“All the events in the tales are as true as my memory allows and, whilst the characters are fictional, they can be seen in a real sense that they are synthesised from recollections of all of the members of my family, my friends and our neighbours.” (5)
The above quotation has been extracted from Ken Hayter’s ‘Preamble’ to Toxteth Tales. Hayter is declaring his memoir to be an amalgamation of fact and fiction. Although the memoir is a retelling of his recollections of Liverpool during the Second World War, I intend to suggest that the purpose behind Toxteth Tales lies not in the recollection of memories for Hayter’s audience but, rather, the memoir is Hayter’s attempt of recapturing what he believes is quickly fading away- the Liverpool 8 of his past.
Describing his characters as a ‘synthesised’ (5) combination of all his surrounding peers it seems that Hayter is complicating how we might think about the memoir’s intended audience. He says that the ‘tales that follow are written as stories in an attempt to recapture the atmosphere of a childhood’ (5). His continuous reference to the memoir as a ‘tale’ or a ‘story’, similar even to the memoir’s chosen title Toxteth Tales, could perhaps lend the text to a more fictional readership. However, I do not believe that the blending of fact and fiction within this memoir should lead us to question its entire plausibility. So often the case with autobiographical accounts, memories fade and can alter slightly over time. We must understand that, for Hayter, this memoir is an emotionally authentic recount of his childhood during this period and, although altered slightly in certain aspects, the crux of his recollections remains the same and, instead, we are gifted with the loveable characters that Hayter describes so well.
Within the epilogue, Hayter says that during the time of writing, the Liverpool 8 of his childhood is to be regenerated with the arrival of ‘bulldozers’ (199) alongside the disappearance of his once loved home of Tagus Street. He says that ‘Liverpool City Centre is now […] the ultra modern shopping mecca’ (200). People were removed from their homes in Liverpool that were deemed as ‘slums’ (5) during the 1960s and moved into suburban ‘semi-detached new estates’ (5). Hayter was amid mass suburbanization; by 1940 ‘one-quarter of a million slums had been demolished and 1,112,000 subsidized houses had been built’ in the suburbs of Liverpool (McKenna, 176). Hayter remarks that the renouncing of their ‘childhood homes’ was simultaneously the loss of his ‘childhood paradise’ (5).
Ben Jones argues that ‘nostalgic narratives’ must be read as a ‘critique’ of the ‘contemporary stigmatizing representations’ of working-class life (369). By this Jones is suggesting that memoirs, similar to Hayter’s which are built on nostalgia, are rooted in the critique of the modern world and its treatment of its working classes. Perhaps then, the regeneration of the Liverpool he once knew is what spurred Hayter to reproduce the loving memories of his childhood and thus to live vicariously through them. Hayter describes his nostalgia as an ‘attempt to ignore life’s little problems by hiding behind memories’ (199). His autobiographical account seems to be an attempt to reclaim the Liverpool he knew and loved, as he had to previously relinquish his most favoured streets for playing and now must watch it transform into a contemporary city.
However, the epilogue also leads me to believe that Hayter understands nostalgic memories of Liverpool 8 will not stop the persistence of time on himself and his Liverpool. He does not seem saddened by the supposed loss of his beloved Liverpool 8, as he argues ‘nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’ (199). Instead, he says that ‘though I carried my childhood with me, my book of memories, it didn’t stop me getting older.’ (199). Perhaps his memoir serves the purpose of recapturing the happiest times of his childhood before his memory fades with age. He says, ‘But the older I got, the less time the memory lasted and the more real life insisted itself of me’ (199). This would further explain his sole focus within the memoir on his childhood nostalgia of Liverpool 8. It is only during the epilogue that he reverts to the present day. Toxteth Tales then is undeniably an attempt by Hayter at recapturing his most favoured memories of his beloved childhood before they disappear with time.
Toxteth Tales is an account of Hayter’s memories of Liverpool 8 during World War Two. However, the intended purpose of his account could stretch, perhaps, to be a memoir that encompasses the generalised feeling of Liverpool and its children during this time. By this, I am suggesting that Hayter’s memoir could be intending to encapsulate the overarching memories of Liverpudlians who grew up during this period and alongside Hayter himself. In the preamble, he takes time to demonstrate that Liverpool was a culture of unity. He says, ‘Liverpool: a city where everybody seemed to know everybody else, where nobody seemed to have any money, but everyone seemed to be happy. A city […] where two or three generations of families lived within a few doors of each other’ (2). Here he is capturing the general feeling of his fellow Liverpudlians- Liverpool was their home to which they will always belong and would they would always have some sort of attachment towards it no matter how far they travel away!
Hayter’s aim for his memoir seems to end at the enjoyment of the readership. He ends his acknowledgements with ‘I thank you, dear reader, for giving the book a try: I hope you liked it.’ (201). Hayter’s intended purpose for Toxteth Tales can be concluded to be one of nostalgic pleasure. He wishes to instil in his readers a similar sense of nostalgia to what he experiences every time he thinks back to his wonderful childhood memories of Liverpool 8. His memoir will certainly strike a chord with anyone that grew up during this period or grew up in Liverpool alone.
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Hayter, Kenneth. Toxteth Tales. Lancaster: Palatine Books. 2017
Jones, Ben. “The Uses of Nostalgia: Autobiography, Community Publishing and Working-Class Neighbourhoods in Post-War England” Cultural and Social History – The Journal of the Social History Society 7.3 (2010) 355 – 374. DOI: 10.2752/147800410X12714191853346.
McKenna, Madeline. ‘The Suburbanization of the Working-Class Population of Liverpool between the Wars’. Social History, 16. (1991): 173-189
Photographs from Toxteth Tales memoir, , and .