Joe Loftus, known officially as Micheal Joseph Loftus, was the youngest out of five brothers and two sisters, and was born in 1914 in the small Lancashire town of Leigh. This location strikes particular resonance with me because it is the town where I was born and currently live. This is one of the reasons I was instantly drawn to Joe’s memoir and why I thought it would be interesting to research his life further. Joe’s memoir ‘Lee Side’ follows his life from growing up in Leigh, through to his first job in a cotton mill, brief periods of unemployment, then travelling the country as a joiner, and finally settling down in Brighton and writing his memoir while living there in 1985. His memoir is in typescript form and is 202 pages long.
While reading Joe’s memoir it becomes apparent almost instantly that he is extremely literate and has the ability to articulate his points clearly. He writes with confidence and zest, often professing the odd profound, knowledgeable statement, such as “It was poverty that coloured our lives and fuelled the drive to class-anger and opinions” (16). Sometimes, however, he chooses to write certain sentences in local dialect, reflecting how he and those around him would actually speak:, “They were coming from the unfinished Lilford Mills just o’er Leigh Bridge” (10) and “father was used to ‘thrinking basins o’tay around the ould hearth” (27).
Joe’s literary capabilities are perhaps owed to his interest in reading as a boy. He notes how he loved “Travelling with Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in the southern confederate states; innocently abroad in Europe, thrilled by his dynamic literary narration” (43). He preferred this to his schooling that at times he found pointless and did not particularly enjoy. He writes “my capacity for expressing verbal or written English developed more by a process of absorption, by osmosis from the English literature which school stimulated me to read outside of school hours” (82). (Read more in ‘Education & Schooling’ and ‘Reading & Writing‘.)
Joe is also not afraid to share with the reader intimate details of his childhood and adolescence. In particular, through snippets of fond memories, he speaks openly about sex and his own sexual endeavours. He remembers overhearing a sexual encounter near the back gate of his house, with a male allegedly remarking “’open thi legs properly this time!’ followed by a bumping on the gate with quickening rhythm” (75). He also describes the explicit flirting that went on in the workplace. While working in a cotton mill at the tender age of fourteen, girls would be “Teasing you with her back to you, stroking your crotch while your tiller got instantly airborne inside your drawers” (121). (Read more in ‘Life & Labour – Part 1’.) However, Joe does not write this in a sinister or crude way and I can confidently note that the author’s only intention in including these details is to be playful and honest. But by including these types of memories, Joe sheds some interesting light on what it was really like to be a teenager at this time, one that did surprise me and subvert my own stereotypical view of early 20th century youths. It is this intimacy that Joe writes with which enables him to really come to life beyond the pages, and allows the reader to identify with him and feel like they know him on a personal level.
In ‘Lee Side’ Joe leaves no stone of his life unturned and gives a detailed account of what life was like in early 20th century Lancashire and paints a clear picture of working class struggles, but also simple pleasures. At the start of his memoir, he gives a passionate brief history of how the Labour town of Leigh was caught up in the Industrial Revolution and his own political opinions towards this. He also advises that in order to better yourself you had to “lift one’s self out of poverty and insecurity by one’s own efforts. Get educated, get an apprenticeship, get experience and then get ahead” (35). Joe’s memoir is particularity thorough which therefore, with further research and investigation, provides us with a great platform on which to explore working-class writing and experiences.
‘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.
“Bradshawgate High-street Leigh Circa. 1930’s” www.leigh.life.com Web. Accessed 27/01/2017 https://leigh.life/index.php?action=media;sa=album;in=16209
“Buts Mill, Leigh – which is still standing today!” www.wikipedia.com Web. Accessed 27/01/2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leigh,_Greater_Manchester
“Two young boys helping out in cotton mill circa. 1930’s” www.daysgoneby.me Web. Accessed 27/01/2017 http://daysgoneby.me/can-imagine-child-10-12-working-factory-like-amazing-photographs/