I never get enough time for proper research. I have plenty of subjects on my list (such as the 1919 Police Strike), all potential book projects, but not at a stage I would like them to be.
Years ago, I bought a small booklet titled Arab: A Liverpool Street Kid Remembers by Andie Clerk. Self-published in 1971, it was a collection of reminiscences of a barefoot childhood at the turn of the twentieth century. Last year, I was prompted to assess it again having re-read Frank Shaw’s My Liverpool in which he has a chapter titled The Lollipop Man. Shaw describes how he was approached by Andie Clerk to put together his autobiography: ‘As a lad of 12, he earned his first coppers here (Lime Street), and behind in the warren of shabby streets, he wandered round as a barefoot boy. Nearby is the crossing he now guards as a lipop man. Aged 73, he is a retired parson and lives alone in a small house in an Everton street which, if not exactly a slum, is shabby, indifferent and without grace.’
Frank had done his best to try and put some style into the jumble of recollections but he struggled with the lack of structure and the absence of characterisation. The finished book was sent out to publishers but Andie Clerk grew impatient and decided to publish himself, adding his own slightly bizarre illustrations.
My interest suitably aroused, I revisited Arab with a view to possible re-publishing it. The first problem – who was Andie Clerk? The name is a pseudonym and clues are difficult to find. He was 12 in 1909 according to the book, so he was born in 1897. In 1913, he joined the army, fought at the Somme (as a sergeant) and left the army in 1928. He was then ordained on the prompting of the Archbishop of Canterbury. But who was he?
The book begins: ‘I was born somewhere in Liverpool. My father was no good. Like Judas he has gone to his own place. Of him I will say no more. My mother was just the opposite, so very good. This too is all I will say of her.’ On the facing page is a photograph of Andie as a young boy.
Underneath is the caption: A barefoot kid who sold papers on the Liverpool streets poshed up for this very early photograph.
So my research began to find out the identity of Andie Clerk and in my next post I will reveal my fascinating progress. The main photograph is of a group of ‘arabs’ enjoying a summer’s day by the Mersey in about 1910.