Nora Hampton (1895-1918): Reading and Writing – Writing Lives

Nora Hampton (1895-1918): Reading and Writing

Chritsy’s Old Organ”, “What Katy did” to “David Copperfield”, “Oliver Twist”, “Dombey & Son”, “Robinson Crusoe” etc. and Pears Cyclopaedia which dad had one Christmas‘.

(Hampton, 27)

For many working-class authors reading and writing was a form of escapism. This was also true for Nora; it was one of her passions which she implemented onto her children. On a call with Nora’s daughter Rosemary, she told me that her mother passed her passion on to herself and to her sons, Frank and John. They were advised to read for fun and as a pastime. Because of this, Rosemary, Frank and John were thankful to their mother for introducing them to reading.

Nora describes how she read anything that came to hand, and she read the Bible until the ‘pages fell out’ (Hampton, p17). As the Bible was such a prominent feature in the home, Nora choosing to read the Bible before any other literature is not uncommon, as I mentioned in my Habits, Culture and beliefs post Nora would be at Sunday School from 9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., school for the rest of the week, and then on top of this helping her mother with her domestic duties, because of this, Nora would not have time to read for pleasure. However, Rosemary told me that while Nora was minding Frank when he was a baby, she used to place a Dickens’ novel on the pram and push her son around while reading. Also, with the pocket money she saved she would buy each Dickens’ novel from the Birmingham Mail and would read the collection repeatedly. Nora briefly mentions this portraying how she ‘read “David Copperfield” when [she] was nine and anything of Dickens. “Robinson Crusoe”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Hampton. 17). Charles Dickens was popular amongst the working classes. In his study on ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences’, Jonathan Rose highlights which authors had the most influence on working-class people. Dickens came second after the Bible. Indeed, Dickens regarded himself as one of the common people and, in his novels he sympathized with working people, exposing the injustice against them. This may be one of the reasons behind Nora’s fascination with Dickens as popular culture ‘accurately reflects the attitudes of the masses’ (1992, p48). At times, It could be suggested that Nora imitates Dickens’ writing style, as when she talks about working-class people who are poorer than her (mentioned in my Education and Schooling blog post) and empathizes with them. Like Dickens, she exposes injustice by mentioning it was the politicians at the time who caused mass poverty.

Cover, first serial edition of 1849

Throughout her memoir, Nora refers to Dickens’ David Copperfield several times. The Dickens’ novel traces the life of David Copperfield from birth to mature manhood, although Nora’s memoir does not discuss her adulthood it could be suggested that she would have included it if she hadn’t unfortunately passed away. her memoir follows the same structure as the Dickens’ novel so reading it during her childhood may have sparked her interest in writing the memoir of her life.

Primary sources:

  • 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:
  • 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.

Secondary sources:

  • Farrell, J., 2020. Charles Dickens and working-class literature. [online] Available at: <,popular%20with%20the%20ordinary%20folk.&text=Taking%20this%20stance%20led%20Dickens%20to%20develop%20a%20new%20type%20of%20novel.> [Accessed 11 May 2021].
  • Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas, 53.1 (1992): 47-70.
  • Wikipedia, n.d. Cover, first serial edition of 1849. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 11 May 2021].
  • Feature Image:, 2016. Charles Dickens First Edition, First Printing of ”David Copperfield” in Serialized Form — Rare in Original Green Wrappers. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 11 May 2021].
  • Interviewing Nora’s daughter Rosemary Macadam: Macadam, R., 2021. Asking Rosemary about her life and her mothers – Nora Hampton.

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