Charles William Esam-Carter: Early Childhood, Home and Family – Writing Lives

Charles William Esam-Carter: Early Childhood, Home and Family

For the majority of his bibliography, Charles discusses in great detail all that he can remember from his early childhood. Even recalling so in his seventies, he is excellent at remembering the majority of what happened. It is apparent that they he did not have a very happy family life; his mother and father had many issues. He recalls spending a lot of time at his maternal grandfathers’ home, sometimes even with his aunts. His father did not appear to be present during any of these visits. 

His uncanny ability to remember features and events of his early childhood is extraordinary. The child-like wonder that he is somehow able to create in his writing gives the reader a full insight as to what his childhood was truly like. He can recall each of his aunts’ appearances, despite being only four years old when these visits were occurring. He can even recall his appearance at the age he is writing about, telling us ‘I was a well-nourished child, tall for my age, with a bright complexion often likened to an apple, golden hair arranged carefully on two long curls in front of my ears. My eyes were bright blue.’ (5)

Charles’ family never stayed in one place for very long, constantly on the move – possibly due to a gambling addiction his father had. This became apparent to me after Charles recalls his father selling all of their furniture, much to his mother’s despair.

Charles was unable to make very many friends due to the constant moves the family endured. He does recall one little girl that he befriended, Elsie, when he lived in the countryside of Sussex. He tells us, ‘…I do not remember that I talked to Elsie, but I have no doubt that I did. I was practising my talking almost continuously at that time.’ (11)

For the majority of his visits with his ‘grandpapa’, Charles’ father is not present. Perhaps he was not welcome. This would make sense as in early moments of his autobiography he recalls his father telling his mother ‘you are making a fool of the boy’ (2) just for lying in bed with him at night. Even as an infant it is apparent that Charles had a complicated relationship with his father. This could be because of a’ ‘rise in domestic of domestic ideology in the late eighteenth century, gender relationships underwent profound changes. As male labour moved away from the household with the development of industrialized manufacture, men’s primary identity became assossicated with the shop, the office, or the factory, and with the role of the provider.’ (7)

Barry Road, East Dulwich 1895, the road that Charles’ grandfather William Carter lived on. This photograph was taken four years before Charles’ birth.

Charles has an obvious fondness for his grandfather, he even includes some of his autobiography within his own. He recalls ‘On the occasion which marks one of my most vivid memories of that time, my mother came with me until I saw my grandfather emerging in his night dress when I came to meet him. He was an impressive figure in his customary morning coat and silk tie.’ (6)  It is clear to me that his grandfather was the one who inspired him to write. Even as a child, he recalls asking his grandfather ‘Grandpapa, you are not a chatterbox, are you?’ (7) which, if he had said so to his father, would have resulted in a smack. I believe the only truly happy memories Charles has of being a child are the ones that include his grandfather.


Esam-Carter, Charles William. Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiorgaphies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

Broughton, Trev Lynn and Rodgers, Helen. (2007) Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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