Leonard Ellisdon (1885-1968): Habits, Culture & Belief – Writing Lives

Leonard Ellisdon (1885-1968): Habits, Culture & Belief

Throughout the early twentieth century people had very little time for recreational activities, and even less money. However by the 1950’s, there were new forms of recreation being introduced, partially to civilise society. Ellisdon comes across as a cultured and experienced man. There are no mentions of cultural activities that Ellisdon participates in or Holidays in the early stages of his lifetime. The Ellisdon family are example of social mobility, starting from poverty working hard to move up in life. They knew they were working class, ‘class was intrinsically tied up with awareness of difference and experience of conflict’. (Joanna Bourke.pg.4)



The earliest mention of cultural activity was Ellisdon’s love for church choirs. He became a choir singer from 1895 to 1939, starting whilst attending Sunday school. His choir days were not all smooth sailing, with a nice anecdote in Ellisdon’s autobiography from his earliest memory being pulled head over tip. There will always be an air of respect and prestige towards the church, however there were still punishment put forward if needed and reprimands for bad behaviour. Ellisdon being only young when he first started out in choir sang from memory, and one incident he repeated a line that the older boys said during practice, which soon he realised was very much so frowned upon.


After Ellisdon’s first Sunday school and church attendance, he procured an appointment in a West End Church and here again there were  many humorous incidents, for example choir fights. Ellisdon was strong headed and had a fiery temper if pushed. He firmly believed in good manners and conduct. He formed some of these beliefs throughout his time at choir making himself someone not to be messed with even at such an early age.

Ellisdon had a top hat and frock coat at the age of 18. He wore this hat and coat for every special occasion imaginable. Ellisdon was married in them and still had them both when his eldest son was at the age of three. They were kept in a safe box for year until Ellisdon’s son took the top hat out with the good timing that nature called too. Unfortunately for Ellisdon he had come to the end of an era with his top hat he loved so dearly.

Diana Crane in Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing states that the top hat, which appeared in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was worn first by the middle and upper classes. During the century, it spread downward, possibly because it was adopted by coachmen in the 1820s and for policemen’s uniforms in the same period. In 1839, workers in London were wearing them with their Sunday clothes, and potter from Staffordshire, the same year, was wearing one with a smock frock. At mid- century, they were being worn by all social classes.(Crane,2000)

Maybe if Ellisdon had been born earlier, and still wore his top hat there might of been a social mix up, with in which social class he thought he should fall into, however wearing a top hat in the early 1900’s was normal, therefore not making Ellisdon a gentelman, as he would of been in the early 1800’s.

Years later being somewhat of what looks like a hoarder Ellisdon excepting to find his frock coat where he had last left it. He had a wedding to attend. Ellisdon could not find his coat as Lizzie his wife had thrown it out. Knowing Ellisdon’s short temper one would presume he would of got very angry, but it is nice to know he didn’t use this anger on his family, missed the wedding and took them to the cinema instead.


Ellisdon was a private man, believing his personal information was for him to know only. This is not something out of the ordinary. A trip to the Doctors shows how Ellisdon could be easily offended, whilst acting somewhat childish cutting his nose off to spite his face. When he was 24, Ellisdon has a heart infection and was sent to a heart hospital in Soho Square. The lady I presume who was a receptionist asked him his name to which he replied, and then his income. He told her it was no business of hers and that he was not a charity case and could pay the full amount of the charges needed from the hospital. She thought Ellisdon was rude and implied she was trying to help. In this section of his autobiography Ellisdon writes he was charged a sum but still does not enclose with the reader how much, proving how much of a private man he was.



Whilst at the heart hospital at Soho Square the doctor Ellisdon was being seen by had informed Ellisdon that it would be very dangerous for him to get excited, and that he might have a week to live or years depending on his excitable moods.  Ellisdon seemed to take this very seriously which anyone would under the circumstances you might have a week to live. However Ellisdon makes the point of saying that the doctor did this to shake him up which was unfair and uncalled for. Karma took this doctor’s life which Ellisdon must have believed in as he himself died from heart disease 10 years later.


Moving on to holiday and recreational time later on in Ellisdon’s life he was able to take holidays and go on family days out and trips. An example of social mobility shows how Ellisdon worked hard to get to where he was in life to be able to afford luxuries and not just necessities. A private doctor had advised Ellisdon to take a month’s holiday, a long time for even people in today’s society to afford. Ellisdon did not just have himself to pay for but his wife and three young children, increasing Ellisdon’s class identity and social status. However rising wages and shorter hours were making it easier and more accessible for families to go on holiday. Ellisdon mentions how many people he saw on their way to the seaside, which would of not have happened years before.


Ellisdon had great family values, from capping his anger from the love he had for his top hat and frock coat and taking his family out instead to making sure he had time for his wife. Many times he and his wife visited the Metropole at Victoria to watch a film. This shows passion and love and respectability towards his wife.  In the anecdotes from the times at the cinema Ellisdon shows his affectionate side as he goes to place a hand on his wife’s knee or an arm around her. Unfortunately for Ellisdon the dark did not much agree with him and landed his hands on another lady more than once.


Diana Crane, Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing, The University of Chicago Press, 2000

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