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Modern MotherhoodWomen and Family in England, 1945-2000$

Angela Davis

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780719084553

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719084553.001.0001

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Family and community: surveying women and the family

Family and community: surveying women and the family

(p.15) 2 Family and community: surveying women and the family
Modern Motherhood

Angela Davis

Manchester University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Through an assessment of the role of kinship, neighbourhood and class in women’s experiences, and making use of the interviews specially conducted for the book, this chapter examines national debates about the place of mother in the family and wider community in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. It considers the concepts of motherhood and family which were in vogue in the post-war decades as revealed in contemporary texts, such as social surveys and community studies, and government reports. The chapter examines the rise and fall of the nuclear family; the changing relative importance of family and friends; how women formed their social networks; and to whom they turned for advice and support. The roles of locality, ethnicity and religion in influencing attitudes and experience are also considered.

Keywords:   Motherhood, Sociology, Kinship, Community, Class, Locality, Ethnicity, Women's organisations

The lives of women and their families were subject to scrutiny throughout the second half of the twentieth century, with the issues of community, class and later ethnicity being of prime importance to social scientists. The particular focus of their concern, though, altered over the period, reflecting the changing nature of the society that they studied. For researchers writing in the 1950s and early 1960s there seemed many reasons for people to be content. After the war there was an array of new legislation that heralded the creation of the welfare state; the austerity of the immediate post-war years diminished and confidence grew that material conditions were on an upward trend. This mood of expectation conditioned the studies conducted during these years. Their authors believed that both the social and economic life of the country was improving, and that greater prosperity would positively affect patterns of community and family life. By the late 1960s and early 1970s this mood of optimism was tempered, as sociologists revealed the continuation of poverty, and feminists highlighted the problems that women in the family could face. The preoccupation of sociologists with the family then faded somewhat during the 1970s. Graham Allan believes that community and kinship studies were to some extent the victim of their own success, with later sociologists preferring to explore less well-researched areas.1 Elements of the family experience did still attract attention though. Following the introduction of the 1969 Divorce Reform Act divorce rates rose significantly, encouraging the study of marriage breakdown. Growing numbers of ethnic minority families present in the country also formed a new focus for researchers. However, by the end of the century there was a move towards stressing continuities within people's experiences of family life despite the dramatic social changes that had occurred.

As well as family structure, sociologists were also interested in the (p.16) vitality of the communities they were studying. In the years before and after World War Two, the consequences of the movement of families from traditional urban neighbourhoods in city centres to new suburban estates were a prime focus of concern. In her 1944 study of the problems of adjustment involved in the severance between the workplace and housing, Kate Liepmann commented upon the social disintegration she found in suburban estates due to ‘the newness of the dormitories and the thinness of the urban fabric’.2 Indeed Elizabeth Bott thought that by the 1940s it had become part of folklore that estates were responsible for marked losses of working-class sociability.3 In the 1950s, Michael Young and Peter Willmott found that whereas in urban Bethnal Green residents had acquaintances in every direction, suburban ‘Greenleigh’ (Young and Willmott's fictitious name for Debden in Essex) was a far lonelier place. Comparing the two localities they asserted: ‘In Bethnal Green, the kindred are at hand every day of the week. At Greenleigh the family has to wait for summer, for weekends, for holidays, before they appear.’4 Women in particular found the distances from their family prohibitive. Even when the distance moved was not great and transport was easily available, as was the case in Oxford, kin relations decayed. Of the households studied by John Mogey in city-centre St Ebbe's, 60 percent had regular kin contact whereas in Barton, only three miles away, half that number did.5 Similarly, in her study of London housewives first published in 1966, Hannah Gavron concluded that young working-class women living in new high-rise estates could feel isolated in a way that was unknown to previous generations, because the street-based life of old working-class communities had provided them with social contacts.6

Peter Willmott and Michael Young portrayed life in the suburb of Woodford (which they considered to be middle class7) in a far more positive light than that in ‘Greenleigh’. Residents were deemed to be friendlier, more co-operative and supportive of one another. Willmott and Young thought the difference between the two areas was a result of class. They suggested that the middle-class residents of Woodford had a certain capacity or skill at ‘making friends’. These friends were recruited amongst their neighbours and provided one another with a good deal of practical help. In contrast working-class Bethnal Greeners did not need this capacity to make friends because whether or not they made any effort they had plenty of friends around them, and were therefore ‘lost when they were transported to the strange environment of the housing estate.’8 Willmott and Young concluded therefore that the relative importance people attached towards friends and relatives was dependent on their class.

(p.17) Such discourses of class dominated mid-twentieth-century Britain, and class was the prevailing mode of analysis for the authors of the post-war community studies. The period after the war was characterised as one of affluence and the question of whether or not there was embourgoisement of the working classes, and whether they were adopting middle-class patterns of life, encouraged great debate.9 However, there were also those who noted the limitations of a simple class analysis. In their study of working-class attitudes to marriage in 1943, the social psychologists Elizabeth Slater and Moya Woodside proposed that the realisation of one's ‘class’ position emerged from routine activities of everyday life: it was the ‘feeling of belonging’ which was ‘felt to be natural and was taken for granted’. They found their respondents were concerned as much with symbolic expressions of power in social relationships as with material realities.10 Moreover, Peter Hiller and Herbert Moorhouse, who were both writing in the 1970s, found that within the space of one discussion people could change their definition of ‘class’ a number of times, without being aware of inconsistency.11

While class had been a traditional subject of concern for those investigating the family, as the post-war decades progressed sociologists also developed a new focus for their studies, ‘race’. However, as Alison Shaw notes, there were few studies of migrant groups in the tradition of anthropological or community studies. Instead the main focus of many such studies was to address the question of whether or not immigrant groups could ‘assimilate’ into British lifestyles and values, and whether the experience of being second generation necessarily involved problems of ‘cultural conflict’ and of being ‘between two cultures’.12 The structure of immigrant families did receive attention though. It was considered different, and therefore inferior, by many commentators. Initially there was a particular stress on the deficiencies of West Indian families due to their low marriage rates, high illegitimacy, use of childminders and their practice of leaving their children behind with relatives when they migrated. In her study of Notting Hill, the sociologist Pearl Jephcott concluded, ‘The migrants themselves plainly attach less importance than we do to the risk of separating children from their parents.’13 Her allusion to post-war psychology's stress on the mother-child bond is noteworthy. Similarly, in Sheila Patterson's book Dark Strangers, published in 1963, about Jamaican immigrants in Brixton in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the sociologist described how ‘London social workers are somewhat taken aback at the free and easy way in which many West Indian unmarried mothers discuss the disposal of their children.’14 In actuality, migrant women who left their children with minders or in nurseries spoke of the (p.18) difficulties they faced in reaching such decisions and the anxieties it caused them.15 Indeed in her autobiography the teacher and novelist Beryl Gilroy, originally from British Guiana (now Guyana), reflected on the pressure she felt ‘to be the perfect housewife and perfect mother. I must be above all possible white criticism.’16 Initially, South Asian women did not come under the same scrutiny because of their smaller numbers and obviously strong family structure, with women occupying traditional roles. The writer Elspeth Huxley thought that, ‘Of all immigrant groups, Indians and Pakistanis maintain the tightest family formations, the greatest social cohesion, the strictest moral code.’17 However they still faced reproach for supposedly having too many children and consequently placing the health and welfare services under strain.

By the latter decades of the twentieth century new family forms within the wider population also became a subject of study.18 There was a particular interest in how the dramatic rise in the divorce rate, the growth of couples cohabiting outside of marriage, and the formation of step-families due to remarriage, altered people's experience of family life. For instance in their study of step-families, conducted in the late 1970s, Jacqueline Burgoyne and David Clark reached two principal conclusions. Firstly, they found that apparently ‘private’ experiences of marriage breakup, divorce and remarriage were filled with public encounters, such as with solicitors, the courts, welfare and probation officers, doctors and social workers. Secondly, they discovered that the expectations and experiences surrounding second marriages were shaped and moulded to a considerable degree by the legacies of the past. These could include issues over the custody of children or maintenance payments, continuing ambivalent feelings about a previous partner, or anxieties about whether a ‘better’ choice had been made the second time around.19 Moreover, while researchers found the experience of marriage for both the marriage partners and their children had changed, there were often continuities in attitudes towards marriage and family. In a study of family breakdown in Exeter, published in 1994, it was shown that, despite half of the children sampled living in families ‘re-ordered’ by parental separation or divorce, people still held traditional ideas about family life, with lone parents and their children saying they did not feel themselves to be a part of a ‘real’ family.20

Similar patterns have emerged in terms of kinship structures as well. Although there were changes, continuities also exist. In the early 1990s Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron and Michael Young undertook a restudy of Young and Willmott's Family and Kinship in East London, research undertaken in the 1950s. They found that Bethnal Green ‘had been transformed beyond recognition’. The most dramatic difference to emerge was in its (p.19) ethnic composition. In 1953 there were few non-white people in Bethnal Green, and none recorded in the survey, but in 1992 only two-thirds of the respondents described themselves as white, while over one in five had been born in Bangladesh. Relatively large numbers of younger people born in the area had moved out – with more than half the children listed by older Bethnal Greeners now living outside London. However, despite these striking changes the family remained important to the study's informants. While the authors noted that many (middle-class) women now waited longer before becoming parents, they also found that, as in the first Bethnal Green study, women who did have children were pulled into extended family life. The authors concluded, therefore, that ‘life for most people still seems to follow broadly the same path as it always has, that is from childhood, through a period of independence, on to parenthood and the interdependence between adults characteristic of married life … No one with children dependent on them can be independent of others. As they realise this, the mothers in our study rediscover that conventional families offer wide and durable networks, and are an effective basis for securing support.’21 Nickie Charles, Charlotte Aul Davies and Chris Harris found a similar picture in their 2002 restudy of Colin Rosser and Chris Harris' 1960 survey of the family in Swansea.22 They reported many differences between the social worlds of Swansea in 1960 and 2002, ‘the most striking among them concern the late ages at which people form procreative households and the historically small proportions living in households comprising parents and immature children.’ However, they also found that the character of family life and of the relationships formed by those people who did live in family based households in Swansea in 2002 was remarkably similar to that reported by Rosser and Harris for Swansea in 1960 and, indeed, by Young and Willmott for Bethnal Green in 1957. They therefore reached the conclusion that despite claims of radical change, ‘The most striking finding of our study is that there is considerable continuity in family practices between 1960 and 2002. Thus, those who partner and parent in 2002 do so in very similar ways to those who partnered and parented in 1960; families are embedded in networks of kin and provide their members with substantial support over the life course; mothers and their adult daughters are at the heart of kinship networks and it is women who do the kin work.’23

Drawing on these themes of continuity and change, the remainder of this chapter will therefore investigate the role of the family and community in shaping women's experiences of motherhood over the second half of the century, with a particular focus on the questions of kinship, neighbourhood, women's organisations, class, ethnicity and locality.

