“Yes, that was my ambition, to write a book.” (9)
Louise Shore was born in Jamaica in the 1930s. No exact date is given in her memoir. She moved to London, England in the 1960s when she was already well into her adult life. Shore’s memoir is taken from an oral interview conducted at the Hackney Reading Centre, providing a firsthand account of her life experiences in her very own words. The initial chapters in the memoir are laid out in short sentences, almost like a poem structure. This was done so people, like Louise herself, would find the memoir easy to read.
(Image taken from the back cover of Shore’s memoir)
Louise was one of sixteen children and one half of one of the three sets of twins her mother had. Her father died when she was just seven, leaving her mother to care for all sixteen children by herself. Louise and her family grew up in harsh rural poverty, and with so many mouths to feed, her mother struggled immensely. Some of Louise’s siblings grew up working out of sheer necessity, whilst some of the older children helped with the care and upbringing of their younger siblings. Louise and her siblings did receive an education: “She made us go to church and go to school and Sunday school” (10). Louise very much enjoyed school but long term illness kept her from completing her education which is why she went to the Hackney Reading Centre when she moved to London, to continue her education.
Whilst she was still in Jamaica, Louise gained decent employment, working as a baby minder and domestic servant but it came to an untimely end when she became pregnant with an illegitimate child. She was shunned by her local community and no longer welcome in her church. To add to this, the father returned and took her child away to America. Louise decided she wanted to save up and move to England, with plans to take the child with her so she could raise him/her (the baby’s gender not indicated) in England as she believed England would provide a better standard of living for her and her child. However, Louise does not mention her child again so it is unclear what happened to the baby. After some struggles with employment and accommodation, Louise secured a job at Selfridges and later on, at Heathrow airport. She prided herself on working very hard and states “that’s the happiest part of my life” (62) although it was a step down from her previous employment status in Jamaica. Being a black, unmarried woman in a class, gender and race prejudiced England meant she could only find work as an unskilled factory hand, cook or night worker.
When asked if she wanted people to read her story, Louise responded “Yes, I want to tell it. If a person look at you, they don’t know what really happen to you. They see you looking happy and going on sober, but they don’t know what really happen” (63). Louise’s story is one of struggle, mistrust and one obstacle after another. She moved to England for a better life but was let down: “I no better and no worse. I still the same. My way of life is still the same” (63). Her continuous struggles were no less difficult to those she encountered back home in Jamaica and this was the harsh truth that many immigrants faced when relocating in search of a better life.
“Louise faces the issues of migration, work, housing and relationships in particular ways because she is a Black woman, but her experience speaks directly to all women” (taken from the blurb on the back page of the book).
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.
Dominic Simpson, ‘Centerprise – the radical past of a much missed Hackney institution’, Hackney Citizen, 9 December 2013 http://hackneycitizen.co.uk/2013/09/12/centerprise-history/