This is a street scene my ancestors knew well. It’s one of the main roads out of the village nearest to the place I grew up. It hasn’t changed all that much since the picture was taken in 1906. If you were to visit today, you could easily find the spot at which that early photographer stood.
What intrigued me when I saw it, is the obvious wheel marks made by passing carts and coaches; so clearly visible in the packed dirt road.
My great grandfather was brought up a few miles from this spot, son of the gamekeeper on a large country estate. He spent his entire life on the estate, working for three generations of the same family.
When I was poking around, tracing branches of the family tree, this didn’t really surprise me. Family ties to the country estate system were incredibly strong. Indeed, five generations, down to and including my grandfather, were born, lived, worked and died on the same estate.
At the time of his marriage to my great grandmother, in 1894, his occupation was listed as a coachman. I kind of like the idea that some of these wheel tracks might have been left by him.
His death certificate shows his occupation as retired Chauffeur. When I discovered this, it felt like a natural progression. There is a picture of him somewhere, in all his livery, sitting on the running board of a 1930’s Bentley.
What struck me most, regarding his career progression, was the incredible amount of change that he had witnessed through his life. To have gone from supervising the stables, a sedate, horse drawn existence, to be at the wheel of a machine capable of 100mph, hardly seems feasible in one lifetime.
Yet, when that picture was taken, he was probably about my age. When I started my career, computers were not regularly seen in the workplace, let alone available to the public. The idea that we would, today, be carrying in our pockets a mobile communications device, with access to such a vast world of knowledge, was inconceivable. In an odd way, our lived experiences fundamentally overlap.
Whether we embrace change, fight it, or remain ambivalent to its passing; the one thing that we are incapable of doing is to stop it. We can either grab the wheel, and wrestle with the new (even if the roads we travel only allow a stately 40, and we never get to experience the full throttle); or cling ever more tightly to the reins which, if only we knew it, now served only to hold us back.