“The everyday background to my life consisted of our house and the shops, houses and pubs in the Featherstall area” (8)
Robert Ward, born in 1907, grew up in a small family with him being the one of two sons of his parents. When Robert was five, the family moved to Featherstall, Lancashire, which is situated just outside Manchester, although the main location mentioned in his memoir is Littleborough. Robert’s home life is portrayed to be rather traditional of the time, with his father going out to work every day, whilst his mother stays home to take care of all the household chores such as cooking and cleaning. It is clear it was his father who had control over their family, as when Robert recalls a time when he perhaps was disobedient, it is his father he runs to tell straight away, awaiting punishment.
Robert and his family appear to have lived a rather untroubled life in which there was not too much financial struggle, however, they were definitely not considered to be of higher class or “well-to-do” (8); he explains that even during the war he “remember[s] no hardship” (2). He goes into great detail about the varying jobs that his father worked in order to provide for the family, and it is evident his father was known in the community as someone they could call on for any sort of issue they may have. Throughout Robert’s childhood, his father had many different jobs ranging from being in charge of the Lancashire boilers and steam engine, to being secretary of the Rechabites; the latter could explain why he had such strong views on abstinence and showing affection, but we will get into that more later. Robert explains what his mother’s day-to-day jobs and chores would be at great length, which could suggest that he has much respect for what she did; he also explains her hobbies and interests thoroughly and even labels her “marvellously green-fingered” (3) which also shows the admiration he had for his mother.
Something that was evidently very important to not only Robert and his family, but the whole community, was religion. A large part of Robert’s memoir is dedicated to describing the annual religious events that took place and the Sunday School that he would attend. Whilst he also explains the rising popularity of cinema and sporting events, we are told that “for a great many people it was the churches and chapels, especially the latter, which was their focus of their social life” (6). Before reading Robert’s memoir, I had not learnt too much about what religion and religious events were like during this time, and so I found this extremely appealing. The time period of Robert’s childhood would be around the same time of my own grandfather’s which is what drew me to this memoir over all the others; of course there will have been differences in their experiences, however, there will be some similarities which is quite heart-warming to read about. The tone of the memoir is light-hearted and is an enjoyable read; it feels just like an old friend reminiscing about their childhood, rather than an informative piece of writing.
As this memoir is titled “A Lancashire Childhood” there is limited details in regards to what Robert did in his adult years; we have no information regarding whether he started a family of his own, or where he lived once he was no longer a child. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation for the reader to come to their own conclusions as to what direction they think Robert’s life went in. Despite there being no information about his adult personal life, we do know that he “came to specialise as a teacher” in the subject, English. This is rather surprising as his father clearly was more of a ‘hands-on’, practical working man, and so it would have been somewhat expected for him to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was common for this generation to use their fathers as an example for their own life; if their father was a labouring man, this is likely to be instilled in their sons and they will want to do the same. However Robert knew where his skills lay and decided to follow a different path. Another thing we are unable to find out is what type of person Robert grew up to be. It is clear his family, in particular his father, wanted him to work hard at school, follow religion and abide by very strict morals; he recalls his father saying “If God had meant thee to smoke, he’d have put a chimney on top of th’ yead”, which tells us he had strong beliefs in what he thought was right and wrong. It is hard to know when Robert wrote this memoir as he does not specify, but the mention of his father dying at the age of 86 (2) tells us he must have written it when he was substantially older.
This may be a short memoir of only 5959 words which is span across 11 pages of typescript, however it truly encapsulates what it advertises in the title, “A Lancashire Childhood”. The reader is given a full depiction of what Robert Ward’s childhood was like growing up in Lancashire in the 20th century; from hobbies to parents, to religion and mention of the First World War, we get a real feel for what a child’s life was really like all those years ago. Some aspects we read about are very different to what my childhood was like, but with some parts not being too dissimilar, it makes an immensely interesting read.
Ward, Robert. ‘A Lancashire Childhood’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Special Collections. 2:0797.
Image 1 – Cotton Mills Laancashire. Retrieved from: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/cotton-mills-lancashire.html
Image 2 – Railways in Littleborough Centre. Retrieved from: https://www.littleboroughshistory.org/littleborough-railways.html