Archive for December, 2011

School days

Southwell Workhouse Schoolroom

The Good Old Days

Things have certainly changed since Victorian times… this is a photo of the schoolroom at Southwell Workhouse, which I visited last week. The children spent most of their days in this room, which has obscured windows so they couldn’t be distracted by the sight of their parents working in the yards. They were looked after by the schoolteacher, and were only allowed to see their parents on Sundays.

Their diet would have been something like this:

Bread, 4 ounces, and milk, 1/2 pint.
Or: Bread, 4 ounces; and milk-porridge, 1/2 pint, made with boiled milk, 1/2 pint; and oatmeal, 5 drachms.

The same as breakfast; except that cheese, 1 ounce, may be substituted for milk, or for milk-porridge, when milk cannot be procured.

Reverend John Becher

Reverend John Becher, who built the workhouse and specified this diet.

On Sunday: Boiled beef, without bone, 5.5 ounces; and potatoes, boiled and peeled, 1 pound.
On Monday: Bread, 4 ounces; and beef broth, 1 pint – thickened with flour, 2 drachms; and flavoured with leeks and parsley.
On Tuesday: Dumplings, 9.5 ounces – made with flour, 5 ounces, and barm; sauce made with treacle, flour, and water.
On Wednesday: Rice-milk, 1/2 pint – made with boiled milk 1/2 pint; rice, 1.5 ounces; and flour, 1 ounce.
On Thursday: the same as on Sunday.
On Friday: Pea soup, 1 pint – made with beef broth, 1 pint; peas, 2 ounces and 4 drachms; thickened with potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed, 1 pound; seasoned with black pepper, and flavoured with onions.
On Saturday: Hasty-pudding, 1/2 quart – made with flour, 2 ounces and 4 drachms; milk, 1/2 pint; and water. Sauce made with treacle, flour, and water.

I’ll be leading a group of Humanities students in their individual research projects about the Workhouse next term – we’ll get our hands on the archives, and will be able to let our imaginations roam free – I can’t wait! I’m not sure the students are all that keen, as a rule they’re not up for unfettering their imaginations, but I’ve got seven weeks to batter them into submission. I’m determined to get them thinking creatively. Watch this space…

Back to the present

Yesterday I was privileged to meet a great bunch of Year 8 (12-year-old-ish) kids at Springwell College near Chesterfield. The irrepressible, brilliant and, quite frankly, barking mad Mark Gwynne Jones is leading a group of 20 youngsters in a Lyric Lounge project to use artefacts from Chesterfield Museum to generate performance poetry for next year’s Lyric Lounge in Chesterfield.

What’s not to like? How could I fail to be excited about the opportunity to shadow Mark on this project? (thank you, Writing East Midlands and Cathy Grindrod).

Children are scary

Children are scary

Actually, I was terrified. I’ve run workshops for adults, but apart from dragging two now-teenage (and almost-housetrained) boys into the world, I’ve had nothing to do with children.

What a pleasant surprise… the school is fantastic, the teachers are totally engaged, and the kids are absolutely delightful – not at all scary! Mark chucked me in at the deep end by involving me in the first exercise – something I used to do with my kids, we called it ‘story circle’ – you tell a story by taking it in turn to say words. We split into pairs or threes… all the stories were weird and wonderful, ours involved going for a run in a muddy field, jumping into a pond and meeting a smelly newt, then coming across a dragon who was cute but didn’t want a flower on its neck, so we went home.

Really really scary

Really really scary

Then Mark got everyone to write two stories about an object they’d brought in, one true and one made-up. While that was going on I took the opportunity to go round and meet most of the kids. What a great bunch they are, with amazing imaginations and the confidence and articulateness to put them to good use. We all told our pairs of stories, and had to guess which was the true story. Many of us managed to fool people into believing the made-up story… and the teachers did particularly badly!

I can’t wait till next week – we’re going to the museum, and we’ll get to rummage around in the storerooms. Superb! I think I’m going to love this project, and I feel very honoured to be a part of it.

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