Martha Martin (b.1871): Life & Labour [2/3] – Writing Lives

Martha Martin (b.1871): Life & Labour [2/3]

Hotel life was a new experience from private life to public

Martha Martin, ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’, p.97

David Vincent writes ‘As a generalization, the less literate the writer, and the less involved he was in specific activities of self-improvement or political activity, the greater his preoccupations with the details of his life as a worker’ (1981, 62). It is interesting with regards to ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’, as the section which I devote this Life and Labour post to (you can read Part One here) is the only section of her memoir to include a title [My Hotel Life], which reflects how great Martha’s preoccupation with her life as a worker was.

An image of waitresses at a hotel in London in the 1890s, J Lyons & Co

In this section of her memoir, Martha provides an insight into ‘Hotel Life’, writing about the people who visit, the people she works with and the places she works at. The first hotel she works in is in Ashby and Martha remarks that she ‘used to have good times there’ (97), despite only being there for ‘a few months’ (99).

Following this, she works in a hotel in Leicester, where she stays ‘for a few months’ (107) and then another in Peterborough ‘for about three years’ (109). At this hotel, the manageress has trouble with Martha due to her ‘nasty temper’ (118). She states that, whilst her time there ‘began to get short’, ‘on the whole I had a very nice time’ (137).

People also think that when you keep moving there is something wrong with you, when you do not hold a job especially long enough to get a reference

Martha Martin, ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’ p.148

A common theme in both Martha’s personal and working life is that Martha keeps moving, as she next finds herself working in Leeds, though only for a short time. Following this, Martha works in a hotel in Laxey, and she is able to one day see Queen Victoria passing the hotel on a royal tour.

Martha remarks later in her memoir that she had ‘always worked in hotels’ (257). Martha works in a further two hotels in Sheffield but she later leaves the hotel life behind altogether when she meets, and later marries, Arthur.

Martha’s personal life and marriage will be the subject of the third part of my Life and Labour posts, my final post on Martha’s life and memoir. As someone who is about to make the leap from education to working life herself, I found it particularly interesting reading about Martha’s working life and thinking about how much things have changed since Martha was writing.


Martin, Martha. ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’. Burnett Archives of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collections Library 1:499

Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography. London: Metheun, 1981

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