THE USE OF LOCAL HISTORY IN THE SCHOOLS
By V. H. T. Skipp
[Extracted from Finberg, H. P. R. and V. H. T. Skipp Local History: Objective and Pursuit David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1967, pp. 103-127.]
ON an earlier page Professor Finberg quoted the Board of Education circular which as long ago as 1908 argued that the best approach to the teaching of British history in secondary schools was by means of local material. (l) The Ministry pamphlet Teaching History, published in 1952, still urges the use of "particular" and "concrete" local material, claiming that it helps to set "the pupils' minds and imagination to work," and makes the history lesson more "vivid by illustration." (2)
Many teachers have ignored such recommendations, but some have been keen to implement them, with the result that, in one form or another, a fair amount of local material has percolated into the classroom. There are signs that over the last decade the number of the converted has been increasing. At the same time, even the most ardent exponents of the local approach seem in little danger of carrying it too far. Most secondary schools are committed to courses in British history, usually with Some European and World history as well. In these circumstances all practising teachers would agree with the Ministry that the role of local history must inevitably remain ancillary as far as curricular work is concerned. Apart perhaps from the occasional short project, there can be little question of studying it for its own sake; its purpose, rather, must be to provide "a storehouse of examples" with which to illustrate and illuminate the broad national story.
If this is to be the position, it follows that any piece of local material, in order to win a place in the syllabus, will have to satisfy two basic requirements. First, it must be strictly relevant to the course concerned: by which I mean that it must provide subject-matter for a theme or topic which it has been considered desirable to include on entirely independent grounds. Secondly, the local material must be intrinsically worth while and interesting. The teacher should not have the feeling at the back of his mind that, merely on the grounds of locality, it is keeping out more trenchant or significant material from other parts.
It is no part of my intention to urge the use of local history beyond these orthodox bounds. The point I wish to make rather is that, within those bounds, a great deal more useful material is available than the majority of teachers have yet realized. Paradoxically, the tardiness of the profession in this regard may to some extent be due to the 1908 circular; for it could be argued that local history in the schools got away to a false, because premature, start. Certainly its early advocates, we can now see, were operating within an extremely limited range. They tended to think of local history largely in terms of important national events that happened to have occurred in a particular locality, or of fortuitous local associations with nationally important people. And in truth, the town and parish histories which were current in their time offered little else that was of relevance to general history .(The descent of the manor, the genealogies of prominent local families, the advowson of the church, etc., most certainly were not.) But in recent times there have been important developments in our ideas about the nature and scope of local history ; and these in turn have increased enormously the extent to which a teacher can now carry out the 1908 precept: to "make constant reference to the history of the locality as illustrative of the general history."
In the first place, ten years after the publication of The Making of the English Landscape, much more use could surely be made of the topographical material that is available in any locality. I know that the universities, unlike some colleges of education, are scarcely as yet encouraging this approach, but I look forward to a time when history teachers will have grown thoroughly accustomed to thinking of the landscape, in the words of Professor Hoskins, as "the richest historical record we possess." (3) Every phase of British history, from prehistoric times onwards, can be illustrated in the field; and it can be illustrated in such away that it will speak to the deepest part of the student, his imagination.
When it comes to field-work no one will deny that the amount which can be undertaken in school time is severely limited. There is the possibility of evening or Saturday excursions. But I am not thinking exclusively, or even mainly, of organized expeditions. Boys and girls have bikes nowadays; they have cameras; their parents have cars. To a considerable extent, pupils are capable of doing their own field-work. All that is needed is for them to be stimulated by the teacher, and told where the worthwhile places are. The best way of doing this is to be constantly referring to the local landscape and to the fascinating remains that can be seen in it. A series of distribution maps might be prepared, showing Celtic forts, Roman excavations, castles, monastic ruins, parish church architecture of various periods, brasses and stone effigies, country houses, wind and water mills, historic industrial sites. If these maps are displayed one at a time, at appropriate points in the course, and if the teacher talks about a few of the places, perhaps illustrating what he says with a series of film transparencies, then some of the children will be certain to respond. They will bring back guide books, sketches, plans, photographs, specimens, and these things in turn can be displayed in the history room to stimulate others: and so this habit of using the landscape for history will grow and become a tradition in the school.
Visits to historical monuments and landscape features may take our pupils far afield. But many themes and topics can be illustrated from the immediate locality. Again I feel that not enough is being done to bring into use this immediately local material. In dealing with the medieval open-field system, how many schools take as their illustration their own local open-field system? In dealing with enclosure, how many schools study their own local enclosure award? Are the local turnpike, the local canal, the local railway discussed when the transport revolution is under consideration? In speaking of social life in Tudor and Stuart times are the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century probate inventories of local inhabitants used?
