Throughout William Belcher’s memoirs there is little mention of his home and family life. This is due to his commitment to work, the navy, and his spiritual pursuits. The lack of content on the matter reflects Belcher’s desire to achieve, and his willingness to give up certain luxuries.
I gave her up, after reflecting that it cost £5 to go and see her and that I had my future to think of (37)
Here, Belcher is talking of ‘Mabel Ellison with whom’ he ‘must have fallen in love’ (37), thus demonstrating the sacrifices that he was willing to make to further his accomplishments, that not even love can affect his desire for success. This desire is something that seems to have been constructed in his working-class roots on Wells Street, Oxford Street and by his early memories of home and family life within this space.
In the memoirs, the primary descriptions of home and family come in the beginning of his early childhood. He states, ‘the house I first saw light in was in wells Street, Oxford street’ (1) and how it was ‘a very old street, and was noted because of the very lively interest in Saint Andrews Church’ (1). The descriptions of Belcher’s family home are immediately related and connected with the church which foreshadows his later life and interest in religion. The church nearby his family home ‘proved a social and spiritual stimulus’ (1), something that he has carried with him ever since.
Belcher mentions the family that surrounded his early childhood. He states, ‘My grandmother had a piano which my aunts, uncles and cousins played and sung for the concerts’ (2) organised by the church. This image is significant as it paints a homely picture of his early childhood, one of unity, however, this unity and family aspect is tied up with the church, emphasising his strong feelings towards religion and the community that itself creates.
Belcher’s childhood and home life, integrated with the church, helps to shape his adult future. Julie-Marie Strange’s comments help to understand working-class reflections of childhood:
The reflective quality of life writing enabled adult children to impose, or illustrate, affective frameworks on the mundane features of their past (Strange, Julie-Marie)
The ‘mundane features’ of Belcher’s home situation on Wells Street, therefore, becomes the foundation for his future self.
Belcher mentions his own adult family life, made up of his wife and two children, very little in his memoirs. Alluding to how he gave ‘up one girl and became engaged to another’ (47), he expresses little acknowledgement of this aspect of his life. Having married in 1914, he begins this year with, ‘What has this year in store for me. Death…marriage as well’ (53). This opening marks a shift in the tone of the memoirs, as the effects of war now becomes his main concern and the threat of his own life is voiced. It seems, both the memories of his own childhood and his own children’s lives, are completely overshadowed by the gripping fear Belcher felt in his concerns of the war.
Belcher’s memoirs offer little insight into his home and family life. However, the little, often trivial features he does reveal, helps us to understand the aspects of his life that he values most.
William Belcher, Untitled Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection 1.53
JM Strange. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)