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

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

and as I look back I think that it is a great mistake to get married young and am always glad that I did not ever though you have the best of Husbands, one cannot do the same after marriage and feel free as they did before

Martha Martin, ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’, p.178

David Vincent writes that ‘the autobiographers felt it was out of place for them to discourse at length on their private lives, and quite improper to discuss any aspect of sexual experience’ (1980, 228). ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’ offers a contradiction to Vincent’s statement as, weaved into the section on ‘Hotel Life’ (which I discussed in Part Two of my Life & Labour posts), Martha goes into detail about her private life and the various men she dates (and, in many cases, rejects or loses touch with).

Martha’s Private Life

As a child, Martha had little opportunity for leisure time due to pursuing an education, helping her father provide for the family and coming from a poor family. In her adult life, however, Martha has free time outside of her job and enjoyed attending church, visiting friends and family (she visits her Aunt and cousin in Canada and America, as well as various friends in the areas she works throughout her twenties) and even attends various plays, such as Wilson Barrett’s ‘The Sign of the Cross’ which she ‘often wished’ she could see again (129).

An image of a performance of The Sign of the Cross, 1906. W&D Downey

When Martha is twenty four, she begins to ‘get to know some of the boys’ at the hotel she is working at and ‘some times I had a date and some times I had not’ (129). At the beginning of her dating experience, Martha remarks that ‘I was heart whole and did not care..but if things did not go right where I was working then perhaps I would wish I had a Home of my own and that someone cared for me’ (129). Initially, Martha gets to know a group of boys from a club called the Druids which, upon further research, I have found could have been a

Martha goes out with a number of men during her twenties, but it is two that I want to focus the next part of this blog on: Walt and Arthur.

Walt and Arthur

Whilst working at a hotel in Leeds, and whilst she is dating another man, Martha meets Walt. After ‘several months’, Martha begins going out with Walt, from the ’17th of March’ (255). They date for a while, and write letters to each other when Martha gets a new job but their romance comes to an end when Walt ‘met with an accident’ whilst working at a mine shaft. This event affects Martha profoundly as she writes ‘for a long time I had thought the bottom had fallen out of everything and I was lonesome’ (260).

Several months after Walt’s death, Martha begins going out with a co-worker called Arthur in secret and, when they are discovered, Arthur ‘left the hotel the same night’ (171). When she has dated him for six months, Martha learns that he ‘had been married’ and, upon being asked to go to America with him, she writes ‘I told him I would never bring disgrace on my mother’ (171). Despite this, Martha goes on to pay for Arthur’s divorce, which she regrets ‘I should have quit him right then and there’ (173).

Soon, Arthur and Martha marry and stay with Martha’s cousin Lizzie and her husband in America. It is at this point where Martha concludes her memoir of ups and downs noting that:

(Her married days) ‘were anything but happy, but it would take a lifetime to explain all the rows we had during that time. Just trivial things jealous over nothing. he even fussed once when I had kissed Luke or was once knitting him a pair of stockings’ (277).

It is at this point that I draw this blog post, and my posts in general, to a close. I will soon be writing another post on the experience of blogging for this module but, for now, I will say that it has been an incredibly enjoyable experience being able to access and write about Martha’s memoir.


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. “Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.” Social History, vol. 5, no. 2, 1980, pp. 223–247. JSTOR,

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