(p.20) Kinship

Rather than recalling an institution in decline, many women throughout the period 1945–2000 reported the centrality of the extended family to their lives. In both traditional urban and rural areas the extended family network offered women company and entertainment, with families coming together to celebrate rites of passage such as engagements, weddings, christenings and funerals.24 In small villages individual families were firmly embedded in wider kinship networks. Maud was born in an Oxfordshire hamlet, Churchill Heath, in 1921 and moved to nearby Milton-under-Wychwood after her marriage in 1940. Her husband was a friend of the family whom she met through the Baptist church. She recalled her parents were approving of her choice because ‘they knew him, they knew his people, they knew his father, well we called them uncle and aunty … but then of course they became my mother-in-law and father-in-law.’25 Maud's extended family was central to her material and emotional life.26 Bethany was born in her grandmother's home in Wallingford in 1944. Both her family and her husband's family lived in the area, and she moved to her husband's village of Preston Crowmarsh when she married in 1966. She described how important her extended family was to her parents when she was growing up: ‘There were several cousins. We were very close really it was. My mother had five brothers and one sister. There were seven in the family and also there was a family farm. Life did revolve quite a lot around the family I think.’ The extended family remained a centre of friendship and support for Bethany in her adult life too: ‘I had quite a lot of cousins who had children at the same time … We used to go to the park and play tennis and the children would play as they grew bigger.’27 These patterns of family sociability continued well into the second half of the twentieth century. Women who were born in the 1950s and 1960s recalled how important the extended family had been during their childhood. Moreover they also referred to the importance of family connections when they raised their own children in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Jean's two children were born in 1987 and 1990. She lived in a small village in south Oxfordshire near her in-laws. The family's social life revolved around the family gatherings they held: ‘They had a huge family because [my husband] has got three sisters and a brother, and we used to all go down there every Sunday, so there's be maybe up to about seventeen of us for Sunday lunches … [So] my kids were also brought up in a very big family sort of atmosphere.’28

As well as social and emotional support the extended family also provided women with more practical assistance. Madge was born in (p.21) Shipton-under-Wychwood in 1918 and grew up there before moving to the neighbouring village of Milton-under-Wychwood when she married in 1939. Her kinship network offered vital support during a period of illness when her children were young: ‘I had a friend who not only had her own children, she used to foster them [too], and I was very friendly with her … and she was the one who looked after [my children], and then she went on holiday and my sister had [them], they had quite a different variety of mothers to look after them. And then I had others who I was friendly with. I had a great aunt who was living next to me and she used to take them out in a pram for a walk, oh yes I had quite a lot of help.’29 It is also noteworthy that friends and relatives were interchangeable in Madge's account. She did not consider that a dichotomy existed between them as sociologists had thought existed in urban working-class communities. Another contrast to the findings of Michael Young and Peter Willmott was that the Oxfordshire women described living close to members of their extended family but rarely visiting them. Young and Willmott had found that women who had family living at close proximity saw them frequently (for example 55 percent of Bethnal Green women interviewed whose mother was alive had seen her in the previous twenty-four hours).30 While close family relationships did exist among the Oxfordshire women, they also recalled them as being more nuanced. Doris and Tina were sisters-in-law who both lived in Benson when their children were young in the 1960s. While they felt they were a close family they said they did not see each other on a regular basis. Doris explained: ‘I mean we know where one another is if we want one another … I mean I've got a brother living in the village but I don't live in his house. But there again I know where he is and he knows where I am.’31

The mother-daughter relationships recalled by the Oxfordshire interviewees were also somewhat different from those recalled by contemporary researchers. In her study of inner-city Liverpool in the 1950s Madeline Kerr found a common attitude was: ‘I couldn't get on without my mother. I could get on without my husband. I don't notice him.’32 Young and Willmott reported a similarly intimate mother-daughter relationship occurring in Bethnal Green.33 However none of the Oxfordshire interviewees talked in this way. Regional differences may have been at work here. A number of the women interviewed by Elizabeth Roberts and Lucinda McCray Beier in Lancashire also recalled seeing their mothers almost every day; although there were also women who lived near their mothers but rarely saw them.34 Nevertheless it seems likely that the close mother-daughter bond highlighted by the 1950s' researchers was over-sentimentalised. Young and Willmott were criticised by their (p.22) contemporaries for over-emphasising the warmth of Bethnal Green life. Jennifer Platt contended that, ‘A preference is implied for the social atmosphere of the working-class communities’. The weaknesses of working-class life were downplayed.35 Indeed Michael Young later admitted that due to his desire to challenge ‘superior people who looked down on people in places like Bethnal Green as being inferior’, he painted Bethnal Green in ‘too rosy colours’.36 Reflecting on the early work of the Institute of Community Studies, Peter Townsend has also acknowledged that the Institute's enthusiastic portrayal of working-class life meant that there were ‘certain oppressive factors about male domination, in terms of gender, which we were then less sensitive to.’37

Proximity did not necessarily equate to an intimate relationship. Not all working-class women had a close relationship with their mothers and some mothers did not want to be involved in helping their daughters with their children. They felt that they had already raised their own families and did not want to begin the process again. This experience contrasts with the findings of Young and Willmott in Bethnal Green who reported that when a woman ‘wants to go out shopping’ or ‘wants to go out in the evening to the cinema with her husband, she does not have to look far for a “baby-sitter”.’38 Ethel only lived a few minutes' walk away from her parents in Benson, but recalled with some resentment how her mother ‘wouldn't baby-sit for me, occasionally if I wanted to go out somewhere for the day I could send [my daughter] up to her, but she wasn't very good about it, she'd had her six, and she said she'd had to look after them.’39 Likewise the attitude of Madge's mother was: ‘they're my children, I can get on with it.’40 Such findings were not limited to Oxfordshire. Mrs Sykes, from Barrow in Lancashire, recalled that her mother ‘didn't believe in looking after your children. She said, ‘“You have them, you look after them”.’41 Women who had their children around the same time that their mothers were finishing raising their own families found their mothers often played a limited role, either by choice because they did not want to be involved in caring for small children again or necessity in that they were too busy to do so. While some women were close to their mothers, when reviewing these relationships from their current perspective in the 2000s (often as the mothers of adult daughters themselves) they remembered them as being more nuanced and somewhat less intimate than those depicted in contemporary writings on traditional working-class communities.

Women did express concern, though, that the extended family was declining due to the increasing mobility of its members. Zoe, a farmer's wife from north Oxfordshire, had four children between 1965 and 1976. She spoke fondly of the support her own maternal grandmother had (p.23) provided when her children were young. Comparing her experiences with those of mothers in the 2000s, she said: ‘a lot of young families miss out on that nowadays. They miss out on having the parents, let alone the grandparents.’42 However not all women were so pessimistic. Several felt that grandparents in the 2000s, and particularly grandmothers, were as, if not more, important. Thelma had one child in 1972. She explained that she was far more involved with her grandchildren than her own mother had been. As was the case with Ethel, Madge and Mrs Sykes, Thelma's mother had told her that she was not there to baby-sit.43 Their keenness to portray themselves in this way indicates not only that the interviewees thought grandmothers were still central to the family, but that at a time when family ties were deemed to be less strong they felt it necessary to defend their role. Moreover many thought that the increasing numbers of working mothers meant grandparents had to play a greater role in the provision of childcare. For example Ingrid told an anecdote about a conversation with her granddaughter to illustrate this point: ‘certainly [my granddaughter] only the other day she said, “Granny we've never had an au pair”, and then said, “Well I suppose really you're our au pair aren't you?”.’44 Increased mobility meant that some women were unable to take an active part in caring for their grandchildren, and there were always particular family circumstances which prevented such a relationship, but the majority of women did not present themselves as being any less involved with their grandchildren than their mother's generation had been.45 Moreover at the end of the century new technologies made it easier for families to keep in touch. The widespread availability of telephones and the internet had come to the aid of families who lived at large geographical distances. Gina's daughter had emigrated from England to Australia. She said, ‘Well thank goodness for the internet because we are able to, you know, not just talk to her, we use Skype and we have a webcam so we are able to sort of see her. We talk to her generally every week and we each sort of have the odd email in between.’46

One notable change over time that did emerge over the period 1945–2000 was that fewer women lived with members of their extended family in multi-generation households. This development coincided with the shift from privately rented housing to council housing and owner-occupation that accelerated in the decades after the war. In the 1940s and 1950s the housing shortage during and after World War Two meant that many women shared housing with their own or their husband's families. Geraldine was born in 1954 and recalled how her family lived with her grandparents. She said that it was ‘a common thing to do at that time because there wasn't enough housing.’47 Bobbie and her family were from (p.24) Milton-under-Wychwood. She met her husband, who was originally from Brighton, during the war when they were both in war-work at De Havilland's aircraft factory. Her husband chose to remain in Oxfordshire and joined Bobbie and her widowed mother in the family home after they married in 1948. Bobbie said, ‘you couldn't get houses so we lived here with Mum, and we stayed here.’48 The resigned manner in which Bobbie articulated this decision indicates that she had mixed feelings about the couple living with her mother. While she had a close relationship with her mother, and felt some degree of duty to remain with her, it seems the couple would have also liked to start married life in their own home. Eunice had four children in the 1950s. The first was born in Carlisle where her husband was from. Eunice, her husband and the baby lived in one room in a house that also contained her husband's mother, two sisters, a brother, the brother's wife and their little boy. Before they left Carlisle Eunice voluntarily moved into a home for unmarried mothers and other homeless women in the hope this would help get the family rehoused. When they were not, the family moved south where they squatted, lived in more homeless accommodation and then a Nissen hut before finally receiving council housing after Eunice became ill with tuberculosis.49 Phyllis was originally from Burton-on-Trent, but joined the Land Army during the war and was sent to Shipton-under-Wychwood. She met her husband there and they married at the end of the war. Discussing the difficulty of finding housing Phyllis detailed the moves the couple made. To start with they lived ‘with my sister-in-law, cos accommodation was very hard to get. And then we went into a farm cottage. And then we went from there to live with my mother-in-law. And then from that when my eldest daughter was about three we moved into a council house.’50 Like many women in the country during these post-war years, Phyllis recalled her delight at moving into this council house – the first home of her own.

