Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Edith's Story


Edith Jacques lived from 1909 until 2012. Her twin sons Terrance and Ernie were born in 1938 and at their current age of 84 have written the above fine biography about their mother. The book is very impressive, even more so as it is the only book they have ever written.

     "Edith's Story" is particulary telling and hopefully it will help to start a new trend in the writing of biographies. For the bulk of biographies we normally turn to are about people we have already heard about. From prominent heroes such as Nelson Mandela to villians such as Adolf Hitler. Few working class people get the biographical coverage which tells us about the social and personal problems they were obliged to tackle. Edith handled these in an impressive way. Being faced with especially harsh conditions from the time of her birth, until improvements which she made effective use of with the establishment of the Welfare State from 1945.

    Edith came from a long line of families where the men were agricultural labourers, including her father who died when she was only 10. Then the following year her mother broke her back and was bed ridden for the rest of her life. Edith was obliged to pack in schooling to look after her invalid mother and her younger brother. For by then her four elder sisters had all left home to become domestic servants, the main form of employment that was then open to females. Her four older brothers being agricultural labourers.

    Beyond nursing her mother and doing the housework, Edith grew vegitables for consumption and sale. Then even when she married an agricultural labourer at 18 she continued to help her mother and also her mother-in-law who soon became ill and was eventually taken into a workhouse at York in the area where Edith lived.

    With the subsequent deaths of her mother and mother-in-law, Edith settled for a while into the more normal life of the wife of an agricultural labourer, starting her own family with a son. Then in 1938 she gave birth to the twins who wrote this biography. But disaster struck. As her husband cycled to record their births he was hit by a torrential rain storm. It led to his death only a fortnight later.

   Pursuing her struggle to survive, Edith gained employment at RAF Clinton nearbye. She worked a nine hour shift and a six day week. Looking after her young twins became a massive problem. In 1941 she sort to square the circle by placing them locally at York in Dr. Barnardos home. She expected this would give her a regular opportunity to see them. But matters soon changed. For the twins (who wrote this biography) were quickly shunted distantly from place to place, almost ending up in Australia. They experienced 13 distant moves as far apart as Dumfries and Essex. She faced great difficulties in tracing them, sending letters and attempting to visit her sons. Only in 1943 did she finally managed to visit them in Scotland and then two years later in Sussex.

    In 1947 Edith gained fresh employment in York at Rowntrees, eventually becoming a trade union representative and also took in a lodger. She had moved into a Council House and was finally in a position to reclaim her twins from Barnados. Edith's help and influence over them being shown by their moving on to qualify via the Open University and now producing this telling biography.

   My great hope is that amongst those who decide to read this fine book, will be numbers who then decide to turn their own hands to writing about their own equivalent working class parents. Even if like me (being two years older than the Jacques twins) all they come up are blog items about their working class mother and/or father. Such works can tell us much that we need to know about the shaping of our society, even more than works about the high and mighty.

Although the book is some 400 pages long and is littered with many relevant photographs and key references, I found to be a compelling work explaining Edith's extremely tough but compelling life. It is a long time since I have been consumed a biography so quickly.

(For my own modest blog efforts on my own parents see and )