire mill girls dress making. She tells us that ‘The Lancashire mill girls earned good money in those days and dressed well so the money they paid for lessons was very welcome’ (p6). The mention of the mill girls and their pay offers a stark comparison to Doris and her family who have little disposable income despite her mum often working up to 16 hours a day (p6). This strongly emphasises that her mum was not in such a strong economic position. However, despite this she still set the time aside from work and found the money for them to attend their weekly outing to the Magic Lantern.

Magic Lantern projector

Leisure time as an adult for Doris was mainly centered around adult education as she became a member of the English Students’ Association. Her love of reading and learning continued from childhood. The students association proved to be both educational and fun for Doris as they met once a month for ‘lectures, refreshments, social evenings, rambles in the surrounding countryside in the summer year’ (p14). As well as being able to spend time and socialise with people of same interests and intellect, Doris also met her fiancé within this group. This would have added to the significance and sentimentality of this group, creating fond memories of these days for Doris.


428 HUNT, Doris, Untitled, TS, pp.14 (c.5,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Davies, Andrew. Leisure, Poverty and Gender. Working class culture in Salford and Manchester 1900-1939, Open University Press. 1992


Dancing bear in Sevenoaks High Street, Kent, England, in early 1900’s (Bear Conservation Collection) – 

Organ grinder with a monkey on top- 

Magic Lantern projector – 





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