“As the youngest born it was not surprising that I owed a lot to my five brothers and two sisters. Wittingly or not their more mature interests stimulated my young mind and opened up vistas I might not have known till much later” (33).
‘Home’ for Joe was a place of laughter, love and numerous life lessons taught to him by his five older brothers and two sisters. The Loftus household was also frequently filled with music, as his eldest brother, who had a passion for music and loved to sing, bought a gramophone for the family. Joe recalls how his brother would be “delighted to sing to them [records], to share them with the rest of us, especially mother and my sisters who not uncommonly loved to sing to good music” (33). According to ‘A Vision of Britain Through Time’s’ website, in 1931, out of 65,000 homes in the Leigh, Lancashire area, 18,490 of these had over one person sharing a room. Also, in 1951, 35,792 households out of 76,000 lacked basic amenities. Considering that over half of households had no toilet or clean running water, Joe does not describe his living conditions as cramped or unpleasant. In fact, interestingly, Joe refrains from describing the physicality of his childhood home at all, except that he lived on Glebe Street, Leigh.
However, it was not always jovial in the Loftus home. The tone of Joe’s memoir shifts when he confesses “It was always my wish to have known my father better and maybe to have understood him” (20). Joe’s father, Irish born Michael Loftus, joined the army shortly after Joe was born which hindered their relationship significantly. He returned home when Joe was about four years old, and Joe describes him as “a stranger in the open doorway of our front place” (9). Michael, like many other ex-soldiers, felt alienated from his home as a result of what he experienced in the war. Being “cut off from home and civilian life” (29) meant that Joe’s father became “frustrated by family duties he had almost forgotten, feeling he had to re-assert himself against the slightest opposition” (29). Joe does not explicitly detail that his father became an alcoholic, but he did turn to alcohol and soon adopted a depressing routine of “home for his meals then off out with his drinking cronies. Becoming taciturn at home either drunk or sober” (29). Michael eventually completely lost touch with his family and Joe admits, “He died alone from neglect in his seventies, twenty odd years after the family had left him” (31). (Read about Joe’s father in ‘War & Memory’).
Despite his mother Winifred being alone with seven children from approximately 1930 on wards, the family did not seem to suffer from the absence of their father. Joe speaks of his mother in his memoir with nothing but admiration and praise, and notes how “Mother was first to get up in a morning and last to go to bed at night. Guiding and steering us all with a quiet word here and there, getting the best out of us all her life – and even beyond the effect has continued” (109). Joe does not imply that Winifred was in employment during this time, so it is hard to imagine how the family coped financially. Relying on the wages that Joe’s brothers and sisters brought into the home must have scarcely made ends meet, but Joe’s home life was still happy.
In regard to Joe’s sisters, their free time was taken up by “making sure they were fit and able to keep up with their work as weavers and bring home a wage; helping mother around the house and shopping” (39). Joe does not mention that he or his brothers engage in any kind of domestic work so there is clearly a gender divide within their home, one that was typical at this time. However, it was not all work for his sisters as Joe details how they were very much preoccupied with young boys and courting. With so many teenagers in one house, there was definitely no shortage of heartache, as Joe recalls how his brothers would frequently fight over girls: “the front door burst open late in the evening and in would fly the younger one. Straight upstairs to barricade himself in followed a few seconds later by the eldest. It was a bit like an operatic excerpt with half-screamed wild threats coming from outside the door and muffled responses coming from inside” (41). Being surrounded by this perhaps helped Joe mature at an accelerated rate and contributed to his precocious sexuality in later years.
Joe’s third eldest brother had “craft and artistic ability” (36) and opened up his own bakery shop and became reasonably successful in his vocation. However, Joe does not seem happy for his brother’s private success, injecting some tension into his memoir. He simply says, “with practical and moral support, he went on to succeed… He also benefited a lot of people on the way incidentally. It is for their better qualities that people should be remembered” (36). This reserved and somewhat bitter statement from Joe suggests they didn’t have a particularly harmonious relationship, which is perhaps due to some irreconcilable differences between them or as hinted by Joe, a number of bad qualities his brother possessed.
‘Lee Side’ also touches briefly on the loss of Joe’s brother John, who tragically died in “a serious influenza epidemic when he went into Astley Sanatorium at the end of the 1914-18 War” (36). John had “barely reached his twelfth year” (37) when he was stuck down by the illness, and Joe, only five at the time, found it difficult to understand his mother’s pain. He says, “I only began to understand my mother’s grief when I saw my own children flower through childhood” (37). This is a nice moment where we can see older Joe using the wisdom and experiences he has gained throughout his life, and comparing it to how he felt when he was younger.
‘Joe Loftus’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:484
Loftus, Joe. ‘Lee Side’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:484.
GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Leigh, in Wigan and Lancashire | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time. URL: http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/639 Date Accessed: 21st February 2017
“German Dollhouse Cast Metal Gramophone, with Morning Glory Horn 1920s – 1930s” www.uk.pinterest.com Web. Accessed 24/02/17 https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/328059154082530050/
“Glebe Street, Leigh – as it stands today” www.zoopla.co.uk Web. Accessed 24/02/2017 http://www.zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/property/greater-manchester/leigh/glebe-street/
“A typical working class woman, attending to her two young children, circa. 1930’s” www.wikispaces.com Web. Accessed 24/02/2017 https://tkminfo.wikispaces.com/Women+of+the+1930s
“Young weaver girls at their looms at one of Leigh’s mills – circa 1920” www.leigh.life.com Web. Accessed 24/02/2017 https://leigh.life/index.php?action=media;sa=album;in=16209;nw;start=208
“Two young couples, circa. 1930’s” www.gettyimages.co.uk Web. Accessed 24/02/2017 http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/57539309