Families throughout the country faced similar difficulties in securing housing. Indeed the struggle that families could face in finding suitable housing was immortalised in the 1966 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) drama-documentary Cathy Come Home, written by Jeremy Sanford and directed by Ken Loach. The play tells the story of a young couple, Cathy and Reg, and their three young children. Reg loses his job as a lorry driver after an accident and they live with his unfriendly mother in Islington. They then move to a squalid council house from which they are evicted, before an arson attack drives them from a caravan site, leaving social services emergency accommodation, a rat-ridden hostel, as their only refuge. Reg is separated from his family, and Cathy eventually asks a friend to care for her eldest son after becoming concerned (p.25) about his welfare. Finally, Cathy has her remaining two children taken away by social services. The play was inspired by a real-life experience. A neighbour of Sanford, the writer, had been evicted with her children from their home in Battersea and placed in Newington Lodge in South-wark, an accommodation centre for homeless families provided by the then London County Council.51 The story would have resonated with women around the country. Mrs Boyle, from Preston, Lancashire, had ten lodgings in two years after the birth of her son in the mid-1950s. She said ‘he squawked that much at night nobody would have him.’52 Mrs Turnbull also lived in Lancashire when her first child was born in the early 1950s. She ‘had a very job to get a house with a baby, because all our people wouldn't take people with children. It was the time when all the Polish people took over Regent Street, but they took us in with children, you know.’53 It is noteworthy that Mrs Turnbull found that the only landlords who would rent to the family were Polish migrants. For migrant women, particularly those with children, the difficulties in obtaining housing were pronounced and they could find they were turned away from the limited housing that was available.54 Beryl moved to England from Barbados in 1961. She told Mary Chamberlain that she experienced her ‘first signs of prejudice’ when looking for rooms after her son was born. People ‘just slammed the door’. Her family eventually moved into a council house in 1980, but obtaining it was also a ‘battle’.55 Vi Chambers migrated from Jamaica in 1956. She lived in a series of rooms before finally receiving council housing in 1969. She explained: ‘Actually it was amazing that they gave me this. I was so shocked when I came to see this place. It was so beautiful. There was no furniture in, so it looked massive, and I was so pleased because I didn't expect that they would have given me a new place. I was expecting a dump. That's what they always did to black people then.’56

However, the role of the extended family in providing housing was never completely eradicated. In moments of crisis, such as unemployment, death and increasingly divorce, women would seek the financial and emotional support that living with relatives provided. For example, Edna lived with her family after she separated from her husband in the early 1970s.57 Such arrangements were also common nationwide. Mrs Burrell moved in with her mother when her son was born in the late 1950s as her husband was away at sea.58 There were also variations in this general trend with women in some ethnic minority groups far more likely to live in multi-generation or extended family households. Common residence was the norm for many South Asian families who migrated to England in the late 1960s and early 1970s and has remained significant thereafter.59 There (p.26) were also differences in regards to locality and occupation. For example farmers' wives tended to move to live with their husband's families on the farms they ran. However it was often circumstance rather than choice that brought families together. Despite moving in with her mother when her first baby was born Mrs Burrell told Lucinda McCray Beier she was not really close to her mother and preferred her grandmother.60

Women who saw family members regularly might also do so out of duress. Elizabeth Roberts found that several of the Lancashire women she interviewed who married in the late 1950s and early 1960s felt trapped into entertaining or visiting their relatives regularly.61 Doris and Tina, who were sisters-in-law from Benson, recalled the ambivalence they felt towards their mother-in-law. Doris had been born and brought up in the area and her family lived in Benson. Tina moved to nearby Wallingford as a child to live with foster parents after her own parents separated, and then moved to Benson when she married. They both remembered their mother-in-law as being an extremely influential, but difficult, figure in their lives:

Doris: We used to have to go up there nearly every day didn't we? Tina: Yeah. If you didn't go up every day, if you were late it was, ‘you should have been here half hour ago’. So if the kids needed feeding or something you didn't do it because of the routine.62

Tina felt this uneasy relationship with her mother-in-law was exacerbated by the fact that, unlike Doris, she did not have her own mother to turn to:

I think actually she didn't mean it, it came across wrongly, I always thought that. But she'd say the most awful things. I was always in tears. I think I spent the first years just in tears because of something that she'd said. Like she'd come in without any notice, she'd just come up and walk in, and I can remember one day I was using the pressure cooker, which was the thing in the 1960s, and she said, ‘[My son's] never had food cooked in a pressure cooker. I don't know what you're doing to him.’ And now I would just say well that's how I want to cook and that's it. But it was sort of really upsetting at the time, because I had no-one to really go and talk to about it. It really upset me.63

Peggy's mother had died when she was a child and like Tina she felt that this left her particularly vulnerable to the criticisms of her mother-in-law. After a number of years spent following her husband, a seaman, around the country, Peggy settled in his home village Middleton Cheney in the mid-1950s. Despite her mother-in-law living ‘up the avenue’ she was totally unsupportive of Peggy. Peggy remembered how she told her she was: ‘“Not good enough for my son”, I don't know what she thought he was (p.27) going to have … She said, “That's it, you've got no education”. I thought, “We'll see about this”, but oh she was hateful.’64

Indeed throughout the period the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law was frequently recalled as being a tense one. Often, this friction centred on competing ideas surrounding childcare and housewifery. Thelma struggled to meet the housekeeping standards of her mother-in-law whose house she felt was like something out of the magazine Homes & Gardens.65 Carmel experienced her mother-in-law's disapproval in terms of her childcare practice: ‘breastfeeding on demand she thought was absolutely appalling. Once every four hours and no more.’66 The poor relationship that Kaye and her mother-in-law had meant that Kaye purposely tried to reject her mother-in-law's advice. She said that one reason she continued to breastfeed, despite the difficulties she faced in doing so, was that her mother-in-law said, ‘Why don't you give him a bottle?’67 These tensions seemed to be timeless and women recalled the difficulties that they faced with their own daughters-in-law. Again, differences in attitudes towards childcare were often at the heart of the problem. For example Shula said of her grandchildren: ‘they don't really appreciate things and I think … I think it stems from our daughter-in-law really.’68 However, not all the relationships were bad and indeed some women preferred the company and advice of their mother-in-law to that of their own mothers. For example Tasha wished that her mother-in-law rather than her mother had come to stay after her first baby was born in 1972: ‘if I'd had my mother-in-law to stay, life would have been so different because she is a very calm, practical person … bags of common sense … you know, she was just such a calming influence … [in] comparison with my husband and my mother. Oh dear me.’69 And Lorraine also recalled her mother-in-law as being her first port of call for advice when her three children (born between 1976 and 1983) were little, although interestingly she said this somewhat apologetically. ‘I mean, my mum was really worried around little babies, she was all right when they got bigger, and I wouldn't have asked my mum … And my mother-in-law was a ward sister on the gynae ward for years and she was great and I would phone her rather than my own mum, I must admit.’70

Women in supposedly tight-knit communities who had kin nearby could therefore have ambivalent attitudes towards their family members. In addition, women who chose to leave their families and kinship networks may have provided less positive accounts of the communities in which they had lived. Nonetheless for many women the extended family provided help and assistance, friendship and support. While ties tended to be stronger in traditional urban and rural communities, and for (p.28) working-class families, there was no strict rule in patterns of behaviour. And while by the second half of the century geographical mobility meant more women were living away from their families, new technologies and better access to transport meant that it was easier to keep in touch. Therefore it would be wrong to characterise the mid-century as a golden age for the extended family, which then fell into decline by the century's end. Furthermore, contemporary commentators, such as Michael Young and Peter Willmott, glossed over the tensions and ambiguities that could also occur within families. Indeed, musing on the importance of family support Donna concluded the extended family was surrounded by a fair amount of myth.71 While families were always important to women they were not always benign.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries women were central in preserving the unity and coherence of traditional urban communities.72 In relation to London at the beginning of the twentieth century Ellen Ross has demonstrated that ‘Mum’ was the centre of the ‘survival networks’ by which extended families looked out for each other. It was ‘Mum’ who negotiated mutual assistance with other matriarchs in those larger networks which tied together neighbouring extended families.73 Elizabeth Roberts depicted a similar matriarchal community in Lancashire during the period 1890–1940. She revealed the mutual support and help women provided one another, but also the lengths to which they would go to in their determination to establish and preserve their concepts of decent moral behaviour.74 Although in decline, such matriarchal figures did not disappear. For example they existed among immigrant communities later in the century, such as in those families who originated from the West Indies.75 In her study of Jamaican immigrants to London in the early 1970s Nancy Foner commented upon the powerful bonds between mothers and daughters. She found that ‘Jamaican women continue to have strong feelings for their mothers, even when separated by thousands of miles.’76 There were also some parallels between the Oxford Pakistani community Alison Shaw depicted in the early 1980s and the pre-war Lancashire working-class communities described by Roberts, for example in women's management of the household finances and their policing of the communities' morals. Indeed echoing Ross' description of Edwardian London, Shaw noted that it was the Pakistani women who ‘bind whole households into social networks.’77

It was also other women who featured most prominently in the (p.29) Oxfordshire women's accounts of their neighbourhood support systems. Reminiscing about Benson life during her childhood in the 1940s and 1950s, Gloria described an interdependency in the village based upon: ‘Knowing families and knowing they're there if you need each other. I can see my mum now, we lived in the High Street and we were surrounded by elderly people, and no way would those people have been neglected. You didn't lock your doors or anything like that, you know if you were worried if they seemed ill or something, somebody would be in there to make sure they were okay.’78 There was sadness in Gloria's account as she recalled what she felt was a vanishing world. This sense of loss was particularly upsetting as it highlighted the passing of a happy time in her life which may have caused her to exaggerate the villagers' closeness. Nonetheless, at several points during her interview Gloria demonstrated the importance of the village community to her. Theresa also spoke about the solidarity between women in the hamlet of Edgecote where she lived in the early 1950s stating: ‘if anything was desperate I would just say to somebody … “Will you just keep an eye on the kids?” There was a woman opposite who had small children, and … she would come to me and say, “Oh will you watch mine, I'm off on [my bike]”.’79 What is interesting from the Oxfordshire evidence is that the patterns of neighbourhood and community that social scientists believed characterised traditional working-class urban areas could also be seen in rural localities. Moreover, it does not appear that such a community structure was limited to rural Oxfordshire. Shirley grew up in a Yorkshire village in the 1950s and recalled a very similar pattern. She said, ‘Yes, I can probably still name all the immediate neighbours and yeah, we had little knitting schools and I played out and it was very much of the era where doors were open so you could just go in and visit and what have you.’80

Interviewees who lived in the city of Oxford also recalled tight-knit communities. Rebecca and her husband rented rooms in a house in Jericho when they had their first baby in the early 1950s. She explained: ‘We had a very nice landlady … we were right up at the top of one of those houses backing onto the factory and we shared our tiny flat with seven undergraduates and there was one bathroom with the only loo in it. And the landlady was an absolute charmer, sweet, she loved the baby, she was very deaf. “Bring him downstairs I'll look after him when you go off to the cinema”, and this was wonderful.’81 In the absence of her own mother, Rebecca's landlady acted as a maternal figure to her and offered support and advice. Georgie recalled a similar picture of help from her landlady on the Cowley Road when her first baby was born in 1961.82 As well as mother substitutes, women also recalled building up a quasi-extended (p.30) family amongst their neighbours. Before moving to their own house in North Oxford, Emily and her husband had lived in a shared house in the city centre when their first baby was born. Emily found that there was a strong support system at work in the house and she missed this when the family moved. Having other mothers around had been beneficial to her. She stated: ‘I didn't know what I would have done without that actually’. She had ‘neighbours down below who had three children a little bit older, she was therefore an experienced mum. She really tutored me I would say … And so if anything [happened] I always knew I could go and ask.’83 Faith recalled how her neighbours in Jericho proved invaluable when she was left alone with her young baby after separating from her husband. In discussing how they had helped her she described a similar neighbourhood-centred street life to that John Mogey had found in St Ebbe's:

I was fortunate to have wonderful friends who helped me through it. Women who had children. They weren't university people, they were quite a different set. They were people who lived in Oxford and who had grown up here and who had lived in our neighbourhood and [we] became friends.

