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Heritage: A typical family changes its shape over the years

Dacorumheritagetrust-family.jpg
The Newcomb family from Hemel Hempstead, the winners of the 1951 Typical British Family competition.
Dacorumheritagetrust-family2.jpg
A typical family in early Victorian period was large with parents having five or six children.  Many rich families like this one included a governess who would look after the children during the day.  This resulted in many parents during this time having very little interaction with their children.

Dacorumheritagetrust-family.jpg The Newcomb family from Hemel Hempstead, the winners of the 1951 Typical British Family competition. Dacorumheritagetrust-family2.jpg A typical family in early Victorian period was large with parents having five or six children. Many rich families like this one included a governess who would look after the children during the day. This resulted in many parents during this time having very little interaction with their children.

What constitutes the composition of the typical family?

Modern society may have expanded the definition of family to include single parents, individuals opting to live together and same sex couples, but according to the BBC in 2007, 71 per cent of families were still headed by a married couple.

However, the proportion of cohabiting couple families had increased to 14 per cent, as society is driven by increasingly liberal views, the typical family becomes more obscure.

The spending habits of the average family are focused mainly on transport and recreation and leisure.

But 65 years ago, as can be expected, family structure was somewhat different.

So how does the family of today compare to that of the past?

A local newspaper report from 1951 gives us a snapshot of what might be regarded as a typical family of the time.

It profiled Chief Inspector Frederick Newcomb from Hemel Hempstead, along with his wife, their 12-year-old son Raymond and the family pet.

In November 1951, they won a contest which was seeking out the typical British family.

The family won the substantial prize of £1,000 after Mr Newcomb shared his belief that one attribute of being a typical British family “must be that of being a happy family.”

It is suggested that mutual happiness within family life was not just conceived in the home, but influenced by outside elements such as the town and community, local amenities, work and recreational time.

The post-war crescendo of marital mishaps which have kept staff working longer hours in the divorce courts is still not to be regarded as a typical and inevitable outcome of wedlock, as bachelor cynics would have had people believe.

An increased divorce rate might perhaps be more comparable to today’s figures, despite being more socially unacceptable then.

Receiving their prize in Brighton, Mr Newcomb commented: “The British take things as they come and that is what we try to do.”

When asked how the prize money would be spent, the Newcombs revealed that it would be used for Raymond’s education, a spending habit that is much less common now.

The social acceptance of varying family configuration that we now see is rather unlike the more conservative ideals of the 1950s.

Yet the ‘typical family’ of Britain continues to change based on lifestyle choices and the influences of our environment – Laura Lewis

 

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