Books on Hertfordshire

Useful Toil

by John Burnett

Professor John Burnett published "Useful Toil: Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s" in 1974 and it was republished by Penguin Books in 1977 (there may be later reprints). The review on the back from the Listener reads:

Useful Toil opens up a vein of social history in which the participants speak for themselves. The book assembles twenty-seven extracts from autobiographies and diaries of working people between the 1820's and the 1920's - wheelwrights and stone masons, miners and munition-workers, butlers and kitchen-maids, navvies, carpenters, potters and shop-assistants, to list only a few.

These are the histories not of famous persons but of ordinary people, few of whom left their mark outside their immediate circle. The result is an interior view of their working lives and aspirations: a first-hand, authentic record. Their stories provide the antithesis of that kind of history which concentrates on 'great names' and ignores the mass of mankind.

While only two of the people have direct links with Hertfordshire and another worked just over the county boundary in Bedfordshire, I believe readers will find it useful to have a full listing of the people and occupations mentioned.

Anonymous navvy, [Born Essex, worked in Baldock, Herts]
Henry Broadhurst, stonemason
B L Coombes
, coal-miner
T R Dennis
, cabinet-maker
Paul Evett
, compositor
Winifred Foley
, general maid
Arthur Gill
, gold-beater and ticket-writer
Winifred Griffith
, shop assistant
Edward Humphries
, page-boy
Thomas Jordan
, coal-miner
William Lanceley
, house-steward
Emanuel Lovekin
, mining 'butty'
William Luby
, sweet-bolier
Lucy Luck, straw-plait worker
[Born Tring, worked in St Albans and Luton, Beds]

More about Lucy Luck

Tom Mullins, farm labourer
Charles Newnham
, carpenter and builder
Jean Rennie
, scullery-maid, kitchen-maid, and cook-housekeeper
John Robinson
, butler
Charles Shaw
, potter
George Sturt
, wheelwright
Lavinia Swainbank
, house-maid
William Tayler
, footman
Gabriel Tschumi
, chef [Worked in Buckingham Palace]
John Ward (O'Neil), weaver
Lilian Westall
, house-maid
Rosina Whyatt, munitions-factory worker
[Worked in Luton, Beds]
Thomas Wood, engineer

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Page updated April 2005