The "Norasearch" Diary - by Andrew Conway

Friday 4 June 1999

I take the death certificate back to the Birmingham Register Office and they check Column 7 for me, agreeing that a mistake has been made and writing out a new copy for me. So I now know that 'Nana' Parker's signature looked very much like 'A S Parker'. I check and am told she would have signed that column herself, although, of course, I'm not able to see it for myself.

This is quite interesting to know, because she wrote her address as '38 Strensham Road, Moseley'. Now, their previous address at Alcester Rd was quite definitely in Moseley which was then not even a part of Birmingham. But when the Parkers moved to Strensham Rd some time in 1910, they were not only moving from the independent Kings Norton Urban District into the city of Birmingham, they were also moving from exclusive Moseley into less salubrious Balsall Heath (an area that, even then, had a reputation as something of a red light district; parts of it, at least). Now, whether the house they were buying was larger or not, there would be no getting away from the fact that their new address might infer a lowering of their status. The fact that Amy would still insist on their address being part of Moseley indicates a snobbery on her part that has some significance for the Parker-Hulme murder case.

One interpretation of the 1954 murder of Honora Parker currently gaining popularity stresses the domestic tension suffered by Pauline Parker. It goes that Pauline resented her dull working class parents, Honora and Herbert Rieper, wanting to escape to a more middle-class, highbrow existence with Juliet Hulme and her family. In this scenario, Honora Parker is cast as a narrow-minded woman of no refinement whatsoever who allegedly poured scorn on Pauline's artistic pursuits. Some commentators take this further by using this allegation to infer that Honora's class resentment of the Hulmes and derision of Pauline's artistic pursuits were the key motivations for the murder. This view, of course, absolves the girls of the murder and lays the blame at the door of the victim.

I've never bought the notion, though, that Honora and Herbert Rieper were 'working class'. Their social rank was clearly petit bourgeois: Herbert was a manager (and accountant), and Honora was running a boarding house, effectively a businesswoman, not merely 'taking in lodgers.' Furthermore, Honora came from a respectable bourgeois family with a father who owned a prestigious chartered accountancy in the heart of Birmingham's financial sector. Even though he died tragically young, he left his widow, Amy, a significant administration.

A recent experiment on UK television (Channel 4's The 1900 House) had a family of six living as a turn-of-the-century family for three months. It placed the family's weekly budget at four pounds, which would have placed them comfortably in the middle classes. If we assume that a mother and daughter would only require, say, two pounds to achieve the same status, that means the 567 8s 11d that Robert left his widow was enough for five and a half years, which, if Amy actually took a job and invested the money wisely, could have provided a good middle-class upbringing for Honora with perhaps enough left over to pay for emigration to New Zealand 15 years later.

True, the Hulmes were wealthier than the Riepers, and Pauline was clearly captivated by their status, but I don't think Honora could have been the narrow-minded, working-class mother sneering at all artistic pretension that she's being portrayed as. It just doesn't ring true with her background.

Copyright © 1999 Andrew Conway. All Rights Reserved.