'Childhood has become a major source of industry in the twentieth century', Jeremy Seabrook comments: so also, it might be said, has writing about childhood. After long neglect by historians, the importance and interest of childhood has recently been 'discovered', and starting with Philippe Aries' Centuries of Childhood in 1965, we have been offered a variety of interpretations of its changing nature and public recognition over time. If, as most writers agree, childhood first emerged as a distinct, recognised status in the wealthy, bourgeois family of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, only penetrating to the poorer working-classes in the nineteenth, it is natural that much of the recent research has focused on the silent majority.
Silent, that is, until now. Two main methods of exploring the history of working-class childhood have recently been employed – one, by the use of written, autobiographical accounts, the other by oral history, the preservation of the recollections of living people which the tape-recorder has made possible. Jeremy Seabrook's Working Class Childhood uses the latter, skilfully, intelligently, often poignantly. From ninety-year-olds remembering their childhood to nine-year-olds experiencing theirs at the present day, he has compiled a documentary not only of the changing economic circumstances of the working-classes but also of the changing values, attitudes and feelings which have accompanied them.