Oral history of British science
Chamberlain, Mary (1 of 21). Oral History of Oral History
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2012-10-29, 2012-11-05, 2013-03-14, 2013-04-11, 2013-05-03, 2013-06-26, 2013-09-04, 2013-10-16, 2013-11-28, 2014-01-15
Chamberlain, Mary (speaker, female)
Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session one: 29 October 2012] Born 3rd September 1947 in Caterham Surrey. Parents were both inner city people and were bombed out - moved to Purley. First day at university met a woman who asked her where she came from and scoffed at the name of Purley. Middle of three children, younger and older brother with long gaps. Parents were Catholic, mother particularly fanatical. Father was Arthur James Chamberlain. Born in Riley Road in Bermondsey. His father was a foreman on the corn wharves. He had pneumoconiosis and died young. His elder brother had died in the First World War aged 17. Won the Military Medal. His brothers death had a profound effect on her father. [06:10] Didnt know her fathers family very well. Rift between his family and her mother. She was born in Inville Road, Walworth her father was a printer. She looked down on her fathers family who were dockers, She claimed that she did not get any help from his family. Describes her mother very critically. Adored her father. He never stood up to her. Her mother was fine with Marys brothers but very severe with Mary. Spoke to her father about her mothers attitude to her. [13:45] Marys mother won a scholarship to Notre Dame Convent School (opp. Imperial War Museum), She had a school and college friend and regularly complained to them on the phone about Mary and to a lesser degree, her father. Brothers passed the 11+ and went to a Jesuit school in Wimbledon. [17:20] Mother used her nerves as an excuse. Would talk to Auntie Maureen about their nerves, Not a happy woman. Children learnt to deceive her. Talks about how she got on with her brothers. Older brother went to Kings College London to read Law. Younger brother was born seven years after Mary. Better relationship with him even now. He got into Oxford when he was 16. When Marys turn came her mother told her to go to teacher training college. The lure of university was in part to enable her to leave home. Wanted to do History applied to a number of colleges including Edinburgh where she was offered a place. History teacher intervened to support her in going to Edinburgh. [28:30] Her father left school at 14. Did endless evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic. After war service he got a job in an electrical shop. He enrolled in a teacher training course at Coopers Hill. He also applied to university and was offered a place at University College London but could not go. He became a teacher in a secondary modern school. [31:30] Talks about issues around her childhood. Voracious reader. Unhappy teenage years. Gives examples of her mothers attitude and actions against Mary. Elocution lessons gave her confidence. Poetry competitions Mary was dressed by her mother in awful clothes for it. Elocution teacher thought she had dressed down deliberately. [37:20] She kept a diary also writing a novel. Other came across the diary and took the novel and took them to the priest and the Reverend Mother. Had to join the Sodality. Mother burnt the diary and novel. Warfare from then on. Beleaguered Catholicism possibly due to earlier anti-Catholic feelings. Describe the religious icons and practices at home and at church. Father was actually a convert. Mothers politics. Age has not mellowed Marys attitude to her mother. [48:30] Gives an example of mothers attitude to her having a baby. Her mothers name was Gladys Harris. Her side of the family was an old London Catholic family. [53:13] When Mary was 4 her mother got a job in in a Catholic prep school. Marys fees were waived. Headmistress was Mother Mary Paul said she could start school aged 4. After prep school she went to an attached Catholic grammar school. Did not pass the 11+ and had to have an interview to stay. Her mother left the primary school when a new headmistress started and went with the former headmistress to a new primary school. Originally her mother taught in a school in Brockley. Gave up for a while when Mary was born. [1:01:30] Father was made Head of Department in his last years as a teacher when he suffered from macular degeneration. Took early retirement when he went blind. He was at St Marys in West Croydon. Both retired at the same time. [1:04:13] Mary was very happy at school. Nuns were encouraging the girls to apply for university. Mentions her history teacher and English teacher (Mrs Pudney). Very close group of girls. Kept in touch with two of them and one organised a reunion recently. Now meet every two years. Nuns and teachers encouraged creative activities. Saw university as a route out of home. Got into Edinburgh. [1:12:00] Only cruelty from a couple of non-teaching nuns, Mothers Monica (sisters). Mostly teachers were supportive to the girls. Mentions music teacher, Miss Durante, who joined when Mary was in 4th Form. Catholics are surrounded by music at Mass etc. More about her history teacher Miss Kennedy who was still alive at time of interview. Old fashioned teaching but she told a story. Talks about art and her fathers artistic skills signwriting and scenery painting. Father greater influence than art teacher. Did History, French and English at A Level. [1:25:00] The burning of the diary did stop her writing stories. Has recently picked up creative writing when she retired. Enrolled on the creative writing course at Royal Holloway College. Writing fiction for last three years. Has an agent and discussing getting published.
Life story interview with Mary Chamberlain, oral historian.