Of Kith and Kin ...
This picture is a fading memory. The bare facts as I know them are this - it is a Webster family wedding, taken in Solway street, Toxteth, Liverpool in the 1920s. The groom is a relative of mine (but I am not sure exactly who he is nor the bride's name). I do know that the short lady on the far-right is my great-grandmother Elizabeth Alice Webster (née Walsh), a native of Liverpool who, in the late nineteenth century, met and married a young man from Devonshire, my great-grandfather, Charles Edmund Oliver Webster. Charles had trekked up north looking for work during the original 'Great Depression' that began in 1873 (the year of his birth) and only ended around 1896. That's him in the bow tie (just behind the bride and groom). Elizabeth bore Charles eleven children one of whom was my grandfather James Oliver Webster. Charles 'shufflel'd off this mortall coile' in 1936 never to see his grandson, my father, who arrived on Solway street on the eve of war just three years later in 1939.
But what about the man in the mask next to my great-grandmother? I wondered that when I first saw this picture a few years ago. It did not take long to discover the reason. The man is a veteran of the 'Great War'. Wearing a mask, a 'prosthesis' (and what looks like a false beard) was not uncommon for those badly disfigured in the carnage of the war. Sadly his name, like the names of almost everyone in the photograph, is lost.
The Websters were forced out of Solway Street in the next World War as bombs rained down all around. Their home, the entire street, was reduced to rubble. However, the family seem to have escaped pretty much unscathed and my grandparents (Jim and Elsie) moved to the relative safety of Halewood, a village six miles away in what was then still countryside on the outskirts of Liverpool. This was the end of our family connection with Toxteth, an area of Liverpool that maternal and paternal ancestors had been living in as far back as the eighteenth century. But it did not take long for my grandparents and their children to become an integral part of their new community. After all, the people in the village around them were folk like them, they looked alike, they had the same interests and concerns, the same northern accents, shared the same faith, cherished the same values. They were, to put it simply, culturally and ethnically compatible. As a result my father's childhood was idyllic, getting in the harvests, driving tractors, bike riding, kissing girls in haylofts. My grandfather was a skilled craftsman and became the village carpenter and joiner. He made everything from furniture to coffins. Everyone knew everyone else, they relied on each other, helped each other, stood up for each other.
Community and family are such important things. The faded photograph illustrated here is a visual parable of how our once integrated and kindred communities themselves have faded. What has happened to us here in Britain? How did we allow ourselves to become so atomised? When did we lose our social identity and group homogeneity? How did it come to pass that all too often, people live and die alone?
I do not believe that this process is inevitable nor irreversible. We need to break the isolationism imposed by 'modernity', consumerism and all the sins of neo-liberalism and globalism. We need to uncompromisingly reject the entire corrupt political establishment and their reckless policies that nobody ever voted for and which have brought us, in the space of less than a century, to the edge of ruin. We need to nurture and grow our own ethno-tribal communities again. Most of all, we must spend time with our kith and kin, expand our families and our extended families. Small things really can make a difference. Perhaps one day, in the not too distant future, someone will be looking back at photographs of us and they will remember our names and recognise their own faces in ours.