Last night by a quirk of programming, BBC4's new version of Alex Haley's Roots was followed by Bettany Hughes on Confucius, so that one could only be struck by the significance in two different cultures of family, home and ancestral connections. Growing up in the west that sense of connection has become badly eroded, and we have lost a lot. The removal of the extended family and the breakdown of communities that began even as early as the Industrial Revolution has contributed hugely to the sense of alienation and fragmentation that is abroad. It has a manifestation in anti-immigration rhetoric, which is a sign of a society that is not at ease with itself, that is insecure. When we welcomed e.g. the Hugenots and the Jews we were not so uncomfortable with ourselves.
In the west , we now only gradually learn the importance of our personal past. It is not inculcated from birth in the manner those two programmes described. So many of us reach middle-age before finding that there is something missing, a rootedness which might tell us who we are, and which might help us to feel psychically integrated. Not everyone feels this, but it accounts for the turn to ancestral research that seems to be a pursuit of advancing years. But for some of us, the past has always been important, from family stories at mother's knee to the excitement of a wider history beginning even with the Ladybird books. It has a special reality of its own, and one which is easily entered by the gate of folk music in particular. Those songs are the past tugging at your sleeve, quite in addition to any intrinsic value of their music or poetry. And if those songs originate in your own culture, then it is your past that is calling.
I do not believe of course, as a Chinese might, that the ancestors are literally looking over our shoulders. But in honouring and respecting those who have preceded us, I believe we acknowledge a fundamental part of our own being. We are the more complete for that.
The stories on this website then are a modest attempt to excavate the past of Britain, to use the songs as a means of entering and revivifying that past, in the hope it can live a while again for the reader (the writer too) and be honoured accordingly.