Saturday, November 26, 2011

How lives change


This is a photograph of my cottage (the house in the middle) - we don't know exactly when it was taken, but estimate early Twentieth Century, probably some time before 1920. The lady on the right is my elderly neighbour's aunt and I especially like the chap milking the cow in the background, outside what was then a pub.

The lady with the children lived in the house next door. I was told that all fourteen were her's, but looking at the photo and estimating their ages, it seems improbable - though not impossible. My late neighbour Hirwen lived in a cottage that was across the green from where this photograph was taken - he was one of seventeen children.

My cottage has changed little compared to the lives of those who live there.  I doubt any in the photograph had ever left Pembrokeshire - yet I commute two hundred miles for weekends. When I bought the place it had minimal electrics, no heating or hot water system, no damp course...  the small connecting shed, now a posh extension, had been used as a pig sty.

I was thinking recently about the extent of change in the century before I was born - how unrecognisably different lives became over that time. In the Eighteen Sixties there were no planes, no cars, not even chain driven bicycles - medical treatment was primitive, no antibiotics, no penicillin, no Welfare State, no nuclear bombs...

And then I was wondering how things might look in fifty years time - a hundred after my birth. I doubt the difference will be so marked. There were no personal computers in the Sixties, no DVD's, no wind farms (I promise not to rant) and our knowledge of say quantum physics was not as it is now  .. but much of what we take for granted was already there, even the space exploration programme had started. I read somewhere that the most significant advances in medical science had been made by the Fifties .

But as is so often the case, my thoughts were human centric. Because for all our western lifestyles may not alter as fundamentally, the natural world will suffer more devastation than in any equivalent period since the Ice Age. The world's forests will be a fraction of what they were, our seas overfished, many species lost, arctic ice depleted... we know the story.

It isn't all bad - it's easy to romanticise about how life was when looking at sepia photographs. For all it was simpler, less stressful, and more in touch with nature -  it was also hard, cold and at times a hungry existence. Ultimately, I'm glad I was born in 1961 not a hundred years previous - I hope my boys feel the same way when they are fifty.

18 comments:

  1. I saw a notice at Lankester Gardens near Cartago in Costa Rica...over fifty per cent of deforestation in the last century has taken place since 1970...
    And all around me I see virgin hilltops stripped of trees to build modern houses...more every month.

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  2. I remember when I was at school in the 1960s/70s and there would always be a lesson about what the world would look like in the year 2000. We always thought there would be people living on the moon and everyone on earth would be travelling around in mini spacecraft and would be wearing spacesuits for some reason.

    It's so difficult to imagine the future.

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  3. Funny, I was talking about something similar with my mother last night - about what kind of world it will be when my boys grow up. She felt it would be worse. And me, the balanced pessimist, felt that it would not really be any difference - the balance between good and bad will be about the same.

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  4. I'm always thinking I'm glad I was born when I was and how things will be worse for future generations.

    I also think each generation stretching back through time probably thought the same. Therefore despite the doom and gloom, I'm optimistic your boys will be saying the same when they're 50.

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  5. I would love to see some photos of the cottage when you first bought it. I remember a little of the renovations, the giant rats for example :-D

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  6. I remember the pictures of the rivers burning in Ohio. The pollution was so bad that most lakes and rivers did not support fish. No one believed that the ecology would bounce back.

    I hope mankind will once again take the drastic action needed to stop the damage. With half a chance, mother nature may once again heal the earth.

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  7. It seems like predictions about the future usually have little relation to what the future actually turns out to be.

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  8. 17 children! They certainly did make their own entertainment in those days..............

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  9. I often think about this kind of thing as I live in my 400 year old house - what life was like for those who came before me (unimaginably hard) and what will happen in my grandchildren's lifetimes. The pace of change in the last two hundred years and the damage we have done and continue to do to our planet are both quite extraordinary. I hope Liz is right and nature will heal the earth but suspect the earth might need to be rid of us first!

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  10. our cottage was originally built in 1674...
    its too small for the two of us....I wonder how big families actually coped!!!

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  11. As one born in 1941, places have changed even more - let alone people - me included!

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  12. It must have been a very hard life for those who lived in the cottages when this photo was taken. Great post.

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  13. Buildings can be such perfect yardsticks for considering the pace of change, for whilst the outline of the buildings remain the same (bar the odd extension and glass conservatory) their fixtures, fittings, and their very essence changes almost beyond all recognition.... Now you have got me started.

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  14. The rate of change has accelerated rapidly in recent times but, as you say, life was much tougher for a lot of folk back then. How nice for you to have this old photo of your cottage :-) Jo

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  15. According to the census returns, in 1851 there were 11 people living in the oldest part of our house (early C18th) It's now nearly twice the size and there are only two of us since the children left home. As for large families, my great-grandfather was the youngest of 22 children! No twins and all of them survived infancy, which was remarkable for a working-class family in industrial Lancashire.

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  16. We just don't have such grand buildings dating so far back over here....nice informative post, thanks.

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  17. An interesting essay. The way old photos provide contrast between old and new is the great fascination. What contrast there will be between contemporary images and those of the future is a great question.

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  18. What a journey back while thinking on the present. I had to really look to spot the guy milking the cow! While it is true most of what we concern ourselves about does not happen, there is surely lots of room for speculation today. You are so right, times past were not easy nor all that glamorous. Nice post

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