03rd September 2022
Inspiring children’s interest in their local area
Our guest blogpost is by Rachel Bruce, who was awarded a Historical Association Teacher Fellowship in Local History. She’s a teacher at St Barnabas Primary School, York, and was keen to investigate with the children how much the Leeman Road area had changed over time.
Although the Covid pandemic was very stressful, the first lockdown in March 2020 came at the right time, as it gave me the opportunity to rediscover my interest in historical research. I had recently attended a Historical Association Forum and came away enthused, inspired and wanting to change my approach to teaching history at St Barnabas Primary School, York. I wanted to inspire children and encourage them to ask questions about the local area and the people who had lived there. In York we are surrounded by big historical stories such as the Romans and Vikings but what about the ordinary people who lived in the community around our school in Leeman Road?
The local war memorial proved to be a starting point. I was able to use Commonwealth War Graves information and census data to assemble stories of some of the men on the Salisbury Road memorial. An unusual feature was the inclusion of three women, killed in a munitions factory explosion in Leeds, and known as the Barnbow Lasses. We even discovered some of our pupils were living in the houses that the fallen soldiers had lived in. The children were fascinated.
The success of this project gave me confidence to apply for the Historical Association Local History Teacher Fellowship. The project was delayed a number of times due to the pandemic but I was delighted to secure a place in December 2020. The Fellowship involved a residential weekend in Lincoln in September 2021, where we met our course leaders, Bev Forrest and Michael Riley, and the other teachers. There were twelve primary and secondary school teachers from across the country which presented a fantastic opportunity to share experience and interests. We had workshops on using archives, graveyards and archaeology, as well as a tour round Lincoln with Tim Lomas, and a visit to the archives. We then had an eight-week online course, reading, reflecting on and discussing different aspects of local history. Then came the challenge to create a local history resource that could be used by our school, but also be a model for other teachers to write their own local history unit.
I started by looking at people connected with the area such as George Leeman, as our children knew nothing about the man who the area is named after. However, I didn’t think he would be engaging enough for a six-week teaching unit. I then considered Arnold Rowntree, as he started one of the first Adult Schools in the city and even lived in the area, to learn more about the conditions local men lived in. But I felt the focus would end up being more on the education system of the late 19th and early 20th century rather than the Leeman Road area itself. I then found this reference to the Honesty Girls’ Club and wanted to discover more about it:
"In the street where I live, off Leeman Road, there used to be an adult school. The Honesty Girls’ Club was upstairs, they had a dance hall up some steps and then there was a small place off that to play cards and dominoes. And in the bigger department was a billiard hall, darts and a bar where you could get soft drinks, crisps and chocolate."
But, again, I couldn’t see how to make this into a unit of work that could be a model for other teachers. So I took a step back and looked at what I had, what we were teaching in school and what I wanted the children to learn. I didn’t want a series of lectures but for children to make discoveries for themselves, and to be able to ask and answer questions about the local area.
I therefore created a series of lessons using different sources that children could use to learn more about how the Leeman Road area has changed over time. I was lucky to find a range of sources including historic maps, photographs, trade directories and a survey by the Rowntree family into the shops of the Leeman Road area in the 1920s. The details included were fascinating, listing what shops stocked and even telling of rivalry between shopkeepers. I also found adverts in parish magazines which revealed how different the shops were before the rise of supermarkets.
St Barnabas Parish Magazine 1977
The source that the children found most interesting was oral history memories of local people, particularly those they knew:
“I grew up here. I was born 62 years ago.
It was lovely growing up here; everyone knew everyone. It was like a big family. I played in the parks and swam in the river. I also used to build rafts and go fishing. I even used to fire a catapult at the church bell!
When it flooded, I would row down the streets in my boat. I got pulled along by the army and helped rescue people.”
Heather Bulmer, Leeman Road.
The finished unit is with the Historical Association and will be published on its website, and also the British Association for Local History website. But it’s not the end for my local history teaching. I would like to add more contributions from local people and invite parents and grandparents into school to share their memories. I have also been using the school log books to find out more about the experiences of children in World War Two. I’m excited about introducing that to children this year and helping connect them to the experiences of local children in the past.