BOOK: They Worked All Their Lives

Peaky Tour

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While an undergraduate Carl Chinn recalls a lecturer postulating that working-class women were downtrodden and brow-beaten by their men: 'I remember thinking, "They're not in my family" ...I lacked the confidence to disagree, and to tell him that I knew many working-class women who were at least the equals of their men and who could fight physically. Indeed the first fight I had seen was when I was ten. My Nan had taken me and my brother down the Villa. An away fan had pinched Our Kid's scarf and Our Nan, just four foot eleven tall, turned round and laid the chap out with one punch.

A tough woman whose fore-finger had been torn off by a machine at work, Our Nan was the daughter, mother and grandmother of strong, working-class women.' Often strong physically, women of the urban poor worked from when they were toddlers until they died.

They worked inside and outside the house, cooking, washing, cleaning and planning how to get by; they worked as domestics in the houses of a middle class often arrogant and condescending in their attitudes towards them; they worked in factories, shops, mills and workshops; they worked in their neighbourhoods in providing vital services for their neighbours. Often earning her own income and receiving the earnings of her children, it was the mother who was in charge of the daily battle against hunger and hardships.

Such supreme dedication and true grit earned these women the central role in the family and fostered the devotion of their children, who recognised a mother's command of the household finances, her ability to maintain a family's self-sufficiency through careful housekeeping and creative cooking, and her valiant efforts to stay clean and respectable. Married daughters chose to live close to their mothers, forming extended families in settled neighbourhoods and furthering cementing strong kinship ties.

Older married women who were grannies and aunts held sway over large familial networks, and from this position of importance many of them achieved status in their neighbourhoods as layers-out, unofficial midwives, wise women, custodians of the moral code and guardians of the group consciousness.

The women of the urban poor worked all their lives for their families and neighbours: they deserve our respect and admiration.

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