The theme of Home and Family is very prominent in Robert Ward’s ‘A Lancashire Childhood’, and arguably could be the main theme. You can read in full here, which is his memoir transcribed by myself.
“These were the years when my character was, unappreciated by me, being moulded by my parents and by my environment.” (3)
The overall image that is portrayed of Robert’s family is that they were a loving, respectable and a typically ‘normal’ family in lots of respects; there is no real indication that they had much struggle or strife with one another. However, there is a brief section in which we could denote that it wasn’t a very affectionate household. After Robert goes into great detail about both parents, describing their personal attributes, hobbies and generally just praising them, he writes, “with each other, and with my brother and me, my parents were totally undemonstrative” (4). This doesn’t necessarily mean that his parents didn’t love him and his brother, or one another, it just means that they weren’t very good at expressing it. Robert states that he doesn’t recall ever seeing them “show any sign of affection – never a hug or a kiss” (4), but this could be put down to the fact that they were rather conservative when it came to affection or anything particularly sexual; this would have been “typical of their generation and background” (4). Now-a-days it is quite common for parents to educate their children about their bodies and how sex works, however, when Robert was a child this would have been very different; he even notes that he never learnt about anything about “the whole business of intercourse and reproduction” until he was in his late teenage years. This gives light as to why there may not have been much affection shown between his parents in front of him and his brother.
Gender roles are very clear from the beginning of Robert’s memoir, and just like the majority of families of this era, it was Robert’s father who was the “breadwinner” (Strange, 2015); he went to work in order to provide money and food for their family. His mother had her own duties and jobs that were integral to keeping a tight family unit and a well-run house; and it is her role that enables their family to stay so well run within the household. On multiple occasions we the memoir mentions that his mother would get up at the same time his father would when he was going to work which alludes to the idea that even though his mother never went out to work, she had a full working day within the house.
Robert never compares his parents and what they did, although a very touching moment is when he considered what he would say should he have to. He says that when he was a child he would have perhaps chose his mother, but it was not until his father was old, and Robert himself grew as a person, that he came to “appreciate his [father’s] character and realise what [he] owed to [his father]” (3). This is a very heartfelt statement because, when he was a child, he would most likely have spent more time with his mother, due to her being at home every day, it is only when you grow up and create your own life and perhaps a family, that you truly see what your loved ones have done for you. There are moments throughout that show there was a closeness between Robert and his father; his father took only him on trips, like to visit his grandmother, and on a work trip to Manchester. Most notably however, Robert tells the reader that “my father and I never missed a home match” (6), which highlights the bond the pair had over sports, which seemingly, was their way of spending time together.
The fact that Robert decided to make a memoir about just his childhood, and not continue to write about his adult years, could suggest how influential these years were to him. The depth he goes into explaining his mother and father and what they did in their days is very telling; this shows how much he admires those times and what they did for him. As aforementioned, affection was not a big aspect of Robert’s household and this is quite evident in the way he writes about his family; despite clearly praising them for their work and the life they gave him, there isn’t necessarily much mention of love for them. In fact, Robert states when referring to his father, “I admired and respected him rather than loving him” (3).
An interesting aspect of Robert’s memoir is the lack of details and mentions of his brother; we only hear of him right at the beginning where he simply states that he has one. From this we could denote that he was not very close with his sibling, and they did not impact each other’s lives very much. We have no proof as to whether this is true and “the historian finds himself asking many more questions than the autobiographers are prepared to answer” (Vincent, 1980, 226). This can be frustrating for a reader when aspects are left out, but also the idea of coming up with our own theories for ourselves can be quite interesting.
Ward, Robert. ‘A Lancashire Childhood’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Special Collections. 2:0797.
Benson, John. The Working Class in Britain 1850-1939. London: Langman, 1989
Strange, JM. (2015). Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Vincent, D. (1980). Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class. Social History, 5:2, pp. 223-247.
Image 1 – 1920’s Housewife. Retrieved from: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/1920s-housewife.html