So how had you come to meet them? Was it people you were living near?

Yeah people I was living near. And I think people were very sociable. And we just got to know them and you know liked them enormously and they just kinda took us under their wing.84

While neighbours obviously proved a notable support network for women in traditional neighbourhoods, Young and Willmott had stressed that in Bethnal Greeners' conception of community neighbours were acquaintances rather than friends. They stated: ‘Most people meet their acquaintances in the street, at the market, at the pub or at work. They do not usually invite them into their own houses.’85 There was some evidence of this distinction in the Oxfordshire women's narratives. Olive was brought up in St Clement's but moved to Jericho after her first child was born in 1945. When asked whether she socialised much with the other mothers living around her she replied: ‘I don't think I had many womenfolk in, I had children in and playing in the garden I think, but I don't think I would have had as many people in as I personally would have probably liked. I don't think we went to each other's houses either very much, we would meet mostly in the park or in the recreation ground or something of that nature.’86 Maud lived in the village of Milton-under-Wychwood after her marriage in 1940. She stressed the strong sense of community that existed and the support villagers provided to one another. However she did not approve of what she considered to be the modern practice of neighbours (p.31) forming friendships, arguing that, ‘I think there'll be a lot of fighting before it's finished, cos people don't tend to get on with their neighbours, I don't think.’87 Overall, though, interviewees did not stress a concern with respectability or the desire to keep themselves to themselves that some of Elizabeth Roberts' Lancashire respondents had done.88 Indeed some of the women who had moved into these communities wished it had been possible to form closer bonds of friendship. For example, Lindsay moved to St Clement's to join her husband, and found it very difficult to integrate into the community because it was such a tight-knit neighbourhood.89 As the period progressed, and increasing numbers of families were rehoused, the demographic make-up of the city-centre areas made it even harder for mothers who moved there. Young families tended to be the first to leave so women were left without their peer group. Mabel's husband was sent to Oxford during the war and she moved to join him, also living in St Clement's. When asked whether there were any other women with young children around, she answered that there were no other young mothers; her next-door neighbour did not have children and the other women around were older.90

Women who recalled growing up in urban areas in the 1950s and 1960s were also keen to dispel some of the myths surrounding traditional urban communities at this time. It is interesting that it was those women who grew up in the north of England who felt the strongest desire to challenge the popular image of these areas. Jemma was born and brought up in Liverpool. She told me: ‘although people say northerners are very friendly and, you know, you're always in and out of each other's houses, that was never the case … and we addressed our friend's mums as “Mrs So-and-so” or aunty. You know, we never called them by their first name or anything. And we never went in each other's houses because we played in the street.’91 Similarly Liz, who was from a small Lancashire cotton town, explained: ‘everybody's got this idea, haven't they, from watching Coronation Street that northern people was [sic] in and out of each other's houses. Well we knew the neighbours’ children to play with, cos they were a big Roman Catholic family. So we played lots with them. But our parents didn't go visiting usually. You know what I mean? It was purely family.’92 April grew up in the north east, but described a very similar situation. She said, ‘We weren't very kind of neighbourly really, against all the stereotypes, and obviously I'm from the north east but actually there wasn't that sense of neighbourliness I don't think. I remember once somebody's chip pan caught fire and everybody went round to kind of clean up the kitchen. But really there wasn't that sort of going in and out of peoples' houses and sharing life really in that way.’93

(p.32) It was also notable from the interviews that women found estates to be places with a strong sense of neighbourhood. In contrast to the contemporary sociological orthodoxy – which negatively compared the feeling of community amongst residents in new estates with established housing stock – the women who were interviewed recalled enjoying the friendship and support of their neighbours. The feeling of community amongst women on estates was intensified by the fact that the estates tended to bring together people in like circumstances and at the same stage in the life cycle. Grace lived in a small, private estate in north Oxford when she had her first baby in the mid-1960s. She recalled her neighbour as being a hugely significant figure in her life and in doing so revealed the difficult time she faced after the birth of her first child:

I had a very nice neighbour … she said, ‘Why don't we have a tot lot? Why don't we take it’, there were three of us with small babies, ‘Why don't we on Monday, Wednesday and Friday one of us have all three children, let them play together all morning and give them lunch so mum can go off and do something.’ And this was, you know as I was saying, I was pretty hopeless as a mother and I found it desperately lonely and desperately, you know, one worried and [my neighbour] was absolutely my salvation, it just transformed my life.94

Stories of the support women received from neighbours on these estates were common. Joanna lived in an estate of newly built houses in east Oxford when she had her children in the 1960s. She said: ‘It was a little community. The children all went to the same school. And when [my daughter] was born, by chance, when she got to be sort of two or three, there were five families in the close, all with little girls strangely enough, about the same age … so it was like a small nursery, just five of us.’95 In Polly's street, which was on a private estate built in Benson in the 1960s, each mother had all the children for one morning a week, allowing the other mothers some free time. Fiona lived on the same Benson estate as Polly. She said: ‘I suppose really my closest friends were the people who lived near us. Lived on the same estate. It just so happened that there were people of like mind you know. And we used to have a lovely time.’96 Fiona had enjoyed life on the Brighton estate she previously lived on so much that she had been determined to live on an estate again. For Agnes the neighbours on her newly built private estate in Ewelme also formed her social life. Indeed they enjoyed such sociability it was almost burden-some.97

In contrast to the findings of Michael Young and Peter Willmott in ‘Greenleigh’, working-class women in Oxfordshire remembered the same camaraderie existing on estates as their middle-class counterparts. (p.33) Doreen and Peggy were neighbours from a council estate built in the 1950s in the village of Middleton Cheney on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border. They had enjoyed a close friendship since the time they had moved into their houses, and in the course of their interview (they chose to be interviewed together) both stressed how significant this had been throughout their lives. Peggy summed up what their friendship had meant to her: ‘Yeah it's good to have a friend like that, no matter what happens.’ She also stressed how happy she had been to move into the house, saying, ‘I've never moved since, I wouldn't, the next place I go is over the back to the cemetery. I waited long enough for this, my god I did.’98 Peggy's house and her relationship with her neighbours were a central theme of her narrative, demonstrating their importance to her. Rita was born and brought up in Adderbury. After they married, she and her husband lived there, initially with her parents before moving to a newly built council house on an estate in Kings Sutton in the mid-1950s. Although she recalled the distance from her family as being difficult – after her mother died she used to walk with the baby in the pram to Adderbury three miles away for the afternoon to visit her father – she still spoke of the happiness and improvement to their lives that the move brought. She remembered the friendship and support on the estate that she received from her neighbours, again sharing childcare together.99 It is clear that in Oxfordshire women from a variety of class backgrounds and who lived in various types of estates, including those in suburban areas, villages, and which were both council and privately built, found that estates provided a strong sense of community. Neighbours were referred to as being extremely significant people in the women's lives. Moreover on moving from a traditional urban neighbourhood to a new housing estate some women actually discovered the patterns of neighbourliness that researchers had thought were confined to established areas. Glenda moved from London to Banbury and discussed the benefits of relocating: ‘it was very boring in London, extremely boring. Because, well I suppose it was us in a way, because you were sat in this little house all day long from morning to night, it was a bit lonely, and you'd take the pram and do the shopping, come back and have a bit of lunch, take the pram out and then, yeah daytime was dull.’ In contrast when the family moved to Banbury: ‘we moved into a new house in a group of eight and everybody was very friendly, so for a start it was so much more friendly, this idea that London's all that pally is not true. It was very pleasant, we had three small children, we had quite a nice house, and it was a very pleasant little town.’100

It is important to note, though, that while in the minority some women did not recall living on new estates as a positive experience. For (p.34) example, discussing living on an estate in Witney during the late 1970s when her daughter was little, Amy said:

I was very lonely there and I didn't really fit in. I couldn't find it easy to find people, you know, like me really – whatever that may be. But I mean I just didn't find anybody, you know, [my daughter] would go to playschool. I didn't meet anybody there and I just don't think I was living the lifestyle that would have introduced me to people that I would have known and I wasn't, you see I wasn't working then. I wasn't meeting people at work … And so I was quite, quite isolated and we were in one of these ghastly huge estates which I always find so soulless and there I was stuck there and it really was a miserable time.101

Amy did have other difficulties at this time – a poor relationship with her then husband and financial troubles – which may have compounded the isolation that she felt and encouraged her to remember life on the estate in a particularly negative manner. However she also spoke of the great improvement she felt occurred when she moved away from Witney to a smaller village. Women may also have come to hold overly high expectations of the support networks amongst mothers that would exist on estates. For example Bev, who at the time lived on an estate in Sandhurst, said she was ‘very lonely’ when her first child was born in 1987. Her unhappiness was compounded by the fact that she ‘had this picture book image you know, [of] walking down the street with the pram and meeting people.’102 Furthermore, women felt that the neighbourhood's role as a place for women to meet was in decline. They felt the principal reason for this was the large number of mothers with small children who had entered the workforce at the end of the century. For example Patsy, who had her own children in the early 1970s said, ‘I suppose there was much more of a community in those days because my daughter-in-law now, everybody's more or less working aren't they, but in our day they weren't, no mums were working so we were much more of a community and I suppose much more supportive of each other.’103 Similarly Hilda, who had her two children in 1967 and 1970, thought, ‘we all looked out for each other a lot more and I mean I don't know … but I should imagine they're a lot more insulated and also I think the fact is that they all go back to work very much earlier.’104 While in part the women's views may have resulted from them romanticising their own past experiences, some of the younger women did also note this change. For example Cynthia, who had her only daughter in 1993, and returned to work shortly after her birth, said, ‘In retrospect I am a bit sorry that I didn't have the whole mother and baby/toddlery [sic] thing. But anyway I didn't. I went back to work.’105 There was also a change as neighbourhoods became less homogonous. (p.35) Pippa recalled living in east Oxford in the 1980s: ‘We lived in Magdelen Road. And [on] the other side there was an Asian family, who we said hello to but I don't think they would have … or even we talked to the children and they were very friendly but there was no sort of real social interaction beyond that.’106 Therefore while neighbourhoods remained important to women, the role of the neighbourhood in providing women with support networks was undergoing change and women increasingly sought friendship elsewhere.

Women's organisations

For women who did not find the support they needed amongst friends or neighbours, organised groups could be sought as a means of making social contacts. Caitriona Beaumont has demonstrated that despite losing members as a result of wartime disruption, these groups remained large successful national organisations for women in the post-war decades. For example two years after the end of hostilities, 876 Townswomen's Guilds had been established in England and Wales. Similarly the membership of the Women's Institute Movement had recovered by 1947 to reach a figure of 379,000. By 1950 the Mothers' Union had a worldwide membership of 5,000,000 although it never recovered its pre-war popularity in England and Wales. Moreover, despite the failure of older women's organisations to attract significant numbers of new and younger members in the early 1970s, and their continued association with middle-class values, the Mothers' Union, the Women's Institutes and the Townswomen's Guilds continued to represent hundreds of thousands of women.107 The decline in numbers they did face may also be accounted for by the development of new groups, such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the Pre-school Playgroups Association (PPA) which joined the ranks of organisations that the women interviewed remembered as being particularly significant. In addition a group of women who had been part of Oxford Women's Liberation (OWL) were amongst those interviewed. The members of the group had continued to meet, although no longer under the auspices of Women's Liberation, and when they were interviewed in the 2000s were a reading group.

