Youth Gerald Osmond Hubert Mollett
Camberwell ca 1896 - 1904
At this stage I do not know at what point Gerald left school. Suffice to say that he did not go on to university, as by the age of 19 - in 1901, still living at home, he is working as a commercial clerk. The picture at the top of the page is of a typical office of the time with a collection of clerks in residence. Clerks would have been just about the lowest of the low in an office and there were thousands and thousands of them in London at the time. Apparently 2.7% of the population of Camberwell were clerks. A very large number of these young men would have been from the lower classes - being a clerk would have been seen as a way of moving up the social ladder - there are numerous examples in literature of this. No doubt Gerald’s job had been found for him through family contacts (why do I think that?), and perhaps it was viewed as an apprenticeship towards accountancy, but it is likely that in this position he would have mixed with other clerks, who may have had a lower socio-economic status than himself. But then he might well have met this kind of person at school. Whoever his companions were, it would have been dreary, hard work. No computers to help - everything done by hand, though there would have been simple adding machines and maybe the odd typewriter or two. It looks like the young men in the office above had to stand to work as well. At least he would have been able to travel to work by train, or bus, or maybe even by bicycle as they were becoming all the rage.
His family was very definitely middle-class though, and all the children hung around the family home until they got married (if indeed they did - several of the girls did not). In the case of the men “the wish to be financially secure before starting a family meant that middle-class men often did not marry until they were past age thirty”, and indeed the two older Mollett sons were 30 or near 30 when they did marry. The girls do not appear to have worked until later in life.
I must admit I do find myself wondering whether the family was sinking lower on the financial scale - my father once jokingly said that the family fortune had been gambled away, but he did not say by whom. I am slightly worried by the lack of servants in the 1901 census, because it seems that even people who were theoretically lower on the ladder, had servants. Did Gerald’s mother actually cook the dinner, do the washing and clean the house? It is hard to imagine her doing this, but maybe, as I said before, the servants came in on a daily basis rather than living in. Certainly by the time I knew the great aunts, one could only say that they were genteel poor rather than wealthy, though they still lived in the family home.
My ponderings on the family’s status mean that I do not have a clear idea of where Gerald would have fitted in the social life of the young at the time. Was he of the smart type, pictured top left and at right, or did he cavort with young women like, the probably lower class types in the postcard below the office picture. Hard to imagine his parents approving of such behaviour. Did he attend polite soirées, balls, tea dances and the theatre or did he frequent the music hall and the pubs? Were there lots of girlfriends, or was he a shy retiring type?
The young were certainly beginning to have more freedom, and there were certainly many more opportunities to indulge in a myriad of entertainment possibilities - from walks and picnics in the parks, to sport of all kinds, the cinema and the music hall. The family did, after all, live next door to the Camberwell roller skating rink. Apparently it was one of the first specially built roller-skating rinks and opened in 1876. It was a large cast-iron building known as the Lava Rink because of the floor surface which was made from lava from Vesuvius. People came to skate there, but they also came to watch games of roller hockey or rink polo. With the arrival of WW1 this particular rink became a military depot and it burnt down in 1920. You would think with it being right next door that it would have been a primary amusement for the family - or maybe it was seen as just too beneath their station. The guy on the left looks pretty dapper and upper-crust though.
And then there was the music-hall. Family legend (never a reliable thing) has it that our grandmother, Gerald’s future wife, was a music-hall artiste. Because Maude Beatrice Magee, very definitely came from the wrong side of the tracks as far as the Mollett family would have been concerned, we can only speculate where Gerald and she met. The possibilities are the music-hall, the skating rink, the office, or the house in which she lived for a time with her aunt - a boarding house whose tenants included many clerks - maybe some of Gerald’s friends? Well the possibilities are endless really.
We shall never know. Was it a romantic liaison? A grand passion? Or was it a bit on the side, which resulted in marriage because she said she was pregnant?
Gerald’s father died in October 1903. He had been ill for 14 months according to the death certificate. I do not know if he was in the hospital in which he died for all of this time. But maybe the family fortune went in paying his medical bills. Was Gerald seeing Maude all of this time, wanting to marry her, but not daring to introduce her to the family? Or did he only meet her after his father’s death? Suffice to say that in the January following his father’s October death, Gerald married Maude Beatrice Magee. Nobody from either family seems to have been there, although, from the addresses they give on the marriage certificate it would seem that they were both still living at home.