Jam Butties and a Pan of Scouse
A gritty yet heart-warming memoir set against the backdrop of Liverpool’s tightknit working-class docklands community. The story covers Maggie Clarke’s upbringing in the tenements close to the docks, the River Mersey and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal: an area notorious for having the worst slums in Britain, yet the closest community as well.
At the tender age of 11, Maggie Clarke finds herself the matriarch of the family when her Irish mother runs off with another man. Leaving school at 14 to work at a local factory putting sticks into lollies, she is determined to make a better life for herself and her family – before starting her own family with her childhood sweetheart, who she marries at 19 after ‘falling in the family way’. She has one night of married life with her husband before he is sent to India with the Navy and is devastated when she never hears from him again, presuming him a casualty of the war that is raging at home and abroad.
Another tragedy strikes when Maggie’s brother Tommy is also claimed by the war, leaving her father inconsolable, but Maggie knows life has to go on and falls in love with Joseph, an Irish settler who she has 8 children with. But her happiness is short-lived as her first husband suddenly appears out of the blue demanding a divorce, and her new husband drinks away what little money they have, returning in fits of rage that leave Maggie and her children hungry and afraid. Many times she is only able to feed her brood by the kindness of neighbours putting a ‘pan of scouse’ on the range for her, or feeding her kids jam butties to help out.
Maggie’s story sweeps across the changing face of Liverpool, from its squalid dock streets, the tenement blocks and cobbled roads to the decline of the docklands, new council housing, the rise of the Mersey beat, the Beatles and the energy and passion of a city that is home to a cast of colourful characters with the resilience to withstand the heartbreak and hardships that only the poorest can know.