Pauline Wiltshire: Education, Reading and Writing

“I have somewhere to go, something to become, and something to show the world” (70).

Pauline’s memoirs were encouraged by an adult literacy tutor she had at William Patten School in Hackney, 5 years before Living and Winning was published. Upon researching, William Patten is now a primary school which advocates their students” will succeed if their attention is captured through an exciting, vibrant curriculum is reflected in the wide and varied range of experiences and opportunities that we offer. Our community is culturally and socially diverse and we value the richness this brings to our school.” This mission statement that echoes through the school 30 years on from when Pauline attended their adult classes shows how dedicated they are in educating the people of Hackney, no matter how old they are or what their background is.

Whilst Pauline was there, she presented a short snippet of her life story as part of a task one of her tutors had set, to which her tutor really loved. This sparked her idea for the creation of her memoirs she proceeded to produce over the up and coming years. Writing became an escapism for Pauline. At the time she took her manuscript of memoirs to Centerprise, she was thinking of taking her own life. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, publisher Maggie Hewitt helped construct and develop Pauline’s memoirs in order for them to be published. Pauline’s reasoning for these memoirs was to “prove to people she was not a fool” (5).

Pauline’s relationship with reading and writing was a huge challenge she faced throughout her life. Back when she was a girl in Jamaica, she had spent numerous years in hospital due to her mental and physical illnesses. She started school aged ten; putting her in a difficult position when it came to reading and writing. She did not know how to do either. She had fragmented and unstable housing arrangements, causing her to move schools. at 15 she had finished her schooling, and so did not have near enough as much time to learn as other children had. In an interview held by David Matthews, who I have referenced in my previous blog posts, spoke with Windrush families who gave their accounts on their lives, both in Jamaica and in England.

One interviewee spoke about how “schools were very strict” (Matthews, 2018) in Jamaica, and that teachers would often beat children for lateness or bad behaviour. When it came to female education, it was not deemed important there at the time. “If you weren’t learning anything, it was safe to stay at home, like education wasn’t that important for girls” (Matthews, 2018).

Pauline had missed a lot of school due to her disabilities, alongside Jamaican culture not enforcing the importance of school towards girls during the 1950s/60s, Pauline was at even more of a disadvantage. However, this did not stop Pauline. She spent most of her time in a local library, where she went “every day to practise reading and writing” (18). For the next 5 years she went to the library “every day Monday to Friday 8.30 to 5.30” (18), however due to family issues, Pauline was forced to stay at home to look after it.

Pauline’s love for reading and writing certainly wasn’t tainted by her lack of schooling, because she still wanted to better herself despite family situations.

When Pauline came to England, she was given the opportunity to regain her love for reading and writing by attending adult schooling. When she attended ‘The Centre’ ran by the Hackney Borough Council she continued her learning further, enabling her to love forward with her life and start working. “Here I managed to improve in reading and writing.” (46)

Pauline continuing her reading and writing.

On reflection, Pauline believes she continue to improve on herself everyday, and her move to England enabled her opportunity to become a better reader and writer. “There have been many changed in my life since I left Jamaica… I talk with more confidence now. There have been improvements on my ability to work” (66)

Pauline’s improvements throughout her life regarding education, reading and writing is truly inspiring, and shows you can get an education where you are young or not! By not receiving enough education when she was young, its never too late to try again. In Pauline’s case, reading and writing, and particularly her memoirs, saved her life. She was able to produce memoirs about her life, including certain aspects of it she may not have ever been able to face without writing about them.

Memoir-writers or archivists “whose defining subject has been trauma” (Scafe, 2016) often use their autobiographies to bring to light issues that they experienced. This then encourages others that have faced similar issues to speak about their experiences.
As Flinn demonstrates, archives and memoirs from black people were “frequently uneven and never part of a systematic process”. So, black communities often relied on “committed individuals” such as Pauline, and the works of community “activists and historians” (Flinn, 2012) in order to produce archives and memoirs to be apart of history. Particularly in Pauline’s case, as a disabled black woman, she has created a positive frame of reference for Afro-Caribbean women who may have had a similar life to hers, and so her writing and memoirs act “as an active intervention in response to under-representation and misrepresentation within the mainstream archive and heritage world”(ibid), as stories like hers are far too forgotten about, due to an oppressive and somewhat racist system.

Why don’t you check out Norah Fearon-Knight 1910-2000: Reading and Writing. Norah too expresses how important reading and education is to her, transcribed and portrayed by Annie Taylor.


Flinn, Andrew. ‘Archives and their communities: Collecting histories, challenging heritage’. Brighton: University of Brighton, 2012.

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Wiltshire, P. (1985). Living and Winning. Hackney: Centerprise Publishers.

Matthews, D. (2018). Voices of the Windrush Generation: The Real Story Told By The People Themselves. London: Blink Publishing. Accessed 16/4/2020.

Scafe, S. (2016). ‘Black Women Subjects in Auto/biographical Discourse’. The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010). Ed. Deirdre Osborne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 144-158. Accessed 16/4/2020.

William Patten Primary school Mission statement, no author or date. accessed 16/4/2020.

Wiltshire, P. (1985). Living and Winning. Hackney: Centerprise Publishers.

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