For the time being, here is my ‘final’ post about Arab, that peculiar book about street life in the early years of the twentieth century. The book is illustrated by author, Andie Clerk’s strange drawings of his childhood, drawn from memory some sixty years later. A typical one is of boys and girls benefiting from the refreshing water of the Steble Fountain outside the Walker Art Gallery. The caption reads St John’s Fountain, we’d swim there weather and goms out of sight permitting.
The book is punctuated by Scouse slang he used at the time (there is a short glossary at the end of the book):
arab … street kid
gink … wrong ‘un
gom … policeman
mopus … a farthing, or small coin
plushbums … rich folk
yen … a homosexual
mugarly … food
mumtip … payment to keep quiet
rolling kids – kids who go stealing
A typical anecdote from the book: As young kids we’d been drunk many a time. Sailors, if in money, would pour stuff down us, me and Rhuie anyway, not so much Jim, he’d slaat it. We’d take all they’d give us and soon couldn’t stand or know what what they did with us. We’d wake up in some dirty place in a horrible mess. Just as there are drinking fountains everywhere so were there horse troughs … generally made of stone, long, much like a bath and as deep. We’d find such a trough, water passing through it all the time and wash ourselves and our rags in it and shiver while the things dried on us.
All very dramatic and direct stuff, even if badly put together without any structure. If it is accurate, it is possible the only account of a childhood living barefoot on the streets of Liverpool. (The Irish slummy, Pat O’Mara, was slightly ‘better healed’).
Here, unfortunately, I have problems. I have written already how I have identified Andie Clerk as Francis Peers, born into middle-class prosperity in Staffordshire, his father a wealthy vicar educated at Oxford. In 1901, he was still living in Staffordshire but then the trail goes cold. The 1911 Census has no record of either his father, mother or himself and his two brothers. He mentions joining the army in 1913, fighting as a sergeant at the Somme and being discharged in 1928. Again, a trawl through army record of the First World War reveal no record of him (did he use another pseudonym?). Finally, he mentions ordination in 1928 by the Bishop of Liverpool. Again there is no record in Crockfords, the listing of the clergy. Yet his letter to the Manchester Evening News in 1966 is signed Rev. Frank Peers, acting curate of St Thomas’s, Bedford, Leigh. His death is recorded as 1984, in Liverpool, at the age of 87.
So the life of Frank Peers is still an enigma, worthy of further research. For those wishing to find copies of his books, Liverpool Record Office has a full set: in addition to Arab, he wrote I have been young and now are old (1973), The Christmas Story (1974), Unquenchable Fire (1975), Then and Now (1976) and Suffer Little Children (1978). Disjointed, repetitive and imbued with Christian sentiment, they are, nevertheless a fascinating series of anecdotes about a black chapter in Liverpool’s history when childhood poverty blighted the city.
The photograph, today, is of a bandaged and barefoot kid posing on one of the pillars at St George’s Hall.