“There was nothing like that in those days. These organized crimes. And it was due to the fact that you were hungry. You didn’t steal it to sell to someone else. […] you stole to eat
Allen Hammond was born in Liverpool in 1894. He describes the many trials and tribulations of a working-class child in an impoverished and bleak Merseyside. I chose this author because of his local roots, being especially interested to find out how life in modern Liverpool compares to city life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I aim to delve into the dock work-force between the 1920s and 1950s, and research the family dynamic in a working-class city.
Allen recalls his early life in a transcript from ‘Tomorrow Couldn’t Be Worse’, a television interview originally airing in 1963. The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography holds a transcript of the interview. The transmission recovered as a Typescript, in the form of 15 ‘foolscap’ sheets. The nature of the show was to highlight experiences from backgrounds not often televised. John Berger, an art critic turned television host, interviews Allen with a conversational and relaxed tone. The transcript often is filled with nuance in its Q & A format, while having striking anecdotes as Allen discusses a variety of topics ranging from school life to working at the age of thirteen. He converses about his living conditions, family life, and describes the dynamics of a working-class city. There’s comments that range from heart-warming recollections about community to tragic insights of a flawed epoch. For example, he comments:
‘[M]y own mother, being in there so often [work] – she didn’t have any change of clothes […] wet clothes on day and night, sort of thing. The result, was, she caught pneumonia and it turned to consumption. She died.’
The loss of his mother when Allen was young was compounded by his father’s frequent absence as a seaman who could be at sea for six months or even a year at a time. During the early twentieth century this was common in Liverpool, a port city. Prior to her death, his mother is often described as struggling to strike a balance between work and taking care of her children. There’s plenty of descriptions about the necessity for Allen to grow up quickly. This could sometimes be especially unsettling- as Allen struggled for money, having to work every night after school:
‘Every night. Five o’clock to eight o’clock. And on Saturday, I used to go eight o’clock in the morning til ten o’clock on Saturday night and I used to get two shillings and a bag of faded apples.’
The transcript explores many dynamics of self-sacrifice in the early 20th Century, including children being forced to work in order to afford basic amenities. There’s also detailed descriptions of where he lived in Toxteth, in an ‘Up and down house. […] very slummy district’- though he continues to state that his street was filled with ‘All similar houses, yes. [Though] we were better off, of course, because we, at least, had our own toilet at the back’. So, there’s a bleak image that the idea of luxury at the time was rotten apples and owning a toilet.
In contrast with the bleakness however, Allen never expresses shame about his experience. His anecdotes reveal both his sense of pride and humbleness- as he highlights the forgotten tale of Liverpool’s early working class- and converses a story that needs to be told. During an era rife with progress and transition, exploring the working class lifestyle in Liverpool can be humbling.
Memoirs and transcripts are not only fascinating, but allow us to learn from the mistakes of a past era- and to reflect upon lives surrounded with loss and tragedy, such as Allen’s. They ensure the modern reader can be encouraged to self-reflect, and appreciate culturally the working-class experience of past generations. Not only is there intrigue in researching Allen, but there’s a responsibility to learn from his life.
• 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