While the role of religion in society was generally in decline over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, formal social groups linked to the church were still recalled as an important way to make friends. Deborah had moved to Cowley as a teenager. She said, ‘I didn't go to school here so I didn't have any school friends and we didn't [have friends] from work much either’, but added that, ‘Young Wives (p.36) were good weren't they, we met a lot of people then.’108 As well as national organisations such as the Mothers' Union and Young Wives, there were also groups specific to individual churches or denominations. Mother and toddler groups, parents' groups and playgroups were all referred to. For some women these groups were just one aspect of a wider social network formed through the church which acted as a focal point for the whole family. Of course this was true not only for Christian families. Both Rachel and Anna recalled the significance of their Jewish faith and the local Jewish community to their lives.109 But in some areas the church was so much the centre of sociability that those women who did not attend church felt they missed out. Jackie had moved to Milton-under-Wychwood from London in the mid-1960s. She explained: ‘Milton was, is, but was very much then a very non-conformist village, there were three Baptist chapels, two of them very strict and extreme, I think all but one's closed now. Neither [my husband] nor I attend church or chapel and so we didn't have an entrée into village life through church or chapel attendance and people found that odd I think and still do here, you know [being in] the church community you're in a network of people, we've never been in that network.’110 However there was no guarantee that church attendance would lead to the making of friends. Winifred lived on a farm near Hereford when her first child was born in 1946. She recalled: ‘I didn't have any very near neighbours on the farm so I wasn't able to make friends, I knew people at church, but I wasn't able to make friends with them.’111 Neither was sociability always being sought. Viv, a Quaker, had her children in 1968 and 1971. She used to go to the meeting house in Wallingford for an escape from daily life: ‘I used to go along and I used to find that, particularly after I'd had the kids I was so tired, I used to sit in [the] meeting … and it's quite a small meeting … It's very quiet. And when you've had a sleepless night it's perfect.’112

While women still attended the Mother#x0027; Union, Women's Institute and Townswomen's Guild in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, by the latter decades of the century new groups, namely the NCT and PPA, became the organisations most frequently referred to by the interviewees. Indeed more women at this time said they used such formal organisations as a means of meeting other mothers. The division between formal and informal organisations was not strict however. For instance many women recalled that they continued to meet the people they had met at NCT antenatal classes on an informal basis after their children were born. Discussing how she coped with the depression she experienced after the birth of her first child in the late 1970s, Shirley said: ‘But I do think that it was the friends that I made through antenatal class and the NCT classes. (p.37) I mean we had a good group and we would meet two or three times a week in each other's houses and we went for walks … and that made a huge difference.’113 The opportunity to meet women in the same position was particularly welcome. Jean and Lorraine were still in touch with some of the mothers they had met at the classes over twenty years ago and Jemma said she had met some of her closest friends there.114 By the end of the twentieth century attending NCT classes had become a standard way for women (although principally white, middle-class, town dwellers) to meet other mothers (particularly first-time mothers) of young children. Bertha's daughter had her children in the 1990s and Bertha said she had ‘a group of friends that she'd met through that [NCT].’115 Indeed Bertha wished that such a network had been available to her when she had her children in the early 1960s. However, not everyone spoke so positively. Harriet had her twins in 1986. She explained:

I did go to a couple of the NCT meetings, afterwards, when everybody in the group had had their baby. But you know, I felt a complete stranger and totally and utterly inadequate because all their children were all beautifully dressed and … sitting cooing on their laps. And I'd got two of them and I'm trying to … I'm trying to deal with both babies. I'm trying to work out how I'm supposed to carry them both at the same time. It was just awful. I hated it. So, I really [pause] I completely discontinued that after about two visits. I really hated it.116

In contrast Geraldine had not wanted to attend NCT classes while she was pregnant because she thought they sounded too ‘earnest’, but after she had her children she did join the NCT and ‘loved it’. She ‘used to know so many people through that. We had talks and an amazingly sort of full social calendar. Going to different people's houses and doing different things. It was wonderful.’117 However, as noted above, the NCT remained largely white and middle class and the interviewees commented upon this limitation. For example, April said, ‘They were a little bit middle class, the NCT’;118 and Geraldine explained that ‘the sort of people that took it up were again were fairly middle-class sort of people which upset me in a way cos … it should have appealed to all sorts of people.’119

There was a shared membership across many groups, with women progressing from one group to another as their children grew older. For example, Linda set up a baby-sitting circle with some of the women she met at her antenatal class.120 Sandra described how she took over the running of a playgroup: ‘A few of us from the NCT decided, two of us actually decided to take it over, so we did.’121 The national playgroup movement began in 1962, following a letter to the Guardian women's page in 1961, suggesting that because of the lack of nursery school places (p.38) mothers might get together and provide their own substitutes. The PPA was formed later that year.122 Although it initially saw playgroups as a temporary expedient to meet the unsatisfied demand for state-provided pre-schooling, the PPA came to promote playgroups as an alternative form of provision.123 Several of the women interviewed reported they were involved in running playgroups. Lindsay described the 1960s as a revolutionary time when women were starting to form organisations and associations to enhance their lives. She said: ‘this was the time also that the National Housewives Register was formed via the women's page of the Guardian, and of course a whole lot of other things were started there, the Pre-school Playgroups Association, that started with a letter in the Guardian.’124 Jackie also remembered having first read about playgroups inthe Guardian women's page. She co-founded the Wychwood's playgroup. When discussing why she got involved she explained it was largely to provide her with a break from her own children: ‘having twins of course, I was rather keen that I should get them off my hands a bit [laughing], you see it was desperation, and reading the Guardian and hearing about this playgroup movement … I thought that this sounded like a good idea.’125

Janet Finch argues that playgroups operated on the model of paternal breadwinning and homely maternal care for children as they assumed the availability of the mother not only to provide the basic care for children when they were not at playgroup, but also to actually run the organisation.126 While playgroups did not offer an alternative to full-time motherhood, they did provide women with the opportunity for social contacts, work outside the home and a break from their children, all of which were very welcome. A Mass Observation correspondent wrote how, ‘in 1970 when my second son was three I became involved in the local playgroup and was its secretary. Being a rather elderly mum [forty] compared with others in my area, and finding small babies difficult to cope with, I emerged into the playgroup era delighted by all it had to offer.’127 Playgroups have been categorised as a middle-class phenomenon. Not only did they begin on the Guardian women's page, but they flourished rapidly in suburban areas and small towns and villages. Finch suggests that setting up a voluntary organisation is fundamentally a middle-class activity and the tradition of voluntary work is rooted in the middle-class experience.128 This picture is not altogether borne out by the Oxfordshire evidence. Diana was involved in starting the playgroup in Ewelme. She did find a divide in attitudes towards the playgroup in the village, but she defined this as being between old and new villagers rather than simply class based. Discussing reactions in the village when the playgroup was launched, she said, ‘I suppose you'd call them the indigenous families, they resisted, they (p.39) didn't believe in not bringing up the child themselves.’129 In neighbouring Benson, Florence who was a ‘native’ of the village did express this view, refusing to send her children to the playgroup set up there.130 Interestingly Florence was a ‘working mother’. She was employed as a nurse and shared childcare with her husband by undertaking shift-work. Nonetheless she was critical of mothers who sent their children to the playgroup and was hostile to the idea because it seemed an unnecessary invention by incomers. This division between old and new villagers, and perhaps also between the generations, seems to be more significant than class. Marilyn felt she came from a working-class background. She left school at sixteen and worked as a typist before having her children in the early 1970s. After her marriage she moved to Benson with her husband for his work. Unlike Bridget she was happy to be involved in the Benson playgroup because it ‘kept me out of the house and gave me something to do.’131 Indeed many women who had their children between the 1970s and 1990s recalled the playgroup as being an important arena for making friends. While the aim of playgroups may have been to provide pre-school education for children, many mothers recalled that they used playgroups in order to make social contacts for themselves. Mary encapsulated this view, explaining how she enjoyed the group more than her children.132

Baby-sitting circles were a further way that women could offer one another friendship, support and of course help with childcare. Ellen and her neighbour set up a toddler group in Ewelme and she also belonged to baby-sitting circles in both Ewelme and Benson. She thought they were a ‘good social contact, as well as being useful to have.’133 Kaye lived in Wantage when her children were young in the 1980s. When asked if there were any mother and baby groups there, she replied: ‘Yes there were and we had a baby-sitting circle. We were living on an estate and that was very good for getting to meet other mums and so forth.’134 While not confined to estates, baby-sitting circles did seem to particularly flourish within them. Sonia explained what it was like when she moved into her house on a new estate in Sandhurst in the early 1980s: ‘I suppose when we moved … [it was] to a new housing estate where everybody was pretty new to the area. There was a baby-sitting circle on the estate we lived on where, you know, all the mothers got together and you could baby-sit for each other with, you know, a token system. So that was a really good way of getting to know other families in the area.’135 Gina was a friend of Sonia and lived on the same estate. She recalled how ‘we had [a] thriving sort of baby-sitting circle and we had meetings of people as well as doing the baby-sitting and made lots of friends with lots of, you know, their children, that we still know now.’136 However not all women were quite so positive in their (p.40) accounts. Discussing the opportunities she had to meet people when her son was small Lynne responded more ambivalently about her baby-sitting group:

There were these sort of quite intense North Oxfordy kind of baby-sitting circles and things, you know that was mainly how I met other mothers and things before he went to school. I suppose and I did always feel slightly different, I think, I don't know they seemed to be often much more accomplished, much more educated although they were not generally working themselves at that point but they seemed to be wives of academics or people who would go back into that sort of world themselves when their children were bigger and somehow also coping better than I at being a mum you know. It may just have been my take on it but that was how they made me feel rather. At the same time occasionally there was this nice feeling of a sort of solidarity … on odd occasions when we'd have a sort of baby-sitting circle tea or something or we would get together, it would just depend on the chemistry I suppose.137

Organised groups were certainly remembered as important to the interviewees in Oxfordshire. And for many women at the end of the century, who found it harder to meet other mothers through friends or family, organised groups formed an entrée into a network of new parents who then acted as their principal support system. However as Lynne's testimony indicates, not all women remembered such groups as being unproblematic.

