Family way no longer

I GREW up with an extended family. My father was the oldest of ten. Two of his brothers, unmarried, were killed in the 1914-18 war and a sister died at 17. The remainder with their spouses and children and in-laws still made a goodly tribe. That was just

I GREW up with an extended family. My father was the oldest of ten. Two of his brothers, unmarried, were killed in the 1914-18 war and a sister died at 17. The remainder with their spouses and children and in-laws still made a goodly tribe.

That was just our section, though. Before them, grandfather himself had been the first of twelve, of whom nine survived; so there was a tier of great-uncles and great-aunts and their attachments. I won't go on to my mother's family, but they too were numerous and included her own maternal relatives in the country at High Wych.

Some we saw frequently, others from time to time. They were the supporting cast of characters in my youth: boozy Great-uncle Gus, spiritualist Grandma, posh Aunt Blanche, Uncle Wal who my father said was tight as a gnat's innards, and the rest.

Other boys had the same, collections of near-at-hand kinsfolk of whom they boasted and told stories. It isn't like that these days. Most of us, young as well as old, are short of relatives. Where did they all go?

In fact the change was taking place then, between the two world wars, with a generation which apparently decided it had seen enough of large families. The seven on my father's side produced, apiece, two or one or none. I know one aunt before her marriage went to see Dr Marie Stopes; my mother made no secret of wishing she'd done the same.

The birth-rate went down, and the population of Britain became almost stationary. In the 1930s it was talked-of as a major problem, a threat to our future. Maybe bribery in the form of child allowances would be an answer.

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After the war there was a Royal Commission on Population; but the problem solved itself in a way not previously prescribed. Servicemen came home and returned to civilian life, and the birth-rate surged again in the late '40s - making what educationists called "the bulge" in numbers of children for the next decade.

But large families never came back. It was the parents and two-and-a-half children: "nuclear". As older generations died, no more legions of aunts, great-uncles, etc. Goodbye, extended family.

Why did society as a whole turn away from that? One reason is pretty obvious. My grandmother throughout her 20s and 30s would have been almost continuously pregnant, giving birth every eighteen months or so, and attending to babies.

For others it was even longer. Among my family connections John Barltrop, blacksmith, and his wife had seventeen children, and when he died at 47 she married again and had four more. Not surprising that women wanted a change now.

At the same time, there was a broader question of living standards. In that period between the wars, electricity and the petrol engine were offering new amenities and enjoyments.

Sure, it was the age of the great depression; but also of improved new housing, radio and the cinema, holiday camps, Burton suits and Marks & Spencer dresses - maybe a Baby Austin car. Seeking a better quality of life by having fewer mouths to feed: that was part of the change too.

In the last thirty years the view has altered again. Marriage is declining, conventional stay-together families (yes, nuclear ones) are almost unusual. Whatever happens in the future, the extended family has gone and is now a piece of social history.

Well, we can't turn the clock back; but I cannot help thinking it is a loss in more than one way. Glad I had the experience, sorry others don't.

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