Lottie Martin (1899-1976): Habits, Culture and Belief – Writing Lives

Lottie Martin (1899-1976): Habits, Culture and Belief

Any reader of Lottie Marin’s Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds would see that this memoir is primarily concerned with the home and family life of an ordinary working-class family from Nottingham. Lottie describes the limited educational opportunities for the poor and consequently an almost instant transition into intense labour to accommodate pecuniary struggles. Despite these rather dull themes, however, Lottie recalls many of the habits, cultures and beliefs of her family and community which bring a radiating glow to her narrative.

Most certainly, the life of a working-class citizen was not entirely miserable. As Andy Croll writes in ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’: ‘Unlike earlier eras, in which regional and local differences were often profound, now a range of sports, entertainments and amusements were carried out on a national basis’[1]. We can see therefore that the introduction of new recreational and cultural activities were in place for working-class people to enjoy.

Victorian sports
Typical Victorian Sports – www.avictorian.com

From the 1870s onwards, there was an evident rise of ‘mass entertainment’. Lottie recalls how this was not only happening in major cities, but small towns as well:

‘The picture houses were springing up in every town both in small places as well as the cities, and Beeston of course being a prosperous go ahead small urban town was not slow in acquiring two such places of entertainment’

Rising wages meant that working-class people could go to such places as picture houses. Public spaces such as theatres and pubs were built to allow more light to make them seem more enjoyable and less threatening.

Beeston Picture house
Town Street, Beeston Picture House – www.leodis.net

Perhaps the most enjoyable cultural activity for Lottie was dancing. Lottie vividly recalls the time when she first learnt to dance: ‘It was about this time that I learned to dance. I loved … these … hops … despite the fact that a great majority of the young males were on active service we never seemed to be short of partners’

From the late nineteenth century onwards we can see how there was a rise in mixed social spaces. Dance halls were a place that both males and females could go to have fun. Not only were dance halls a great place to listen and dance to good music, but they were also ideal to meet a potential partner.

A typical dance hall in the early 20th century – www.bing.com

The idea of class and space seem to be synonymous with some historians. Croll continues that ‘Drinking in pubs, playing in brass bands, singing in choral societies … all were instances of popular cultural practices that could be understood as being inscribed with class meanings’[2].

Consequently, places such as pubs were associated with the lower classes. We can see through Lottie’s narrative that her working-class father often frequented public houses:

‘This was in the days when the pubs were open all day … although he was not really disagreeable when under the influence of drink as lots of the men of these times were but he would always sing and his favourite song was Pretty Polly Perkins’.

Pretty Polly Perkins
A Polly Perkins disc cover – www.bing.com

Indeed, after long hours working in the Beeston Foundry, Lottie’s father went to the pub for a well-deserved drink. As Lottie recalls how most men turned aggressive when drunk – an idea of the labouring man releasing his anger at long hours at the factory – Lottie’s father actually turned to singing.

A well-deserved drink – www.bing.com

Music plays an important role in Lottie’s memoir. Where Lottie’s father sings away his long hours at work, Lottie turns to the piano for a break from domestic duties.

‘The drawing room was situated over the shop and on one wall stood a lovely upright piano, when I had washed all the lunch dishes I would steal a few minutes to seat myself at the instrument and … play that Scottish song ‘Robin Adair’.

A typical Victorian upright piano – www.bing.com

Despite public places beginning to unite the sexes, Lottie’s autobiography still explores gender segregation. We can see how leisure in the home is shaped by gender as Lottie writes about how she enjoyed playing the piano during her breaks from domestic work.

There was one particular cultural activity, however, that was enjoyed by all. Lottie relates the annual Goose Fair that took place in Beeston in 1909:

‘Goose Fair 1909 arrived, we loved this, not because of the roundabouts or games, because often we would never see the fair … we looked forward to [a] doll, straw biddy and wax face with such lovely blue eyes and straw coloured hair’.

The Goose Fair seemed to have arrived at an appropriate time, just after the death of Lottie’s mother. This was a chance to escape mourning and take her mind off her sad loss, despite the fact that Lottie writes: ‘We must have looked a pathetic little party in our deep mourning dress and sixpence between us’.

Goose fair
Beeston Goose Fair – www.bing.com

The Goose Fair with all its attractions was a perfect place for all working-class people to unite and have one day of celebration.

Religion was also a major influence on the working-classes. Attending church and Sunday school were seen as a sign of respectability. After the death of Lottie’s mother, Sarah Ann, the eldest sibling of Lottie, took on the role of the household matriarch. Sarah Ann was extremely religious and made sure her younger siblings attended church:

‘Sarah Ann was always interested in religion and always saw that we went to Sunday school and Chapel … an Evangelist, Robert Rheith … drew the crowds by his beautiful singing voice, he was known as the singing Evangelist. I was always afraid of the Hell Fire religion some of the local preachers handed us’

Yet again, we can see how singing was a major factor in Lottie’s life. Despite the rather sinister approach to religion performed by the local preachers, the Evangelist took a more light-hearted approach to religion through singing. Therefore, this made worship more enjoyable for Lottie.

Francesco Bergamini’s ‘Sunday School’ – www.encoure-editions.com

The working-classes were also known for their sense of humour. There was a distinctive ‘knowing’ tone to the lower classes, creating a strong idea of community. Lottie recalls her mother’s good humour; a humour mainly directed at her neighbours:

‘My mother had a great sense of humour and always alluded to Mrs Lockwood … as Mrs Featherbed. This was owing to Mrs Lockwood trying to impress my mother with the fact that she and her husband Jack slept on a feather bed’.

By referring to her neighbours in a mocking tone, we can see the sense of familiarity amongst the community. Despite Mrs Lockwood ‘trying to impress’ Lottie’s mother – a prime example of snobbery amongst the working-classes – there is a humorous element to the ridicule.

english working classhumour
Working-class humour – www.bing.com

Indeed, Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds provides its readers with great insight into the habits, culture and beliefs of the working-classes. Whether this is in terms of a trip to the local pub, a quick ‘hop’ at the local dance hall or a visit to Sunday school, we can see how the working-classes of the late nineteenth century had a good time despite the hardship to which their fate was bound.

[1] Andy Croll, ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’ in Chris Williams (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 396-411.(403)


[2] Andy Croll, ‘Popular Leisure and Sport’ in Chris Williams (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 396-411.(402)


Barker, Lottie, ‘My Life as I Remember It, 1899-1920′, TS, pp.70 (c.31,000 words). Brunel University Library

Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) vol.2 no.37.

Hill, Paula Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds by Lottie Martin (Nottingham: 125 Bramcote Lane, 1985)

Williams, Chris (ed) A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984)




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