Harry grew up in Islington, London, on the busy and bustling Holloway Road, or ‘The Hollow’ as named by its residents. He paints a detailed picture of his memories of the road in it’s heyday ‘The center of the road was occupied by the electric trams ; huge double deckers running on steel racks and capable of quite respectable speeds’ and describes the houses and shops running alongside it ‘The rest of the row were tiny dilapidated Victorian hovels… On the left hand side of the house was the Beer-shop; that is, a small pub, selling beer only and consisting of two drab little bars.’
He describes his father as ‘the most unfortunate, unluckiest, unhappiest man as i ever knew. His whole life was one long series of disasters, tragedies and mishaps.’ this was due, in part, to his ill health due to childhood starvation and bad nutrition, which continued to affect him throughout his life. He recalls a childhood story told by his father in which, unable to collect enough coupons for a school trip, he was denied admission and consequently decided to follow the cart to its destination. After a while he collapsed exhausted into a gutter and was found by a policeman, who roped him to his horse and took him straight back to the industrial school. He describes his father, years later, when searching for work ‘He told me that he tried for one job, to be asked to lift a heavy weight, a hundredweight or so, as he had already had a serious bout of rheumatic fever, which i now know must have affected his heart, he failed.’ Alongside his near-poverty, this malnutrition from his childhood affected the opportunities available to him throughout his life.
As a profession, Harry’s father made a living running a bicycle shop at the center of Holloway Rd. He humorously describes the condition of the shop’s ‘repairing’ lease “[My father] never really understood [it], apparently. This meant he had to return it in good condition when the term of the lease expired in 1933. Whether he thought he probably wouldn’t live that long, I cannot know.’ His business encountered constant setbacks and mishaps, and alongside his chronically bad health his father also suffered from bouts of terrible anxiety.
Harry’s mother is described as ‘a true “East Ender”… lively and nosey and full of life.’ However, the same as his father, her upbringing left her with stunted growth. He describes her as the opposite of his father ‘She was incredibly resourceful and cheerful, greeting each new misfortune and disaster with a laugh… I never remember her having a single days illness until her 80th year, living until 89, like most of her family, with a history of nonagenerians.’ With Harry being the only child, there was much less of a financial burden on the family than the average working-class unit. Yet, his mother had little experience with bike repairs, much to his father’s disappointment, and so ‘she would dutifully and conscientiously run the usual working-class wife’s routine’ of working on the domestic chores.
Despite the huge amount of information on his mother and father, Harry writes little to no information regarding his own children. He writes solely of the past, of his upbringing and his prime, with little information on his own family life. This is in line with working-class writing as reportedly men wrote little of their own families, instead choosing to write about their experiences and background that made them the person the are today.
Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography vol. 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. YOUNG, Harry 2-858