Eleanor Hutchinson (B 1915): Habits, Culture and Belief – Writing Lives

Eleanor Hutchinson (B 1915): Habits, Culture and Belief

“It was as well that I found comfort in melody as I never remember having much else for Christmas”

The doorstep was the ideal lookout point

For Eleanor Hutchinson, the theme of working class habits and cultures runs deep throughout the entirety of her memoir. Her memoir begins by introducing the common pass times of a working class child such as herself. Playing in the streets and sitting on their doorsteps was the ultimate pass time for children like Hutchinson who did not possess many toys etc. Additionally, a more disturbing aspect of Eleanor’s every day pass time can be seen through her reaction to death and funerals, “I saw so many funerals when I was a child that I came to look upon them as fine spectacle” (Hutchinson 10). Death was rife in the working class community, so much so that the funeral itself was not observed with the shock and grief we have come to expect of today. Instead, children like Eleanor, saw them as a “fine spectacle” (Hutchinson 10), something to be observed to pass the time.

'Good Christian me, rejoice'

After the loss of her family at a young age there was a serve lack of everyday habits throughout Eleanor’s memoir. This is due to the turbulent life Hutchinson is confined to as a result of becoming an Orphan. This can be seen as perhaps a representation of Hutchinson’s bitterness towards the path of her life. However after her abandonment in the workhouse, Eleanor’s representation of cultural habits is heightened and can be seen most specifically through her representations of cultural holidays, such as Christmas and St Patrick’s day. For Eleanor, Christmas was all about the music, “And, oh, how I loved the sound of Christmas Carols” (Hutchinson 61) which proved to be a merciful thing as Eleanor remembers, “It was as well that I found comfort in melody as I never remember having much else for Christmas”. In an online article by Murray Dublin this same appreciation can be seen from those orphans interviewed about their time in an orphanage, “They got everything they needed” (NP) and nothing more, not even on days of cultural celebrations.

Hutchinson also describes her experience of Armistice Day, “Although Armistice Day was not a holiday or a day for rejoicing, it seemed a day of great drama and did more than all the annual Missions and Retreats” (Hutchinson 108). For Eleanor the love of Armistice Day came from the stories the Franciscans told the orphans while in the church, “And wasn’t it wonderful to laugh our heads off in church?” (Hutchinson 108). Again, like Eleanor’s appreciation of Christmas day and St Patricks day, it came from a stimulation of joy, rather than from any materialist gain.

1900's church

Eleanor Hutchinson’s representation of her working class habits and culture throughout her memoir can be seen as a reaction to her working class status. Having grown up in a working class family, Eleanor’s joy in cultural celebrations has been centred on just that, the celebrations themselves. The songs and the atmosphere are what made celebrations such as Christmas a joyous occasion. Food and presents were of little importance to the young Eleanor in providing a cultural celebration. However, coming from a poor working class family, this may not have been a choice. Eleanor would not have had the choice to receive gifts and celebratory food.


‘Eleanor Hutchinson’, in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Brighton: Harvester, 1984, vol. 2, no. 42

Hutchinson, Eleanor, ‘The Bells of St Mary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:429

Images Cited – as they appear on the page

 – Accessed 12/12/15

 – Accessed 12/12/15

  – Accessed 12/12/15

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