Katherine Henderson (B.1908): Habits, Culture and Beliefs – Writing Lives

Katherine Henderson (B.1908): Habits, Culture and Beliefs

The central cultural activity for the Wightwick family was the Methodist Sunday School. They went there at ’10am on Sundays, then again to the afternoon service at 2.30 and evening service at 6.30.’ (2) Sunday school was a movement that ‘grew rapidly,’ and by the Victorian the majority of the working class children attended:  ‘There was strong attendance across the spectrum of social class but the biggest impact was experienced by the less well- off’. [1] Sunday school enabled children like Katherine to excel before and during their formal education and it was at Sunday school that Katherine learnt some of her most valued lessons. Sunday school, for the working class, was seen as an enjoyable time of social and leisure activities which ‘lifted the hopes and aspirations of so many young people, especially in industrial areas.’[2]

Katherine had mixed emotions about Sunday school during her childhood. She found it ‘a bit boring at times, especially if the preacher was uninteresting to us younger ones.’ However she does recollect how her time here helped her once she matured, helping her to conquer her fears later on in life with the struggles of grieving for her murdered son. Church helped Katherine to develop a strong sense of self- improvement.

Katherine describes how the Sunday School Anniversary was ‘the highlight of the year.’ (3)It was a special time of year for Katherine as she was able to indulge in ‘special hymns and recitations’ (3) but most importantly it was an opportunity for Katherine to win books for prizes, and most of all, she had ‘a new rig out!’ (3) This was an opportunity for the working class to forget who they were for the day and be ‘proud of their new clothes and squeaky new shoes!’ (3) Katherine recalls how she felt, ‘like a duchess’ (3) giving her best to her singing and recitations. Anniversary Day appears an occasion for the working class to have the spotlight upon them and make believe they were of comparison to royalty. Sunday school also gave Katherine the opportunity to visit the seaside resort Dymchurch once a year. Although it was only 7 miles away they went by horse and wagon and this event became their yearly holiday.

beack dymchurch
Dymchurch beach, 1927

Working as a nanny meant Katherine could enjoy leisure activities a lot more than in her younger childhood. Working for wealthier families gave Katherine a lot of prospect to travel and learn about different cultures. Whilst with a Scottish family Katherine acknowledges how her journey to Newcastle was a ‘revelation’ (14) as she had not ‘travelled so far before, nor had she been in a hotel before.’ (14) Katherine recalls that on that particular holiday she visited ‘Jedburgh Castle’ (14) and ‘Edinburgh Castle,’ (14) all of which she would not have been able to see if it was not for her line of work.

As Katherine matured and lost the majority of her family her leisure activities became much more personal as opposed to the social events she experienced as a child. Katherine’s only form of relaxation at a difficult time in her life was ‘to go for long cycle rides up in the country.’ (40) Due to Katherine’s economic position the activities in which she takes part in all come of little or no cost, and it is only due to her working life she encounters the opportunity to  visit the tourist   sites of the UK.

When Katherine eventually got back on her feet after her son was murdered and husband was sent to Broadmoor she went back to work as a nanny. Katherine remembers her time living and working in London as the most fascinating period of her life: ‘until I came back to London to work, I never knew what it was like to actually live.’ (54) Katherine had no personal responsibilities anymore; she was back where she started. She did not have to pay for food or board therefore she was thrilled by the fact she ‘had a shilling in her pocket to spend, to be able to go a cinema, or visit friends… to be back in London, the hub of the universe, and to see the sights, the huge parks, theatres.’ (54) Katherine’s identity was constantly changing due to her surroundings, but she finally felt like she belonged, and her leisure activities balanced her work responsibilities.

In Katherine’s introduction to her memoir she reflects upon the things she wishes to do since retiring. She realises that working class people wish to;

‘Travel, to go fishing, visit places of interest, which have been impossible during the long busy working years, to make something, to read books, to indulge in a hobby, and a host of things conjured up in the imagination for years.’ (Introduction)

Receiving a cheque from the Macdonald family for all her hard work during her time with them enabled Katherine to indulge in leisure activities once she had retired. Unlike many working class people Katherine was fortunate that she was able to travel the country. However this was never without the responsibility of work. Katherine states in the closing of her memoir that she ‘is a keen reader, a luxury she never had time to indulge in her working years.’ (82)The improvement of her finances meant Katherine was able to enjoy reading and pleasures without work having to support her or interfere.




Image 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.