William Belcher displays a huge concern with belief throughout his memoirs. Religion is an important aspect in his life and shapes his thoughts and actions throughout the memoirs. His religion also influences the habits, hobbies and culture that he continues to pursue throughout his life.
Belcher’s early memories of the hobbies and activities he engaged in are interesting as they demonstrate his keenness to pursue something he truly enjoyed. He played ‘football for the Avondale and Ashmount clubs’ (14) and was a self-proclaimed ‘strong youth’ (14). Although he does not delve much further into descriptions of this, among other activities, they must have played an important role in his life, since they were worth mentioning in his memoirs. Among the working class, football had an important role in the lives of many and reinforced the communal aspect of their lives in organised sport events, a common occurrence among Belcher’s childhood on Wells Street. He also possessed a ‘desire to learn dancing’ (15) and speaks highly of the activity itself, stating:
‘I may add that I learnt with success and for many years derived much pleasure and enjoyment, and never once saw any evil or anything that looked like it’ (15)
The ‘evil’ that Belcher refers to here foreshadows a theme throughout his untitled memoirs, one of fear. Later in the memoirs Belcher becomes disillusioned by war and the evils and horrors that are produced from it. In his early memories, therefore, he likes to point out the innocence and good, rather than evil, in the simple act of dancing or football. These athletic pursuits provided Belcher with a happy childhood and a basis for the doing of good. This was a trait which he continued to act upon throughout his life.
Belcher first became interested in religion at his local church St. Andrews. This church was ‘erected to boost church accommodation and, hopefully, attendances in a densely inhabited urban area’ (Pearson) such as Wells Street, the location of the church and Belcher’s street that he grew up in. The popularity and presence of the community in the church was an important issue to Belcher and he felt that it was diminishing with time:
‘The Churches were as full as now they are empty, accounted partly by the spirit of freedom, seeking after amusements, and the weight of the church thrown into the war’ (7)
Again, just as he has referred to it throughout the memoirs, he displays war as a negative evil that opposes the good of the church. He believes that war displays the evil of man and works throughout his religious practices, such as chaplain readings, to overcome this evil. I will look more closely into his opinions and beliefs on war in my upcoming war and memory post.
Belcher was born into the Church of England. He was christened at St. Andrews Church and confirmed at St. Anns Pooles by ‘the Bishop of Islington on June 20th 1900’ (14). This demonstrates Belcher’s traditional Protestant upbringing as he undergoes both these necessary religious practices for his faith. But he is not afraid to express his concerns for the church and other aspects of religion. His comments on the matter are interesting and allow a deeper sense of his character and beliefs to come through in the memoirs. He states, for example, how ‘spiritual values have a little value, but are badly obscured by creeds and dogmas’ (14). What mattered to Belcher was faith rather than particular doctrines. He displays a deep sense of spirituality as well as faith and is most concerned with goodness in the world, rather than the strict ‘creeds’ religion abides by.
Belcher took tremendous pride in his beliefs and religion. He obtained a silver cross which he ‘proudly wore’ on his ‘watch chain for several years’ (34), which demonstrated the honour he had for his beliefs. This formed the identity of his self and he based the rest of his life around the act and practice of religion. He became an active member of the ‘Independent Order of the Good Templars’ (55). This association’s mission was to enlighten people on a lifestyle free from alcohol and drugs. This aspect of Belcher’s life is interesting as his religious beliefs coincide with his lifestyle pursuits and we are able to delve more deeply into his values. He does not go into any more detail about this part of his life but the IOGT is a masonic temperance association, giving his life a more interesting outlook, setting apart himself with other working-class lives.
‘I enter this year with the deepest spiritual happiness that I can ever remember. I thank God for all his care for me, for keeping me lean and pure, allowing me to learn a little more of his plans and purposes, and to discover in myself despite a sense of piety and loyalty to the Church of England’
It is precisely this deep spiritual happiness that Belcher strives for throughout his life and as the memoirs continue he becomes more concerned with the good of man, rather than the act of the church itself. He believes himself to be an ‘active worker for Christ Jesus’
Belcher, William Untitled Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1.53