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on 18 January 2008
Since reading this autobiography, I have gone on the buy and read every book this woman has written - including the next three volumes of the autobiography itself. It is inspirational and incredibly unusual, in that Helen Forrester tells her fascinating story without the slightest hint of self-pity. Twopence To Cross The Mersey is the first volume of her autobiography and describes how Helen and her family - her humiliated and bankrupted father, her 'difficult' mother and her six siblings arrive in depression-ridden, pre-World-War-Two Liverpool, hoping to make a life for themselves, only to be plunged into the depths of the most abject poverty and penury imaginable. Kept at home to keep house for the family of nine, Helen desperately seeks a way of finishing - and furthering her education, only to have every attempt thwarted by her shiftless parents and ungrateful brothers and sisters. I could not put this book down until I had devoured every last page, and immediately grabbed the next three volumes - all equally as fascinating. Without a doubt the best autobiography I have read.
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on 14 October 2001
Some of the happiest memories of my childhood feature the ferries that criss-crossed the Mersey between Liverpool and Birkenhead. It was a great treat when my grandparents took me down to the Woodside landing stage. We would buy our tickets and walk down the floating gangway to wait for the Mountwood or the Woodchurch to ferry us to Liverpool. The boats were impregnated with the stench of stale cigarette smoke, beer and cheap whisky, and unsanitary lavatories, but the ten minutes it took to sail between Birkenhead and Liverpool passed all too quickly. I have read "Twopence to Cross the Mersey" countless times since its publication but the stark fact that Helen Forrester's family were so poor that the least expensive means of travelling this short distance in order to reach the Wirral seaside town of Hoylake where the author had been born and where her grandmother still lived never fails to give me a jolt. Read "Twopence to Cross the Mersey" and you will share my sense of shock from the first page to the last.
Helen Forrester introduces herself as a plain-as-a-pikestaff twelve year-old, the eldest of seven children. The degree of poverty in which the Forrester family live is impossible to describe without revealing key elements of the storyline. Suffice to say that the Forresters were not only poor in the sense that the majority of Liverpool's working-class were poor in the Depression of the early nineteen-thirties. The middle-class family from south-west England that arrived at Lime Street Station in the hope of recovering from bankruptcy were submerged into an underclass of malnourished, ragged, and unwashed individuals wholly dependent on the support of the Liverpool Public Assistance Committee, known to Helen's younger siblings as 'Mr Parish'.
The author's account of life within a family that spoke with 'ollies in their mouths' is often heart-rending, occasionally funny, and always thought provoking. Helen's parents had enjoyed a high standard of living before 'Father' had been declared bankrupt but their lifestyle had been maintained only by permanent debt. Neither 'Father' nor 'Mother' had the vaguest idea how to manage a household within a given budget, even a generous budget, so the few shillings issued by 'Mr Parish' left them helpless. The author provides many examples of their poorest Liverpudlian neighbours stretching meagre incomes far enough to provide food on the table, a fire in the grate, warm garments knitted from remnants of old woollen jumpers, and household essentials like soap. In contrast, the Forresters do not know how to begin to cope with a Liverpool they had known only as 'The Second City of the Empire'. It comes as an appalling revelation to 'Father' that a man of thirty-eight would be unlikely to find employment. He listens with childlike wonder and an excess of optimism to Helen's suggestion that he scan the pages of "The Liverpool Echo" for the sort of job advertisements he and 'Mother' had once placed when seeking a new cook or housemaid. As we follow the Forresters from one set of bug-ridden rented rooms to another, we realise that the swamp of poverty in which they have sunk is swirling in a vicious circle from which there is little hope of escape. Every member of the Forrester family suffers be it in terms of physical ill health, mental instability, or both. But it is Helen as the eldest child of the family, and a daughter of the dutiful middle-classes, who is sucked in deepest and comes close to drowning.
It is Helen Forrester's determination to write an honest account of her first two years in Liverpool that preserves "Twopence to Cross the Mersey" from being bland social commentary rather than autobiography. The author insists that despite the horrific effects of poverty, some shreds of humanity survive, even thrive, and spread minute spores of hope across this desperate city. We read of the kindness of a young policeman who buys a daily bottle of milk for Baby Edward, of 'The Old Gentleman', an elderly Arab, who encourages Helen's love of books, of Mrs Hicks who makes all nine Forresters a Christmas gift, and of countless others. Their presence warms the narrative but never detracts from Helen Forrester's raw account of life in a city that permitted its people to go unfed, unwashed, uneducated, a city in which the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church looked away while continuing to build a cathedral apiece.
