chapter  21
CLASS
Pages 6

Few Edwardians were unaware that they lived in a class society. Certainly their experience varied. Southern towns with their large middle-class professional presence and the English countryside with its upper-class country house gentry provided a direct and personal experience of social hierarchy. Those who lived in the solid working-class districts of the cities, or relatively homogeneous industrial communities such as mining settlements, or rural equivalents like the crofting townships, were more likely to see themselves as ordinary people, more or less equal, but subjected to economic burdens by landowners, coal-owners and other outside magnates. There were some Edwardians who disapproved on principle of class distinction and tried to treat all with whom they came into contact, even the destitute, as equals. But nearly all working-class Edwardians, at some moment in their lives, would have faced the feelings which came to one Essex farmworker’s boy as he observed Sunday worship in the Church of England:

One thing as a boy I didn’t like and it sticks in my mind today. I came to the conclusion that churchgoers were something like the railway carriages were at one time-first, second and third class. You see, my mother was a person of the lower class, was a poor woman, and she and her friends were all poor, but they were great church-goers, regular church-goers, kindly gentle people. But…they had to sit in the back pews. In the middle of the church were the local shopkeepers and people who were considered to be a little bit superior to the others-better educated, perhaps. And right at the top of the church, behind where the choir used to sit, were the local farmers, the local bigwigs, you see. Posh people. And when people left the church, although as I said he was a nice old kindly vicar, he didn’t seem to have any time for the lower classes. Mother and her friends would pass out of the church door, the vicar would stand near the church door, and he would just nod and smile, perhaps not that, even. But when the higher class people came out he would shake hands and beam to every one of them as if they was somebody far superior to my mother… And I didn’t like that. I thought my mother was worth a handshake as well as the rich…

I used to discuss this sort of thing with my mother…I said it wasn’t right, it wasn’t proper. I said she shouldn’t go to church. She said, ‘Nothing will ever stop me from going to my church.’1