Archive for March 2, 2010

A Pervasive Stink

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Focusing on the 19th century we can see that it was men  causing the rotten and very obnoxious stink, not just the Thames; it was because of the way they enslaved women. Of course you cannot generalise; some relationships were no doubt loving and constructive, but the law and the Establishment disempowered women.

 During Victorian times women were  treated like a bit of bird dropping on men’s shoes; it is true that the middle and higher classes of women were meant to be sensitive loving creatures but the trouble was their lives were not their own – they were there to look good and serve their husband’s needs, to the exclusion of their own individuality.

 You might find this extract from the Derbyshire Times, published in 1861, quite interesting; certainly it says a lot about the culture then and the status of working class women and of course it relates to mining community life, a topic highly relevant to Ushaw Moor’s past:

The paper’s leader piece was entitled – A Word to colliers’ wives:

We address ourselves to a class, some of whom, at least, we are quite sure we will reach, although we may not succeed in making ourselves heard by all the neighbourhood. There be they who cannot read, these we hope to communicate with through their gossiping friends who can. What we have to tell them is something in which they are deeply concerned, something which their future happiness is concerned, the happiness of their husbands, the safety of their homes.

The judge at the Chesterfield County Court – an excellent, wise judge – say the colliers of this district are getting into a very bad habit. They start on credit at the small shops, and when they have money to pay with the money is appropriated to other purposes. In many cases, his Honour says, colliers’ wives run their husbands into debt whilst their husbands are hard at work.This we have reason to know, is too true, and the result is County Court summonses after sunnonses, distresses after distresses upon the household furniture, and often committals of the husband to to prison.

Now we would earnestly warn the women against this bad system. It is hard work for a man labouring from morning tonight, to find himself brought to misery and distress by the woman who should comfort, console, and cheer him in his toil. For their own sakes, too – we would put it in this selfish way – wives shoud be more careful, and rather store up for a rainy day than bring clouds of misery about the house by their own bad and unhly practices.

The leader prattles on further and concludes: The judge has not the power to do so yet – but laws are made very quickly in these days, and there is no knowing what may be done to punish the wicked ones if they persist in their evil doings.

What I object to in that piece is the presumption the women were totally to blame. I suspect the miners’ wage levels were not very good and furthermore I suspect that some of the money never even got to the wives – rather it went from the men’s pockets to  to the barman at the local ale house. It was not as if the women did not also work very hard; they fed men at all times of the day – especially if there were several family members working at the mine on different shifts.They also worked extremely hard to keep the house and the family clean. Washday – making bread – rearing many children and sadly burying and mourning dead children etc must have exhausted women.   

I also object to the tone of  the article’s language and the demeaning way women are sneered at and catergorized as gossips.

 Let’s have a chat about women as gossips. Were they always just gossiping? Or were they sometimes doing something else like exchanging information about shop prices and the best way to wash this and that and bake this and that. Women were not angels – being human they could not possibly be, or behave like, angels but the leader writer was expressing the prevailing view that women were just there for men – to look after them like slaves and to make financial ends meet. 

I have already hinted that it was rather different for the middle class and upper class women; they were meant to be decorative and amusing. They spend much of their time visiting relatives,  entertaining relatives, [not that they did the cooking  – the servants did that, and being ten a penny, they were paid badly for long hours of work] sewing, painting etc.

There were several women that chose to take on this obnoxious inequality and Caroline Norton was one of them. She was an intelligent and well connected woman in an unhappy marriage. She choose to fight for justice against her obnoxious husband George Norton; in doing she sought changes to the law regarding women’s marital rights; a cause that gained significant legal gains for wives and mothers. At the time – legally – a married couple amounted to one person – the man; he had ownership of his wife’s income, property and their children! He could not dispose of her real estate without permission but otherwise she appeared powerless. Caroline Norton won some rights for women and this was followed up by others after her day. Going back a little further back Mary Wollstoncraft did much to spell out the position of women and what they needed to do to bring more fairness to the relationship between men and women. For anyone interested do consider googling these brilliant ladies! 


Replying To Mr Gillon’s Guest Book Entry

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Denis Gillon – 2010-02-27 15:24:59

“My father John Edward Gillon was born 1910 and lived in Michell Sreet. His mother was Alice Lumley.
Does anyone know anything about them?”

As an infant John Edward Gillon lived in Mitchell Street but it was in South Moor not Ushaw Moor. The family did spend sometime in Ushaw Moor before moving to South Moor.The remarkable and chuckling co-incidence is that  decades later I lived a few doors away from what was his home in the very same Mitchell Street.

Unfortunately I am not able to help further.


Categories: Memories