Despite her abysmal circumstances, Helen never entirely abandons hope of education, training, and a profession. I defy you to put this book down until you reach the end and discover how, after two years in the Liverpudlian slums, Helen manages to clamber onto the first rung of a slippery ladder towards a better life.
"Twopence to Cross the Mersey" is at once an absorbing autobiography and an important primary source for anyone studying the history of Liverpool, or the British economy in the nineteen-thirties. Readers who are intrigued by the will wish to follow the progress of Helen Forrester's family in three sequels: "Minerva's Stepchild" (published in paperback as "Liverpool Miss"), "By the Waters of Liverpool", and "Lime Street at Two". One day, perhaps, Helen will join the crowds waiting for the ferry at Liverpool's Pier Head landing stage, clutching two precious pennies that would take her across the Mersey to Birkenhead....
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on 14 October 2001
Some of the happiest memories of my childhood feature the ferries that criss-crossed the Mersey between Liverpool and Birkenhead. It was a great treat when my grandparents took me down to the Woodside landing stage. We would buy our tickets and walk down the floating gangway to wait for the Mountwood or the Woodchurch to ferry us to Liverpool. The boats were impregnated with the stench of stale cigarette smoke, beer and cheap whisky, and unsanitary lavatories, but the ten minutes it took to sail between Birkenhead and Liverpool passed all too quickly. I have read "Twopence to Cross the Mersey" countless times since its publication but the stark fact that Helen Forrester's family were so poor that the least expensive means of travelling this short distance in order to reach the Wirral seaside town of Hoylake where the author had been born and where her grandmother still lived never fails to give me a jolt. Read "Twopence to Cross the Mersey" and you will share my sense of shock from first page to the last.
Helen Forrester introduces herself as a plain-as-a-pikestaff twelve year-old, the eldest of seven children. The degree of poverty in which the Forrester family live is impossible to describe without revealing key elements of the storyline. Suffice to say that the Forresters were not only poor in the sense that the majority of Liverpool's working-class were poor in the Depression of the early nineteen-thirties. The middle-class family from south-west England that arrived at Lime Street Station in the hope of recovering from bankruptcy were submerged into an underclass of malnourished, ragged, and unwashed individuals wholly dependent on the support of the Liverpool Public Assistance Committee, known to Helen's younger siblings as 'Mr Parish'.
The author's account of life within a family that spoke with 'ollies in their mouths' is often heart-rending, occasionally funny, and always thought provoking. Helen's parents had enjoyed a high standard of living before 'Father' had been declared bankrupt but their lifestyle had been maintained only by permanent debt. Neither 'Father' nor 'Mother' had the vaguest idea how to manage a household within a given budget, even a generous budget, so the few shillings issued by 'Mr Parish' left them helpless. The author provides many examples of their poorest Liverpudlian neighbours stretching meagre incomes far enough to provide food on the table, a fire in the grate, warm garments knitted from remnants of old woollen jumpers, and household essentials like soap. In contrast, the Forresters do not know how to begin to cope with a Liverpool they had known only as 'The Second City of the Empire'. It comes as an appalling revelation to 'Father' that a man of thirty-eight would be unlikely to find employment. He listens with childlike wonder and an excess of optimism to Helen's suggestion that he scan the pages of "The Liverpool Echo" for the sort of job advertisements he and 'Mother' had once placed when seeking a new cook or housemaid. As we follow the Forresters from one set of bug-ridden rented rooms to another, we realise that the swamp of poverty in which they have sunk is swirling in a vicious circle from which there is little hope of escape. Every member of the Forrester family suffers be it in terms of physical ill health, mental instability, or both. But it is Helen as the eldest child of the family, and a daughter of the dutiful middle-classes, who is sucked in deepest and comes close to drowning.
It is Helen Forrester's determination to write an honest account of her first two years in Liverpool that preserves "Twopence to Cross the Mersey" from being bland social commentary rather than autobiography. The author insists that despite the horrific effects of poverty, some shreds of humanity survive, even thrive, and spread minute spores of hope across this desperate city. We read of the kindness of a young policeman who buys a daily bottle of milk for Baby Edward, of 'The Old Gentleman', an elderly Arab, who encourages Helen's love of books, of Mrs Hicks who makes all nine Forresters a Christmas gift, and of countless others. Their presence warms the narrative but never detracts from Helen Forrester's raw account of life in a city that permitted its people to go unfed, unwashed, uneducated, a city in which the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church looked away while continuing to build a cathedral apiece.