Class, ethnicity and locality

One of the reasons for Lynne's discomfort may have been that she felt she was not quite of the same social standing as the other women in the baby-sitting circle. Class was important to women in defining their identities. The interviewees described how class distinctions had influenced their upbringing. Their mothers, especially, had stressed the appropriate behaviour for girls of their own social status. What was and what was not suitable employment seemed to have been an issue of particular importance. For example Deirdre came from a skilled working-class background in Banbury. Her father had worked as a gentleman's tailor, but her mother clearly had aspirations to improve the family's status and had a strong sense of what was ‘respectable’ behaviour. When discussing what she wanted to do when she left school during the war Deirdre recalled, ‘I remember saying to my mum I would like to join the Wrens, “Oh for goodness sake” she said, “What do you want to go into the Wrens for?” she said, “You don't know who you're going to meet”.’138 Bet was from (p.41) a similarly upwardly mobile family; her parents were shopkeepers. Bet's mother did not want her to go into nursing, telling her ‘oh it's very dirty’.139 Class was also important for the women in that they associated with people with similar class backgrounds. For Gloria the feeling of community in Benson was linked to class. She thought it was the working-class residents who shared a common way of life and were all ‘in the same boat’.140 The phrase ‘in the same boat’ seems to have been a popular way for members of the working class to describe themselves when referring to the 1950s and 1960s and was also used by Elizabeth Roberts' interviewees in Lancashire.141 It was when women met people from outside their own class that distinctions became most apparent. Camilla came from a middle-class background in Sheffield and had been university educated, but she experienced an intense culture shock when confronted with upper-middle-class life after her husband got a job at Rugby School. In one anecdote she recalled how a senior wife had said, ‘My dear you must remember that we never push out our own children and nobody [should do it] in the mornings’.142 Kelly thought that class was a particularly important issue in Oxford as the city was rife with class divisions. She explained: ‘there's a very strong class element round here.’143 She was not alone in this view. Rebecca also said Oxford was polarised along class lines, arguing, ‘Some [are] very poor and some pretty rich in Oxford as I'm sure you know.’144

But understandings of class did not remain static. For instance Tina thought that class distinctions had changed over time: ‘I've heard [my husband] and I've heard [my brother-in-law] say it, “We're working class and proud of it”, and I sort of say, “I'm not working class I'm working upwards mate”, and it's sort of more that, and I don't think there is a class distinction as such. They don't say you're rich, you're poor, you're on a different level. It's moulded in a lot more. But there's always going to be obviously where you're born and who you're born to.’145 As Tina's comments illustrate, definitions of class are both ambiguous and subject to change, with gender also influencing people's responses. Joanna Bourke suggests that this subjective perception of class position ‘provides one way around the thorny problem of gender’. She stresses that employing categories such as occupation, income, or relationship to the means of production as indicators of ‘class’ is clearly problematical when focusing on women. Employed women may be categorised in terms of their own occupation, or that of the ‘chief breadwinner’ in the household, and women without paid employment are often allocated to the ‘class’ position of their husband or father.146 Carolyn Steedman goes further, concluding women are ‘without class, because the cut and fall of a skirt and good leather shoes can take (p.42) you across the river on to the other side: the fairy-tales tell you that goose-girls may marry kings’.147

The difficulties in assigning women to a class were seen amongst the Oxfordshire interviewees. Marilyn came from a working-class family in Lewisham. She felt that she and her middle-class husband were from very different backgrounds and she was not happy to be viewed as middle class herself.148 Indeed she found it uncomfortable to discuss the class difference between her own and her husband's families as there was some tension between them. Siobhan was married to a dentist and was herself university educated. She was, however, the daughter of a cooper from a family of Irish immigrants. She later worked as a receptionist at her husband's practice. If her class were to be determined by her father's occupation, her husband's occupation and her own occupation, each would have a different outcome. Siobhan herself did not think she was strongly attached to any class.149 Indeed some women did not want to be assigned to a class. Mrs Critchley's father was a railway labourer and her mother a weaver in Lancaster. She herself was married to a policeman. She told Elizabeth Roberts: ‘I think everybody who works is working class. I don't believe in all this class business, I think it's stupid.’150 A woman's class position was not immobile, either. Some women married below their class. Lindsay's father was a civil engineer and her mother was a doctor, she was herself an Oxford graduate, but she married a local man who worked at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell (she explained he was employed at the lowest grade), and they lived in St Clement's. While Lindsay did not explicitly say that she had fallen down the class hierarchy, at several points in her narrative she explained with some regret that she had not enjoyed the same standard of living as her parents had done.151 It was not only individuals, but whole families that could move across the class spectrum. Carmel grew up in Lancashire in the 1950s and 1960s. She recalled that initially the family lived, ‘In a prefab yes. We lived there until I was nine. Well it was pretty working class really. Yes it was. And I mean my family you would call them lower-middle class really, but I suppose aspiring, my parents moved and bought their own house which was a bit of a first you know.’152

Such mobility was not always easy for women, and women who moved between classes told of the difficulties they faced in doing so. For example Claudia, who came from a working-class background in Yorkshire, felt uncomfortable when she went to Oxford University because she felt like the ‘poor relation’. She stated: ‘Oh I was very intimidated by all the posh accents and the fact that most of the other girls came from private schools. I can certainly remember feeling that.’153 Rose also had experienced difficulties (p.43) in adjusting to life at university in Oxford when she too moved there from Yorkshire. Both her parents had worked in the local textile industry, although her mother stopped work upon marriage. She felt her education produced a degree of tension between them. ‘I zoomed up the educational ladder [pause]. There had to be a certain amount of informal negotiating of the relationship but [pause] always it was a close relationship in which they clearly cared a lot for me and I felt a great deal of obligation to them.’154 She found it difficult to talk about her relationship with her parents. At this point her narrative became disjointed, an indication of her ambiguous feelings. From their study of Woodford Peter Willmott and Michael Young had concluded that ‘movement from one class to another creates a barrier inside the family only for men, not for women.’155 While in part this view seems to be a simplification of the complex tensions that could exist for women, it is interesting that when Rose's father retired her parents came to live in Oxford and after her mother was widowed she moved in with Rose. Rose's experiences suggest that irrespective of women's social mobility family ties remained strong. Social mobility did not mean class was forgotten, though. Class (and linked to this the question of the north-south divide) was a constant theme in April's narrative. Indeed she joked that the interview would make her seem ‘terribly obsessed’ with class. She had grown up in the north east before moving to London to go to university. She explained:

I did feel that … it had a kind of class element … I'd never been to the theatre before for instance except for a children's pantomime. Things like theatre, and there was no poetry in our house. My mum and dad read a lot but not in any kind of, it's a cultural thing I suppose. I found all that very, very scary. And of course having a northern accent, I mean you might think I've got a northern accent now but it was [nothing] compared to what it was like when I was seventeen. That was, everybody sounded [pause]. I think people don't always realise that if you've got a regional accent, people with a standard British accent sound aggressively posh. And people, I think, don't always realise that.156

Women's perceptions of their class identity were further complicated by ethnicity. A Jamaican woman who had migrated to London, interviewed by Nancy Foner, explained: ‘It gives [sic] me at times to know that because of the colour of your skin they class you in that condition, beneath them in every way’. Another woman stated: ‘I don't see a rich coloured in this country. They try to be independent. Just ordinary working-class people, just fighting it. It is a struggle for all of us, just trying to make [a] life.’157 Irene was born in Barbados in 1939 and came to England to study nursing in 1960. Discussing her class position, Irene told Mary (p.44) Chamberlain that although some people argued ‘if you're black, you're all working class’, she disagreed. She felt she and her husband, who had also originally come from Barbados, had very different backgrounds and this caused difficulties for her and her family: ‘I was being a working-class mum with working-class children and middle-class values and expectations which wasn't good’.158 Moreover, just as class identities could be fluid and experienced at the individual level, so could ethnic identities. Tara was born in India, and described her background as Anglo-Indian and ethnically ‘a bit confused.’ However while her Anglo-Indian background was clearly influential upon her sense of identity she added that she could not ‘remember anything at all about India.’159 Women's sense of their own identities was also shaped by how others responded to them. Bet was white but her husband's background was Chinese. When their first son was born a Chinese friend said, ‘“He's gone to the English”, it's like going to the dogs’. Bet then described what happened after the birth of her non-identical twins. She said her daughter ‘looked really oriental, and [my son] was the Anglo-Saxon one’, when visitors came to see the babies ‘they all clustered around him because he looked English you see, and everybody that came in did the same thing, and I thought that was highly amusing, I didn't say anything but I thought this is good to sit here and observe this, they really like the baby that looks like what they are.’160 Neither were experiences static. Discussing her Jewish background (her mother had come to England as a refugee), Anna recalled how differently she and her children had experienced their Jewish identity:

my mother was Jewish, so I'm technically Jewish, but my mother knew very little about the religion except her identity. So the fact that I knew that I was Jewish was … wouldn't have meant very much, but I had a Jewish friend at school who said you've got to go to Sunday school, so my mother agreed and so I did, so I knew a bit about it, but … the fact that one was different was always a bit embarrassing for me. I think that was partly because my mother was not wholehearted about it, but I think it was partly the spirit of the age. And it interested me that my children weren't a bit embarrassed about it and if anything it was just rather interesting to their friends. And they sort of appreciated the … you know the variety of the sort of culture. So I hope that it's one of these things where something has actually improved.161

Class, gender and ethnicity were all at work in determining women's identities. Locality could also be a significant factor. Rather than using a simple class analysis the sociologist Margaret Stacey offered an alternative dichotomy between the traditional and non-traditional in describing the residents of Banbury in her book Tradition and Change. The traditional (p.45) residents were more likely to have been born in or near the place where they would spend their lives and so be physically close to their families. They were less occupationally mobile and often had a ‘traditional’ view of the social hierarchy. The non-traditional encompassed the large numbers of middle- and working-class newcomers who moved into the town in the 1930s after the construction of the aluminium factory. They were socially and geographically mobile, and were harder to place in the hierarchy.162 This concept also seems applicable when talking about the rural communities in Oxfordshire. Agnes and Diana both moved into Ewelme in the 1950s and recalled the ‘great deal of suspicion’163 with which they were greeted by the native villagers. They felt this reaction was particularly strong because, as Stacey had also found in Banbury, they challenged the existing social hierarchy. Diana explained:

It was the early 1960s and the only new houses that had been built since the war were council houses, so all the rest of the houses, as you know, had been there a long time, and they were either big houses or cottages. And then there were four bungalows built, and we bought one of those. So I was a bit different from people who lived in small cottagey places, cos they rented, so that made a difference. And it was when the children, well when my son started going to school and his best friend used to come and play but my son was never invited to go there … But we were sort of kept separate, we were in a different category altogether. We weren't village people, we weren't big house people.164

Jackie faced a similar reception when she moved into Milton-under-Wychwood in the 1960s. The other villagers thought:

we were very exotic as people, ‘A’ we came from London and ‘B’ we were in politics because [my husband] had been adopted as the [Liberal Party's parliamentary] candidate by then. So in a way we were a bit celebrities, people didn't know quite what to make of us. We were also very poor, and usually celebrities quote unquote are quite well off [laughing] and we weren't at all and we lived in this very small cottage. People didn't know what to make of us at all.165

