This post discusses the activities and beliefs mentioned in Robert Ward’s memoir ‘A Lancashire Childhood’. You can read in full here, which is his memoir transcribed by myself.
“But for great many people it was the churches and chapels, especially the latter, which was their focus of social life” (6)
Cricket was a massive part of Lancashire life and Robert’s community when he was a child. It is something that Robert speaks of very fondly, and it was clearly a way of bonding with his father as he tells us that “my father and I never missed a home match” (6). He speaks of a rivalry between Rochdale and Littleborough that “lasted for years” (6) which is something that we can relate to now-a-day; rivalry within sport and between different teams is deeply routed in our society today. As aforementioned, Robert evidently treasures these times but this is further confirmed as he tells us that he can “still relish, in memory, the pork pie we always had at change of innings” (6).
Cinema and film came to the UK in 1896 and so was in its “heyday” (6) when Robert was growing up. There were two cinemas in Littleborough in which he and his family would visit; there was the ‘Queens’ and the ‘Victoria’. Both would show two programmes each a week meaning there was four different films shown a week between the two. The types of films and programmes that were shown are very different to what is shown in cinemas today; they were black and white, silent films that typically starred Charlie Chaplin or Fatty Arbuckle who were at the height of their fame at the time. The people of Littleborough went crazy for cinema, and a large amount of people even went “four times a week, seeing four different programmes” (6). As it was in the early years of film there were frequent technical difficulties with the electricity that was provided by a gas engine; Robert’s father was “often called from the audience to effect emergency repairs” (6), which tells us he was a well known man in the area.
Wakes week was “sacred” to those in Robert’s community as it was the “climax of a year’s saving”; it was something that became particularly popular during the Industrial Revolution and it saw all those that had worked hard all year, take a well earned week off to spend time with family; it was acknowledged by employers as ‘legitimate leave’ that would have been refreshing their staff (Barton, 2005, p.512). Those taking part in the Wakes holiday saw it as an opportunity to try to outshine others in the community and as Robert described it, it was “’the annual holiday competition’” (3). For Robert and his family, their Wakes holiday would see them venturing to the Isle of Man, where they would partake in lots of fun activities such as the “sea trip” (3), which was Robert’s highlight. However, during the war, they had to settle for going to either New Brighton or Prestatyn which were slightly closer. Robert and his family had enough money to be able to take a week’s holiday at the beach every year, however, it is evident that they were not of higher class; Robert explains that those who were “relatively well-heeled” (3), meaning the wealthier people in society, didn’t go to the Isle of Man, but ventured to Bridlington or Scarborough, or even all the way to the “alien South Coast” (3).
Despite these other ways of recreation that Robert partook in during his childhood, attending church and other events in the religious calendar was how Robert and his family spent most of their free time. Religion was major among many communities in the early 20th century, but from Robert’s memoir, religion seemingly was extremely prominent and important in his family especially. Some of these annual events included Whit Friday, Sunday School Anniversary, and the Annual Treat. All these affairs were considered very important to the community, and it was a time when everyone, even different parishes, came together. Families even went out and bought new clothes for Whit Friday and they were to be “worn again only on Sundays and special occasions” (7), which shows how seriously these events were taken. Despite each parish and chapel having their own congregation and choirs, something very interesting about this time of year is, during these events, “every chapel would lend members of its choir to another chapel to make an ‘augmented choir’” (7); this shows that these events were designed to unite people through their shared love and devotion of God. Music was a large part of these events and there was morning, afternoon, and evening hymn-singing sessions. Robert, having been so “fond of music” (7), thoroughly enjoyed all these events as it was a chance for him to play the piano and meet like-minded people. An event that Robert does not specify whether it was religious or not was the “Annual Treat” (7,8); this was, for many years, a canal cruise to Manchester. This would have been a particularly enjoyable event for Robert and his family as his father was “in charge of the two horse barges and the horses” (8); they must have been rather proud of their father having that responsibility.
Ward, Robert. ‘A Lancashire Childhood’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Special Collections. 2:0797.
Barton, Susan (2005). Working-Class Organisations and Popular Tourism, 1840–1970. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Todd, S. (2014). The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. London: John Murray.
Image 1 – Littleborough cricket team 1985. Retrieved from: https://www.littleboroughcc.co.uk/
Image 2 – Wakes Week Highlight of the Year, Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved from: https://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/bygones/10554380.wakes-weeks-highlight-year/
Image 3 – Whit Friday Walk, Oldham, Lancashire, 1907. Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/518054763380332251/