Despite her abysmal circumstances, Helen never entirely abandons hope of education, training, and a profession. I defy you to put this book down until you reach the end and discover how, after two years in the Liverpudlian slums, Helen manages to clamber onto the first rung of a slippery ladder towards a better life.
"Twopence to Cross the Mersey" is at once an absorbing autobiography and an important primary source for anyone studying the history of Liverpool, or the British economy in the nineteen-thirties. Readers who are intrigued by the will wish to follow the progress of Helen Forrester's family in three sequels: "Minerva's Stepchild" (published in paperback as "Liverpool Miss"), "By the Waters of Liverpool", and "Lime Street at Two". One day, perhaps, Helen will join the crowds waiting for the ferry at Liverpool's Pier Head landing stage, clutching two precious pennies that would take her across the Mersey to Birkenhead....
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I'm far too young to know what life could have been like for Helen Forrester, but felt as though I was there with her. I was the eldest of a large family and know how hard times can be in but also all the joys as you make the most of what you do have. I wouldn't pretend my life was anything like Helen's, the Forrester family were a very poor family living in Liverpool at the early part of the twentieth century.

Reading Helen's book was much better and far more interesting than learning history at school and it is her story and yet it is also a history book. Her fascinating account of her life in the thirties, gives the reader a real insight into what life was like for a poor family in Liverpool. Helen never gave up hope of an educated and better life. It is a book that you don't want to put down until you have read to the end.

A brilliant book.
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on 19 October 1999
This book was found in a public library by myself many years ago. I moved away from the area, and did not remember the name of the author. I have for years been trying to find Helen Forrester, and managed this last week. A used book store I entered, knew I was describing a book written by Helen Forrester, and found me three of her books. Helen keeps me spell bound, with her stuggles to survive in Liverpool, England. I love being an insider as her hard life unfolds on the written page.The book being nonfiction has great appeal for me.
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on 3 November 2009
This is a fascinating read, particularly for anyone from this author's generation. She brings alive the places and people of that time and for me puts a new slant on familiar, yet unfamiliar places. The city of Liverpool, as it was then, was a poverty stricken dirty place, in vivid contrast to the city of today. Forrester brings the past alive.
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on 19 June 2000
I read all four books which make up the Autobiography and really enjoyed. There was not a book I didn't cry to. How she pulled through after everything, and that horrible mother. This should make us all gratefull, those of us who have read the book. I have now bought 6 other novels of Helen Forrester and I am Looking forward to them ALL.
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on 27 May 2014
I found this book really hard to put down! Although it was a very poignant story of extreme hardship and suffering, it was told with humour. The imagery was excellent, painting a vivid picture of Liverpool during the depression. What I found hard to swallow was the selfish behaviour of the parents, and the callousness of the well off grandmother, living a short ferry ride away who turned her back on her seven helpless grandchildren. Perhaps the extreme hardships suffered by the author helped to turn her into the great writer she obviously is. I can't wait to read the next part of her autobiography.
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on 24 June 2003
I first read the Helen Forrestor accounts when i was about 9 years old. Of course, i didn't really understand what i was reading at the time, so i re-read them again when i was about 12. Out of all the series, this is the one book i could never read again - it terrified me! i was 12 years old, liviing in comfortable surroundings, attending school, and only worrying about cleaning out my hamster cage or about holding the remote before my brother switched tv channels.
Forresters amazing story gave me an insight into another world, which i was glad i would never be a real part of, but on the other hand i was a horror-stricken that such painful reality existed;her continuing struggle to get to school, to be treated as her sister Fiona was and eventually when she started work, to keep some of her wages for herself. I very much doubt if any teenager today has ever encountered so much tragedy as teenages in the past have, which is not necessarily a bad thing, however, this account serves as a reminder to everyone, just how cruel life can be.
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on 22 July 2006
I first read this autobiography and its two sequels in the early 1980's (the fourth volume "Lime Street at Two" had not then been published). I have just visited an art gallery exhibition of a middle class Liverpool lady's clothing during the years between the two world wars, so I decided to revisit the Forrester trilogy to remind me of the great contrasts between rich and poor during that era.

Helen's story just seemed so much more poignant than ever - it was truly shocking to revisit the depths of degradation she and her family suffered following her father's bankruptcy in the context of a city which could offer the "Bond Street of the North" to those with the means to buy. As a Liverpool resident it also fired my imagination to read descriptions of streets at once so familiar but set in a totally different world from today.

"Twopence to cross the Mersey" and its sequels are really "must-read" books. In fact I have now become aware of the fourth volume and will be reading that as soon as possible!
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