Working-class women who moved into villages faced the same distrust and even hostility as their middle-class counterparts. Peggy had been born in Redditch, but spent much of her childhood in Banbury. When she moved into the nearby village of Middleton Cheney, which was where her husband was from, she found the villagers unfriendly.166 Peggy's neighbour Doreen had been born and brought up in Lancashire and moved to the village to join her husband after the war. When asked what it was like to move there she replied: ‘Well first of all I'd been in the forces, and when I got married, I mean there's always girls around (p.46) you. Then when I got married … I didn't know a soul down there. The only people I knew was [sic] [my husband's] family up in the village here, so it was a big shock to me, shock to the system like.’167 There was often particular hostility to incomers who had moved on to new estates built on a village's edge. Hilda moved to Dun's Tew, a village near Banbury where her husband had family, in the late 1960s. The couple lived initially on a new estate on the outskirts of the village before later moving to the older centre. She explained: ‘Oh well, the far end of the village, the farmer sold his fields to a developer and … it was very much them and us, right. In fact we had lived on Dashwood Drive for seven years when we built this house. And one of the villagers, old time villager said “oh I'm glad you're now in the village”. “No, we've been living here for seven years,” you know. It was very much like that.’168 Furthermore, while Shula felt that she had been helped to integrate into the village of Enstone through her children, she still was deemed a newcomer: ‘But this village is a bit odd in there's a lot of older villagers, you know, original villagers and the new villagers and although we've been here over thirty years, we're still the newcomers.’169 The native villagers did express ambivalent feelings about incomers to their villages. Alice, who lived in Middle Barton, thought people who moved into the village from towns were unsuited to village life, missed the amenities of towns and ‘didn't last long, a couple of years and they were gone again.’170 Commenting upon changes which had occurred in Benson, Florence said, ‘There's a lot of people who only sleep here, yeah go to town to work, to London or to Oxford and they literally only come home at night, but also they don't all participate in things in the village, which I always think is a pity.’171 Gloria, another Benson resident, thought that people who had been brought up and then continued to live in the same place, as she herself had done, enjoyed a better quality of life than those who were geographically mobile: ‘I do feel sorry sometimes for people who sort of flit from one place to another and never really getting to know somebody properly, and really, really knowing them, and knowing their history.’172

However while it is therefore clear that class was only one factor among many, class differences did emerge in the women's experiences. Although most women seemed to form friendships amongst their neighbours, middle-class women were more likely to join organisations in order to find companionship – a trend that had been commented upon by social investigators at the time.173 As noted above, from the 1940s until the 1960s the most popular groups amongst the Oxfordshire interviewees were those linked to churches, such as the Mothers' Union. There were also members of the Women's Institute, Townswomen's Guild and the (p.47) National Council of Women amongst the women interviewed. Then during the latter decades of the century the NCT and PPA became the most commonly referred to organisations. What these groups shared, however, were certain middle-class characteristics. But while middle-class women may have dominated such groups, they did not do so exclusively and several working-class women also attended them. Judy, who was a particularly active member of organisations and was involved in running the Florence Park community centre, came from a working-class background.174 Other differences in patterns of sociability did emerge, though. For instance a number of highly educated women (although not necessarily middle-class) said they did not have a friendship network or even need this support. Rose came from a working-class background in Yorkshire, but won a scholarship to Oxford and went on to marry an Oxford don. When asked how much socialising she did with other mothers she regretfully replied, ‘Virtually none, I think this is maybe the bugbear of a very academic background. What I valued most was time for myself and all the time the children were growing up I never, I can see that now I'm much older, went in for making friends.’175 Hannah continued to work full-time as a university researcher after her children were born and felt that she had little in common with other mothers, and subsequently did not enjoy their company. She recalled how ‘we used to go out to dinner too, and then after dinner people would separate and I used to be bored stiff listening to the conversation of [the other women], yes I felt quite isolated.’176 It is significant that even amongst a group of women from a similar class and educational background Hannah felt separate from them due to her pursuit of a career. Similarly, when Kelly was asked how easy she found it to make friends when she moved from Oxford to Manchester, she replied: ‘It wasn't. There were hardly any women in the university. I really had made no friends in Manchester. There were some people basically the parents of children who knew each other. I think everybody had their problems and no-one really understood mine or was interested in mine.’177 This theme of having no close female friends ran throughout Kelly's narrative. Indeed the points in her story when she revealed her difficulties in adjusting to motherhood were also moments when she expressed sadness at having no female friends to support her.

Nonetheless, while perhaps more common amongst those interviewees who had been highly educated these feelings of isolation resulting from the absence of close female friends crossed class and generation. Women's personal circumstances and indeed their personalities were also influential in shaping their attitudes towards the communities they lived in. Donna, a teacher, whose mother was also a teacher, had her first (p.48) child in 1969 and moved from Farringdon to Marlow in Buckinghamshire when her son was six months old. She said she was very lonely and isolated and spent an awful lot of time just sitting and crying over the baby.178 Carol had grown up in a council estate in east Oxford with a large extended family around her. She moved to a small village outside the city when her first baby was born in her mid-teens in 1979 and was estranged from her family at that time.

I was really sort of isolated. I didn't have, didn't keep in contact with any of my friends from school. You didn't have mobile phones in those days. We didn't have a phone where we lived. Again, it was a mobile home in Sanford. And so, you know, I didn't feel, I mean it was, I used to sort of look out the window and if a car [was] coming along that I thought might be somebody I knew, I'd be like ‘gasp’. It was ever so, it was horrible. I was really lonely, and a bit scared.179

Bev had her first child in 1987 after moving to Owlsmoor, a new housing estate near Sandhurst. She said, she was, ‘Very lonely with the first one. Immensely lonely … Because I couldn't drive and they didn't live close to me, I couldn't meet up with the few people that I had met. So I think that compounded the problems actually.’180 Often it was simply being a stranger in a new area that was seen as the reason why women found it hard to integrate. Class was important in determining women's experiences, but it was only one factor among many. Class, ethnicity, and also locality could all work together to determine the type of community a woman lived in and how she experienced it.


The type of community a woman lived in had a great effect on her experiences of motherhood during the post-war decades. It influenced the patterns of marriage, kinship and friendship she enjoyed. Moreover these differences between neighbourhoods were intimately connected with variations that also occurred on the lines of locality, ethnicity and class. Social scientists who were investigating British social life at this time recorded similar findings. However, while the authors of these social surveys and community studies made some perceptive analyses of the variation that occurred in families during the period they also tended to operate on a class-based differentiation and assumed a value-laden division between urban, rural and suburban communities. Furthermore, there was a lack of appreciation of the ambivalent feelings women could hold towards their families. From the Oxfordshire interviews it is clear that women of all social strata shared mixed experiences of family. In (p.49) addition there were similarities for women with regards to their experiences of being a mother that existed irrespective of their background. Whatever the type of neighbourhood women lived in having children seemed to provide them with an entrée into the community and other mothers of young children provided their principal support networks. Despite sociologists suggesting that in ‘old’ communities kin provided support and in ‘new’ communities friends did, this dichotomy does not seem to be reflected in the experiences of young mothers. Neighbours provided women in both sorts of area with social contacts. Women used their shared circumstance of being mothers of young children to develop social networks. While the ways in which they did so and their level of success depended upon factors such as their background and the locality they lived in, motherhood still served as a unifying experience for women in the post-war decades.

However changes were occurring over the period. While groups such as the Mothers' Union had always been a feature of some women's lives, new formal organisations, such as the NCT or PPA, became increasingly important as a means for women to meet other mothers. Neighbours were still recalled as significant figures in the lives of young mothers, but friendships were often formed through more structured associations, and the casual meeting of mothers of young children in the street seemed to be in decline. By the end of the century, with women returning to work outside the home when their children were at younger ages, this trend was even more pronounced. However, in many ways these new associations were following in the footsteps of earlier groups. Caitriona Beaumont has demonstrated that the contribution of groups such as the Mothers' Union, Women's Institute and Townswomen's Guild has been overlooked in the post-war decades. In reality they not only campaigned on women's issues, but gave women the opportunity to meet other women, share their experiences and interests, and engage in educational, domestic and recreational pursuits.181 In addition to such formal organisations there were also more fluid groupings, such as neighbours coming together to share childcare, which the interviewees also recalled as being extremely significant. Therefore throughout the second half of the century women had sought to improve their lives as mothers through forming associations with their peers.







(1) Graham Allan, Kinship and Friendship in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 36.

(2) Kate Liepmann, The Journey to Work (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1944), p. 83.

(3) Elizabeth Bott, Family and Social Network: Roles, Norms and External Relationships in Ordinary Urban Families (London: Tavistock, 1957), pp. 184–6.

(4) Michael Young and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East London (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), p. 112.

(5) John M. Mogey, Family and Neighbourhood: Two Studies in Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 81.

(6) Hannah Gavron, The Captive Wife (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), pp. 61–2.

(7) Although Willmott and Young classed it as middle class, Klein says Woodford offers a ‘vivid picture of the upward-moving working-class family.’ Josephine Klein, Samples from English Cultures (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 328.

(8) Peter Willmott and Michael Young, Family and Class in a London Suburb (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1960), p. 128.

(9) Robert Millar's optimism was exemplary of the positive view. Robert Millar, The New Classes (London: Longmans and Green, 1966), p. 19; Goldthorpe et al., thought thiswas not the case. John H. Goldthorpe, David Lockwood, Frank Bechofer and Jennifer Platt, The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 26.

(10) Elizabeth Slater and Moya Woodside, Patterns of Marriage (London: Cassell, 1951), p. 255.

(11) Peter Hiller, ‘Continuities and variations in everyday conceptual components of class’, Sociology, 9 (1975), 255–87, p. 255; H.F. Moorhouse, ‘Attitudes to class and class relationships in Britain’, Sociology, 10 (1976), 469–96, p. 469.

(12) Shaw, ‘Pakistani Families in Oxford’, p. 9.

(13) Pearl Jephcott, A Troubled Area: Notes on Notting Hill (London: Faber and Faber, 1964), pp. 88–9.

(14) Sheila Patterson, Dark Strangers (London: Tavistock Publications, 1963), p. 342.

(15) Nancy Foner, Jamaica Farewell: Jamaican Migrants in London (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 161.

(16) Beryl Gilroy, Black Teacher (London: Cassell, 1976), p. 109.

(17) Elspeth Huxley, Back Street New Worlds (London: Chatto and Windus, 1964), p. 94.

(18) Geoffrey Gorer, Sex and Marriage in England Today (St Albans: Panther, 1973); Lesley Rimmer, Families in Focus: Marriage, Divorce and Family Patterns (London: Study Commission on the Family, 1981); R.N. Rapoport, M.P. Fogarty and R. Rapoport (eds), Families in Britain (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982); Melanie Henwood, Lesley Rimmer and Malcolm Wicks, Inside the Family: Changing Roles for Men and Women (London: Family Policy Studies Centre, 1987); David Clark and Douglas Haldane, Wedlocked? Intervention and Research in Marriage (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990); David Clark (ed.), Marriage, Domestic Life and Social Change. Writings for Jacqueline Burgoyne (1944–88) (London: Routledge, 1991).

(19) Jacqueline Burgoyne and David Clark, Making a Go of It: A Study of Step-families in Sheffield (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).

