Jack Vallance (b. 1914) – Life and Labour – Writing Lives

Jack Vallance (b. 1914) – Life and Labour

Millers Dale Area Diagram. Image from Local Historian, Glynn Waite.

For many working-class people, much like Jack, schooling was cut short in order to start work. As he notes in his memoir, Jack started work at a young age due to the circumstances of his family. He does not explicitly mention his father’s leaving, but hints at single parentage which leads to his inability to attend Grammar school and start work early.

‘My Grandmother died in 1925 and as a result I went to live with my uncle in Reddish…I used to go and sit in Reddish Signal Box and watch my uncle at work, I never thought one day I would supervise him. I soon returned home and got a job delivering newspapers which necessitated going to Cromford Station morning and evening so I saw quite a lot of trains.’ (Vallance, 1G)

This lengthy quote shows each element of Jack’s life relating back to the Railway. It was both his Life and Labour. He emits a sense of pride in this, not appearing at all hard done by when he had to leave school. Instead he appears to be happy to begin his career. This becomes his prime identity.

For Jack, it appears that a good work ethic was instilled from a young age. Surrounded by family members that worked full time in order to live, he took on this responsibility humbly. He notes that his grandfather had to ‘leave home at 4am to be at work for 6am. A twelve hour day meant that he didn’t get home til about 8pm’ (Vallance, C 1/2)

High Peak Junction, near Cromford. Image from Local Historian, Glynn Waite.

H. H. Arnold-Bemrose writes about Cromford in his book titled Derbyshire, where he reflects on the railway’s establishment in the area. ‘One of the earliest railways constructed in England was the Cromford and High Peak Railway. It was opened in the year 1830, and was 33 miles in length. It began at the High Peak Junction near Cromford by the Cromford canal and ended at Whaley Bridge’ (Bemrose, 2012, 135). As I have mentioned in my previous posts, Jack had a heavy involvement in the Railway up until his death in 1997. ‘My pals and I regularly went to Sheep Pasture (on High Peak Railway) and had rides on the engine’ (Vallance, 1B). This shows Jack’s interest in the Railway started at an early age, and combined with his Grandfather and Uncle’s work in the industry, paved his career.

Millers Dale Signal Box. Image from Local Historian, Glynn Waite.

As a working-class man, there was a certain level of unease for Jack who found himself moving occupations within the industry quite frequently depending on changing circumstances. Arthur J. McIvor touches on this, suggesting that ‘railway workers…achieved a high degree of social standing’ (McIvor, 2001, 22). However, he extends this by stating that they ‘were not necessarily immune from loss of employment, either in recessions or during industrial discontent’ (McIvor, 2001, 22). This is shown by Jack, whose employment status frequently changes throughout the memoir. The rate of pay also fluctuates with each posting; moving up and down in position for many years.

With this, his own family life suffered, as he was not around as often as he would like. Often living away from his wife and children in order to keep a decent income. As Julie-Marie Strange suggests ‘Fathering meant different things, at different times…much depended on context’ (Strange, 2015, 2). With this, it is possible to see Jack’s memoir as a recollection of his deep love for his labour. The more emotive context within the literature then appears to regard his career and his enjoyment. Much like David Vincent offers, ‘It was a rare autobiographer who could fashion his own language of emotion’ (Vincent, 1980, 228). However, in ‘Jack of all Grades’, he attains a level of emotion. His labour was written as the love of his life.



Arnold-Bemrose, H.H. Derbyshire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012.

Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent Eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. 2:780.

England. The Journey-book of England. Berkshire (Derbyshire, Hampshire, Kent). Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2001.

McIvor, Arthur J. A History of Work in Britain, 1880-1950. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.

Strange, Julie-Marie. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1860-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015.

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History. 5.2. (1980): 223-247.

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