Eva Shilton (b.1907): Habits, Culture and Beliefs – Writing Lives

Eva Shilton (b.1907): Habits, Culture and Beliefs

Though leisure time and cultural activities were not readily available to Eva and her family on account of their financial hardship, Eva makes multiple references to St. Peter’s Church. This could lead one to assume that she and her family were religious, though Eva’s sister was the only child to have been christened. Eva’s interest in religion, however, was confined to the scripture she was taught in school, though this is likely to stem from her enjoyment of reading rather than a true interest in Christianity.

Eva and her local church have had a long-standing relationship throughout her life: she attended St. Peter’s Church school from 1913-1916, and was later married there in 1928. This, though, does not seem to have instilled Christian beliefs into Eva’s writing: ‘I had only been to church once and that was for my sister’s christening’ (Shilton, p.9). There has been much debate over the significance of religion in the day to day lives of the working classes. Hugh McLeod states that ‘many of the most important studies have been undertaken by historians with strong religious or political convictions’ (Mcleod, 1984, p.9). In this case, however, Eva’s omission of any notable religious influence indicates that, for this family at least, religion was a means of education and a place to get married.

Perhaps the most prevalent influence of religion upon Eva were her lessons in scripture at South St. elementary school, stemming from her passion for reading and lack of reading materials at home. Eva recalls that “this lesson was wonderful, all about Paul and his long journey, […] the time flew” (Shilton, p.9). So profound was the impact of this lesson that even when dictating her memoir to her daughter in 1978, sixty years later, she ‘would have loved to hear it all over again’ (Shilton, p.9).

St. Peter’s Church, Hillfields, under renovation here in 2008

This is not to say, however, that Eva had never turned to religion in a time of need. At a particularly ‘grey time’ for the family, with her father still unemployed, he managed to secure a job interview at  a firm in Birmingham. Eva, knowing of the family’s desperation, was ‘hoping and praying he would get a job’. (Shilton, p.19). She went to St. Peter’s Church, and though she ‘daren’t sit down’ Eva stood there saying ‘please, please give my dad a job’ (Shilton, p.19). She returned home later in the day to find her father ‘with his head on his arms, resting on the table crying as though his heart would break’ (Shilton, p.19). Eva’s ‘eyes and throat burned’, and she went back to the church and ‘kicked the door’ (Shilton, p.19).

Coombe Abbey fishing pond: a place of profound happiness for Eva

Eva’s faith was somewhat rekindled the following day: her father took her fishing at Coombe Abbey at the cost of ten shillings, the same price as ten weeks of tuition at the school for maladjusted children she attended. Whilst they were there her father found a pound note tucked in his wallet and decided that if they went to the pub and only spent enough for ‘a pint of beer and a bottle of lemonade, mum would understand’ (Shilton, p.20). Eva got talking to a man about her father, introduced them, and, ‘from what [she] gathered, Dad was just the man he was looking for.’ (Shilton, p.21): ‘He worked [at Morton and Weaver] for many years.’ (Shilton, p.21). This seemingly divine coincidence led Eva to wonder whether she should have kicked the church door, and was so overwhelmed that years later it stayed with her: ‘As I went through the same church door on the day I was married, my mind for quite a few minutes was not on getting married, but on that sultry August day eight years before’ (Shilton, p.21).

Works Cited:
McLeod, H., Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain. Macmillan: London, 1984

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