(20) Monica Cockett and John Tripp, The Exeter Family Study: Family Breakdown and its Impact on Children (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1994), p. 10.

(21) Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron and Michael Young, The New East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict (London: Profile Books, 2006), pp. 14, 114–16 and 236–9.

(22) Colin Rosser and Christopher Harris, The Family and Social Change (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965).

(23) Nickie Charles, Charlotte Aul Davies and Chris Harris, Families in Transition: Social Change, Family Formation and Kin Relationships (Bristol: Polity Press, 2008), pp. xii and 224–5.

(24) Research on London has revealed a similar picture. Young and Willmott, Family and Kinship, p. 64; Michael Peplar, Family Matters: A History of Ideas about the Family since 1945 (London: Longman, 2002), p. 115.

(25) Maud, WY4, p. 5.

(26) Ibid., p. 1.

(27) Bethany, EW4, p. 2.

(28) Jean, EW14, pp. 8–9.

(29) Madge, WY8, p. 14.

(30) Young and Willmott, Family and Kinship, p. 30.

(31) Doris, BE2, p. 23.

(32) Madeline Kerr, The People of Ship Street (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), p. 40.

(33) Young and Willmott, Family and Kinship, pp. 28–43.

(34) Elizabeth Roberts Archive, Centre for North-West Regional Studies (hereafter ERA), Mrs J. 1. B., p. 34; Mrs O. 1. B., p. 26; Mrs W. 5. L., p. 62; Mr and Mrs W. 6. L., p. 86; and Mrs H. 3. P., p. 38, saw their mothers most days. Mrs W. 6. B., p. 42, rarely saw her mother.

(35) Jennifer Platt, Social Research in Bethnal Green (London: Macmillan, 1971), pp. 13–17.

(36) Michael Young interviewed by Paul Thompson, ‘Reflections on researching Family and Kinship in East London’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 7 (2004), 35–44, p. 35.

(37) Peter Townsend, ‘Reflections on becoming a researcher’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 7 (2004), 85–95, p. 90.

(38) Young and Willmott, Family and Kinship, p. 38.

(39) Ethel, BE6, p. 11.

(40) Madge, WY8, pp. 17–18.

(41) ERA, Mrs S. 3. B., p. 27.

(42) Zoe, BA16, p. 14.

(43) Thelma, CR6, p. 5.

(44) Ingrid, SO11, p. 13.

(45) Michael Peplar found his interviewees offered a similarly ambivalent response to whether the family had declined in importance. Peplar, Family Matters, p. 119.

(46) Gina, SA8, p. 13.

(47) Geraldine, CR9, p. 1.

(48) Bobbie, WY7, p. 5.

(49) Eunice, SA2, pp. 3–4.

(50) Phyllis, WY3, p. 6.

(51) Anthony Hayward, ‘Cathy Come Home. The true story behind Britain's most famous TV drama’, Independent (3 November 2006).

(52) ERA, Mrs. B. 11. P., p. 37.

(53) ERA, Mrs T. 2. L., p. 17.

(54) Wendy Webster, Imagining Home: Gender, ‘Race’ and National Identity, 1945–64 (London: UCL Press, 1998), pp. 173–82.

(55) ‘Beryl’ as cited in Mary Chamberlain, Narratives of Exile and Return (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 190, 192.

(56) ‘Vi Chambers’ as cited in Webster, Imagining Home, p. 18.

(57) Edna, OX13, p. 4

(58) ERA, Mrs B. 2. B., p. 59.

(59) Shaw, ‘Pakistani Families in Oxford’, pp. 89–91.

(60) ERA, Mrs B. 2. B., p. 73.

(61) Elizabeth Roberts, Women and Families: An Oral History, 1940–1970 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p. 187.

(62) Doris, BE2, pp. 22–3; Tina, BE3, pp. 22–3.

(63) Tina, BE2, p. 4.

(64) Peggy, BA9, pp. 6–7.

(65) Thelma, CR6, p. 22.

(66) Carmel, NO16, p. 9.

(67) Kaye, WY14, p. 4.

(68) Shula, BA12, p. 11.

(69) Tasha, SO14, p. 9.

(70) Lorraine, SA6, p. 6.

(71) Donna, TH1, p. 12.

(72) Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 1918–1951 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 170.

(73) Ellen Ross, ‘Survival networks: women's neighbourhood sharing in London before the First World War’, History Workshop Journal, 15 (1983), 4–27.

(74) Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman's Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women, 1890–1940 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 187–94.

(75) Raymond T. Smith, The Negro Family in British Guiana (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).

(76) Foner, Jamaica Farewell, p. 61.

(77) Shaw, ‘Pakistani families in Oxford’, pp. 206–7.

(78) Gloria, BE14, pp. 21–2.

(79) Theresa, BA10, p. 17.

(80) Shirley, SA10, p. 1.

(81) Rebecca, OX10, p. 11.

(82) Georgie, OX2, p. 19.

(83) Emily, NO8, p. 8.

(84) Faith, SO12, p. 5.

(85) Young and Willmott, Family and Kinship, p. 84.

(86) Olive, OX6, p. 20.

(87) Maud, WY4, p. 4.

(88) Roberts, Women and Families, pp. 212–16.

(89) Lindsay, OX12, p. 11.

(90) Mabel, OX9, p. 4.

(91) Jemma, SA13, p. 2.

(92) Liz, SA5, p. 2.

(93) April, SO16, p. 2.

(94) Grace, NO7, p. 2.

(95) Joanna, CO5, p. 5.

(96) Fiona, BE10, p. 13.

(97) Agnes, EW1, p. 19.

(98) Peggy, BA9, p. 21.

(99) Rita, BA6, pp. 8–9.

(100) Glenda, BA2, p. 11.

(101) Amy, WY13, p. 8.

(102) Bev, CR10, p. 12.

(103) Patsy, BA15, p. 6.

(104) Hilda, BA11, p. 10.

(105) Cynthia, WY12, p. 9.

(106) Pippa, CO13, p. 6.

(107) Caitriona Beaumont, ‘Housewives, workers and citizens: voluntary women's organisations and the campaign for women's rights in England and Wales during the post-war period’, in Nick Crowson, Matthew Hilton and James McKay (eds), NGOs in Contemporary Britain: Non-State Actors in Society and Politics since 1945 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 59–76, pp. 64 and 73.

(108) borah, CO6, p. 27.

(109) chel, OX7, p. 9; Anna NO13, p. 14.

(110) Jackie, WY10, p. 4.

(111) Winifred, CO4. p. 18.

(112) Viv, EW12, p. 6.

(113) Shirley, SA10, p. 6.

(114) Jean, EW14, p. 6; Lorraine, SA6, p. 5; Jemma, SA13, p. 6.

(115) Bertha, EW11, p. 13.

(116) Harriet, CR8, p. 9.

(117) Geraldine, CR9, p. 8.

(118) April, SO16, p. 14.

(119) Geraldine, CR9, p. 8.

(120) Linda, TH2, pp. 21–2.

(121) Sandra, EW13, p. 8.

(122) The writer of the letter was Belle Tutaev who was concerned at the lack of nursery provision that was the result of a government embargo imposed in 1960. A trained teacher, she opened her own Nursery/Playgroup and encouraged other parents to do so. The National Association of Pre-school Playgroups was formally constituted on 10 July 1962 and in 1967 its name was changed to the Pre-school Playgroups Association. Joan Conway, ‘The playgroup movement 1961–1987’, in Judith Bray, Joan Conway, Marjorie Dykins, Leontia Slay, Ivy Webster and Wendy Hawkins (eds), Memories of the Playgroup Movement in Wales 1961–1987 (Aberystwyth: Wales Pre-SchoolPlaygroups Association, 2008), 1–14, pp. 2–7.

(123) Janet Finch, ‘The deceit of self help: pre-school playgroups and working class mothers’, Journal of Social Policy, 13 (1984), 1–20, p. 3.

(124) Lindsay, OX12, pp. 11–12. The ‘Housebound Wives' Register’ was also set up in 1961 through the women's page of the Guardian. From 1966 it was known as the ‘National Housewives' Register’.

(125) Jackie, WY10, p. 13.

(126) Finch, ‘The deceit of self help’, p. 5.

(127) Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex (hereafter MOA), B1155, reply to 34: Spring Directive 1991, part 1 ‘Education’.

(128) Finch, ‘Self help’, p. 4.

(129) Diana, EW2, pp. 2–3.

(130) Florence, BE8, p. 11.

(131) Marilyn, BE13, p. 6.

(132) Mary, TH5, pp. 23–4.

(133) Ellen, EW3, p. 11.

(134) Kaye, WY14, p. 6.

(135) Sonia, SA11, p. 5.

(136) Gina, SA8, p. 10.

(137) Lynne, OX14, pp. 8–9.

(138) Deirdre, BA1, p. 5.

(139) Bet, CO1, p. 6.

(140) Gloria, BE14, p. 25.

(141) ERA, Mrs L. 2. L., p. 26.

(142) Camilla, SO6, p. 5.

(143) Kelly, SO10, p. 18.

(144) Rebecca, OX10, p. 19.

(145) Tina, BE3, p. 35.

(146) Joanna Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1890–1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 4.

(147) Carolyn Steedman, Landscape of a Good Woman: The Story of Two Lives (London: Virago, 1986), pp. 15–16.

(148) Marilyn, BE13, p. 5.

(149) Siobhan, BE1, p. 1.

(150) ERA, Mrs C. 7. L., p. 57.

(151) Lindsay, OX12, pp. 6–8 and 10.

(152) Carmel, NO16, p. 1.

(153) Claudia, SO2, pp. 5–6.

(154) Rose, NO12, pp. 1–2.

(155) Willmott and Young, Family and Class, p. 86.

(156) April, SO16, pp. 14 and 6.

(157) Foner, Jamaica Farewell, pp. 41 and 134.

(158) ‘Irene’ as cited in Chamberlain, Narratives of Exile and Return, p. 146.

(159) Tara, SO15, p. 1.

(160) Bet, CO1, pp. 27–8.

(161) Anna, NO13, p. 14.

(162) Margaret Stacey, Tradition and Change: A Study of Banbury (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 11–14.

(163) Agnes, EW1, p. 18; Diana, EW2, p. 10.

(164) Diana, EW2, p. 10.

(165) Jackie, WY10, p. 4.

(166) Peggy, BA9, p. 1.

(167) Doreen, BA3, p. 1.

(168) Hilda, BA11, p. 4.

(169) Shula, BA12, p. 12.

(170) Alice, WY2, pp. 11–12.

(171) Florence, BE8, p. 13.

(172) Gloria, BE14, pp. 21–2.

(173) Willmott and Young, Family and Class, pp. 101–8.

(174) Judy, CO10, p. 8.

(175) Rose, NO12, pp. 14–15.

(176) Hannah, SO7, pp. 4–5.

(177) Kelly, SO10, pp. 13–14.

(178) Donna, TH1, pp. 24–5.

(179) Carol, TH14, p. 6.

(180) Bev, CR10, p. 12.

(181) Beaumont, ‘Housewives, workers and citizens’, pp. 60–3.