Charles William Esam-Carter: Education – Writing Lives

Charles William Esam-Carter: Education

Charles recalls the start of his education which he received from his father. They used to walk together in the evenings and his father would tell him about many different subjects. They discussed natural history, history, architecture and art. He notes that ‘I don’t suppose it was of a high academic standard, but it gave me a certain amount of basic understanding of the way things worked and how we thought about them.’ (70)

His relationship with is father was not always a happy one, Charles noting many times throughout his recollection of his childhood that there were times when he was terrified of him. However, he did greatly enjoy the little aspects of knowledge that his father provided him with. Noting, ‘I could always follow his conversation in a way I could not follow my mother and Aunt Ada’s’ (72) He was always interested in what his father had to say.

Victorian volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which Charles liked to look things up in as a small child.

During his earlier childhood, his father seemed to be a constantly absent figure, the assumption being that he was working away from home. Due to this, his first introduction to learning came from his mother teaching him to read. He did not seem to have much understanding of education with the exception of reading. When visiting his grandfather in Dulwich, Charles recalls his fascination with understanding the words people used. In order to gauge a better understanding, he would find the definition of it in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, quite an astonishing thing to do at much a young age.  Especially as this all came from his own thirst for knowledge. He recalls, ‘I made a point after that, of collecting any extraordinarily long words I came across and puzzling out their meaning and correct punctuation.’ An astonishing achievement for a four year old boy.

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What school would have been like once Charles was old enough to attend.

After one of the families many moves, his father started introducing little aspects of learning to ensure that he had a basic understanding. They would spend their evenings by the fire, learning arithmetic, much to Charles’ dismay, he found the experience to be incredibly boring.

Charles’ father appeared to have various jobs throughout his childhood. However, it has been mentioned multiple times that his main passion for work was sketching old houses and writing pieces in the newspaper about them. Charles has referred to his father a writer on several occasions. Due to this, his father ensured that his son mastered handwriting as well as he could. Charles recalls ‘pages and pages of paper were covered in my infant attempts at before I had sufficiently mastered the art of making upper strokes thin and the down strokes thick, with the upper part equal in size to the lower and the whole affair gently tilted at the right angle, to proceed to the mush easier business of writing the alphabet.’ (40) I find this recollection interesting as learning to handwriting in our modern day is a completely different experience.

His father also educated him on scripture. Not only using it to teach him how to keep his handwriting consistent, but as a reminder that this is how God wanted him to behave. Noting he spent many an evening by the fire as a small child ‘copying some gem of proverbial wisdom written across the head of the page in my fathers own copperplate.’ (41)


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

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