Nora’s memoir focuses heavily on the theme of home and family and so I have written two separate posts. This one covers the sexual division of labour, domestic ideals, and inequality in working-class families. The second post will explore family life, affective relations, and memory.
In the early 19th century, a new sexual division of labour in the factory system was introduced and most workers were women and children, with men in supervisory roles.
Women factory workers were paid at higher rates than in many other areas of female work, such as domestic service. However, they did not earn enough to support the whole family. Men were employed in the higher paid supervisory roles of ‘overlookers’ and only these workers might earn enough to comfortably support their whole family. It was among workers like these that the ideal of the male breadwinner developed as they earned a ‘family wage’. Nora’s childhood family life, however, was closer to ‘models more suitable to the conditions of middle-class authors’ (Gagnier, 1987, p.357) than to many of the working-class autobiographers on this site
Due to her father’s occupation as a thriving shoemaker, Nora had a stable home-life. John Hampton (Nora’s father) had the ambition to be a ‘cabinet maker, but under the circumstances then existing’ he ‘took the first job offered – at a boot-making factory, in King St Dudley and afterwards Bakers, of Wolverhampton’ (Hampton, p. 3). His ambition, however,
had always been, to be his own master, so a year or so before he was married, and in preparation for that event, as he has known my mother for several years, he rented a small house, along Cinder bank opposite the Netherton Council Schools… There he repaired and made shoes. In those days shoes were sensible – lace ups above the ankles, and the more “fashionable” if that is the word – button ups, at the side. His work was in the front and the back was where they lived – that is where I was born, mother said he would often work till midnight and sometimes, to fulfil an order’ (Hampton, p. 3).
John Hampton wanted to be a an independent master so he could provide for his family and his children could go to school, while his wife Mary Jane Jane Hubball could be a moral arbiter of the home without having to take on paid labour. Nora’s mother had a woman to help her on wash days: ‘Mrs Nickless who lived near to us and used to stay late in the Kitchen to do the ironing – father being still at work’. (Hampton, p7). Employing an individual to help with domestic duties is more commonly associated with the middle and upper classes but some in the upper echelons of the working class could afford domestic help, though rarely a live in servant. With Nora’s father working hard to be his own master, Nora’s mother was able to stay at home and undertake the traditionally middle-class domestic housewife role, and was admired by some of her neighbours for her respectability.
Some historians suggest that the working-classes began to imitate middle-class values, with ‘working class women begin(ing) to withdraw from industrial life into the home, where they tried to emulate the domestic lifestyles of the wealthy’ (Rosemary Collins, cited by Bourke p. 62). Julie-Marie Strange explains that ‘the sexual division of labour tended to identify home as women’s realm, especially in working-class culture where space was limited, and men spent long hours in work’ (2015, p. 83).
By contrast, Lucy Luck who lived in the same period as Nora, experienced an extremely different home and family life. After her father deserted the family, Lucy’s mother had to seek help from the local parish, resulting in the family entering a workhouse. While Lucy was sent as a pauper apprentice to work in a silk mill, aged nine, Nora received ‘half a penny per week for spending money!’ (Hampton, p. 29) and her father ‘was about the first in Netherton to have electricity installed in the house’. (Hampton, p47). Comparing Nora and Lucy’s childhoods highlights the diversity of working-class upbringings, yet though Nora was very fortunate compared with Lucy, she still placed herself in the category of working class and did not look down on those in poverty.
At particular points in her memoir Nora touches on the theme of class, evidence of this can be seen when she portrays how:
I suppose we were working class although my dad was his own master. He had worked exceedingly hard to become so. We had enough of the best food – plenty of milk in a jug from the Milkman, Mr. Guest, at the door – twice a day, plenty of butter, home-made jam, porridge for supper or breakfast – plenty of oranges and apples. We didn’t have much meat, bacon or cheese although dad kept fowls, we had one egg per week! [and] we always had a turkey for Christmas and plenty of sage and onion sauce – plum pudding and mince pies, all home-made (Hampton, p. 33).
I find it interesting how she uses the phrase ‘I suppose’ as this denotes someone expressing slight uncertainty. Throughout the whole memoir Nora never looks down upon those who were worse off than herself and her family. She expresses concern for the various beggars, remembering their names, and what they looked like, while at the same time identifying how she is equal to them by placing her family in the same class strata.
In her study, Julie-Marie Strange quotes a ‘speaker at the 1913 “Workers of the World” conference at Browning Hall (a settlement in Camberwell that promoted labour politics and religion)’ who noted that ‘men did not sit at home telling their families they loved them; they went to work to prove it’ (p. 25). Before my research for Writing Lives, I thought that working class families in the early 1900’s struggled to provide the basic necessities such as food, and clothing. And among the working-class autobiographers she studied, Emma Griffin has found that the families of 20 carpenters, 21 millers, 22 shoemakers, 23 printers, and 24 small shopkeepers, ‘all reported that they had sometimes lacked food to the point of hunger’ (2020, p.198)’. By contrast, the Hamptons had a ‘comfortable’ home and ‘everything went smoothly’. Due to her carpenter father they had ‘enough to eat – wholesome – but no frills – or tinned food – let alone frozen’ (Hampton, p. 7). Nora does not mention mentions shortages of food until she touches on rationing during the war.
It is clear to see how prosperous the Hamptons were, and how aware Nora is of this. In my second post on Home and Family I explore Nora’s family life, affective relations and memory.
- Hampton, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 3:68. Accessible by: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10931
- 3:0068 HAMPTON, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’, TS, pp.63 (c.26,000 words). Brunel University Library.
- Black Country Living Museum, 2020. Lives of children in 19th century Black Country. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTpwMwxE9SA> [Accessed 9 May 2021].
- Campbell, R., 2021. ( Granddaughter of Nora through her eldest son Frank Bealey). The image is of The Hamptons – Nora Hampton is on the far right.. [image].
- Gagnier, R. (1987). Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Victorian Studies, 30.3, pp. 335-363.
- Griffin, E 2020, Bread Winner : An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy, Yale University Press, New Haven. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [6 May 2021].
- Hampton, N., 2021. A snapshot of page 32 of Nora’s memoir where she describes the poor.. [image].
- McLeod, H. (1978). Recent Studies in Victorian Religious History. Victorian Studies,21(2), 245-255. Retrieved May 9, 2021, from
- Strange, J.-M. (2015) Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO978131602705
- feature image: Macadam, R., 2021. Nora Bealey!! ,with baby Rachel, her granddaughter, Rosalind’s older sister. [image].
- Interviewing Nora’s daughter Rosemary Macadam: Macadam, R., 2021. Asking Rosemary about her life and her mother’s – Nora Hampton.