Allen’s description of the familial roles in his family become especially apt when looking at the working-class experience in the home. Even as a child, Allen is cognisant that every person in the household had a specific role which was almost forced on them. Work duties, interactions with other neighbours and society was dependant on these roles. Allen also converses specifically about what it was like to live in 20th Century Liverpool, which proved to be a difficult time for Allen and his family.
Many of these hardships are spoken with a calm sensibility, which include his childhood home: “Up and down house. […] Four rooms in a sort of very slummy district […] All similar houses […] some of the places up there, they’d didn’t have a bath even…They just had one big tap in the middle of the court. And a communal lavatory”
The homes of rural Toxteth often had communal spaces where neighbours would gather, such as washhouses etc. Allen doesn’t specifically describe his house aesthetically, but instead gives a simplistic answer that emphasises how small and humble his family home was. There’s an instant shift to describing how his house was the best in the street even in the circumstances, creating a sense of self-elevation.
It’s important to note that “‘respectability’ provided a macro-language of esteem through which authors could articulate intimate dimensions of family life and inter-subjectivities. Respectability matters here because it suggests a dynamic concept that had the potential to be about far more than working-class conservatism, consumerism or ambition.” (Julie-Marie Strange)
The action of being respectable was passed down also from parents, “She was very proud my mother. Very”, even to the point where she forces Allen to decline free boots from ‘Doe’s Clothing’- “when I went home and told my mother she was going to kill me. ‘Don’t you ever dare’, she said. She said ‘We’ll manage without getting anything like that’”.
Allen’s portrayal of family life amongst his community seems vital in Liverpool, the relationships between family-members and neighbours can depend on it. And this pride seems to almost be counter- intuitive to Allen better interests.
Allen’s descriptions of family members usually revolve around what they do for work, and their roles which are clearly stated. Such as having a “sister and a brother, they both worked” in addition to his father being a “seaman” who at the time would be the top earner in the family. Though his long sabbaticals of absence between “six months” and “twelve months” meant his mother was forced to get a job. Which perhaps was unusual to Berger; who asks:
“Did your mother have to work?”
The use of the imperative ‘have to’ almost highlights the societal norms that Allen’s family had to break in order for survival- in fact, during Allen’s childhood, Britain saw an all-time low for women’s employment: “in 1851 more than 8 per cent of working women were employed in the primary sector, mainly in agriculture; by 1911, only 2 per cent of the female workforce were employed in the primary sector.”(1) His mother worked “take[ing] in washing and there was a public washhouse near us and she used to go and she used to about six hours a day, every day for five days in the week”. Allen’s mother like many other women of the era worked in the Tertiary sector: “Women’s employment in the secondary sector was concentrated into two sub-sectors: textiles and clothing”, which “generally decreased between 1851 and 1911.”(1)
Therefore, the fact that Allen’s mother was forced to attain her own income at a time where employment for women was an all-time low places emphasis on the poverty Liverpool was facing. In addition to the fact that as the primary carer for Allen and his siblings, her absence is a clear sign of struggle. This becomes detrimental to Allen at a young age, who confides in a story where he’s hospitalised:
“I even took my sister’s umbrella and tied the corners down to the handle- with about ten strings- right down to the handle- opened it up and used it as a parachute and I stepped out of the room window, just trying to see if that was a parachute. But I broke my leg and I was in Hospital.”
Allen previously tells Berger that he was eight when he was left alone. The lack of parental supervision perhaps leads to many injured children during the early 19th century- and this especially correlates to the exact income the household attains: “poorer people have been much more likely than most to see their babies die, and the rich the least likely. A century ago the majority of people would have had first hand experience of infant mortality and of living in poverty.” (2) So not only did Allen face the threat of work during his infancy, but he also was much more likely to die because of it.
Memoir: Hammond, Allen, Programme number:P404/4. Transmission; 26 August 1963. Granada Television. Typescript, 15 foolscap sheets, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895
3- Strange, Julie-Marie.Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)