Wednesday 30 October 2013

Review ~ Working Lives by David Hall

Bantam Press
 The forgotten voices of Britain’s post-war working class.

I was born into a working class family in the industrial North of England, so the stark picture of the three coal miners who gaze enigmatically out from the front cover of Working Lives, is a scene which is entirely familiar to me. As a child, I watched as my coal miner father washed off the worst of the coal dust in a bucket of water in the backyard, and I grew up with tall tales of shot firing, coal seams and underground explosions.

David Hall’s interesting and informative social history explores the lives of the working classes in post-war Britain. The inherent danger of the northern coal fields and the noise and dust of the Lancashire cotton weaving sheds formed a landscape which was difficult to escape. And, likewise, the vivid descriptions of the frenetic activity of the North Eastern ship builder, through to the heat and bellow of the Yorkshire steel works, gives the narrative a uniquely individual voice, which neither glorifies this post-war period as halcyon days, nor does it allow the facts to outweigh personal perspectives. The anecdotal stories which are interspersed amongst the factual evidence are fascinatingly poignant and are reminiscent of long lost industrial pride.

The five main chapters are well divided with some minimal overlapping as one industry is occasionally reliant on another. These sections explore in great detail the effect that these industries had on the communities they served, and the structure and political ramifications as Britain became the most urbanized industrial nation in the world.

As someone who was born well into this post war industrial period, I am always rather shocked to consider that this is now seen largely as a historical period, but there is no doubt that we owe a huge debt of honour to the sagacity of those intrepid workers who maintained the status quo during this uniquely industrial time in our nation’s history. 

In this post-war examination , David Hall has done them proud.

 My thanks to Elizabeth Masters at Transworld Publishers for my copy of this book.

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