“My ambition was always to be good” (9)
Louise Shore grew up in Ewarton, Jamaica. Ewarton is a town in the parish of Saint Catherine. Louise’s depicts Ewarton as rather rural, agricultural town. Although she does not mention the town’s population, she tells numerous stories about her neighbours and town folk that suggest it was a relatively small town as everyone appears to know one another.
Louise speaks quite a lot about her family in the beginning of her memoir, before she moved from Jamaica to London. Louise seems to have experienced a fairly traditional working class upbringing, “my parents they were so strict” (9). She had fifteen brothers and sisters which she believes was the reason they struggled financially “sixteen of us…that what make we so poor” (9). During the early twentieth century, particularly in the poorer, rural areas, it was quite common for a family to have so many children due to lack of modern contraception. Louise’s father died when she was just seven years old leaving her mother the sole carer for all sixteen of her children “My mother never married again. She got to bring us up on her own” (9). Because of this Louise and many of her siblings went off to work to help put food on the table and some of her siblings stayed at home to care for the younger children. It was very much a group effort and from a young age the children had to play their part.
Louise makes it clear that her mother had certain expectations of her children. Although they were often busy with work she insisted they all go church “She made us go to church” (10). Upon researching Ewarton, Jamaica I found that there are actually ten churches in the town showing just how important religion is to Ewarton’s residents. Louise was also restricted in the company she kept. Her mother once came across her playing outside with some of the local, older boys “And then there were some bigger boys in the area and we were sitting down” (10). Louise’s mother punished her and told her she should not be seen keeping company with boys “She beat me after that. I shouldn’t be there with those boys. And then I was never allowed to go out and play with any boys” (10/11). This shows that there was still quite a prominent gender divide and that girls should not share company with boys until they are of an age to court one. On the other hand, Louise’s mother may have feared for her daughter’s safety being alone with a group of boys. The games Louise describes playing with the other local children seemed to be focused around crime “we play thief and police” (10) which suggests that even from a young age, she was exposed to real life crime and the punishments that go with it.
Louise’s childhood had an element of the fantastical and the superstitious to it “I did see a ghost once” (11). Louise describes the setting “The moon shining outside” (11) which could indicate it was merely a trick of light that led her to believe she had seen a ghost. A local person had died and Louise was watching the body being taken away. “They say you mustn’t point when you see ghosts…or they make your finger fall off” (11/12). This may have been a tale told by adults to encourage their children to respect the dead, to not point at them or make a spectacle out of them.
Although Louise’s childhood does contain beatings and strict parents, it sounds like she was well cared for. She never mentions having a lack of food or not having somewhere warm and dry to sleep at night. And although she sometimes had to work to help her mother out, she still had plenty of time to play.
“we used to play at nights, and there’s the moonshine, and at home, when the moon shines, it’s like daylight” (10)
Louise Shore, Pure Running: a Life Story, Hackney Reading Centre at Centerprise (1982). Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:707.