I could go on to ask another fifty questions of this kind. And in each case an affirmative answer would mean that an additional piece of significant and intrinsically useful local material had found its way into the classroom. Much of it, it is true, would have relevance mainly in courses where a good deal of social and economic history is taught. But in such courses - if there is time, and if the necessary information can be discovered - a very considerable body of local history could be included in the schemes without in any sense ceasing to teach general history, or departing from the reservations referred to above concerning the use of local material.
Moreover, it should not be forgotten that this local approach is itself putting over an important point about the past. Our modern way of life, dominated as it is by the welfare state, by instant communications, world-wide horizons, and ad-mass culture, is fundamentally different from anything which preceded it. Before the advent of the railway, the internal combustion engine, the penny daily, the telephone, wireless, and television, almost all experience was localized: the town or village was the vessel which shaped people's lives. The same tendency towards localization obtained in matters of government and public administration. So much so, that down to the nineteenth century one might almost say that the government did not govern England: England governed itself. The state then was neither omnicompetent nor omnipresent; the parish seemed very nearly both. Even on the eve of Peterloo, Lord Liverpool was quite prepared to leave everything to "the gentlemen of the parish." Admittedly with disastrous consequences, for we now realize that Manchester in 1819 stood on the watershed in this respect. A new society - our own - was on the way: a society which was to alter beyond
recognition the very meaning of the word parochial'.
Yet for many centuries the local community - borough and manor first, then borough and parish - provided the basic framework for the administrative, economic, and social evolution of the nation. From which it follows that if one wishes to illustrate properly any of these aspects of national history, one is compelled, sooner or later, to come down to the local units. Even the textbooks, in so far as they depart from generalized statements, are compelled to do so. They will be quoting, let us say, from the records of Essex or Oxfordshire. Where comparable material can be discovered on one's own doorstep, one is surely sacrificing little and gaining much by making use of it.
When speaking of the condition of the roads in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, what better than to quote from the accounts of the Surveyors of the Highways? Before the advent of macadamized surfaces, these accounts consist chiefly of payments made for loads of stones and gravel to fill up the ruts and holes:
The Accounts of Joseph Field Surveyor of the Highways in the Parish of Sheldon for the Year 1779.
P[ai]d Tho[ma]s Tatton for Stones 0 2 6
63 Loads of Gravel 1 1 0
24 Loads of Stones 12 0
. . . . . . . . . . .
For 8 Loads of Rubbish 3 0
Thomas Tatton for Work 2 0
Drink 5 0
32 Loads of Stones 16 0
Drink 5 0
To slip in brief local illustrations like this need take little time, yet they can help to make history a living subject. For locality is to history what topicality is to journalism. Of itself the material may be nothing exceptional. But the 'here' seems to add somehow to its sharpness and relevance. The examples I am choosing are quite arbitrary, but when touching on the health of former generations and the history of medicine, the local doctor's bills from the Sheldon parish chest have always seemed to me worth quoting. Here is an extract from one dated 1746:
July 8 A Vomit for your Daughter 6d.
Purging Salts 3d.
10 Cordial Drops 6d.
15 Bleeding your Daughter 6d.
Purging Salts 3d.
Bleeding your Self 6d.
16 The Drops 6d.
When dealing with the Poor Law, need we be content with bald textbook summaries of the important statutes? If they are obtainable, could not the local Overseers' Accounts be used to illustrate the Poor Law in action? Let me demonstrate the kind of material that is frequently available under this head by outlining a typical pauper case history built up from the Sheldon Overseers' Accounts and other parochial documents.
At the beginning of 1766, the Hodgetts were a family of seven. Their people had been in the parish for about a century; once they had held land, for a Hodgetts Close is among the field-names. John Hodgetts himself appears to have been a day labourer, but by the mid-1750s his wages must have been insufficient to support a growing family, and he begins drawing semi-regular relief - Necessity Money, payments for clothes, etc. For example, in 1757-8 he receives money and goods to the value of £4 from the parish: an appreciable sum at a time when the schoolmaster's salary was a mere £5 per annum.
Then in February, 1766, the breadwinner dies. In the accounts for that year is the entry : "Feb. 4. Jon hoghits had 3 poynts of wine - 2s. 6d." This was to ease him over his last hours. There follows: "Feb. 8. Pd hoghits furnel all Charges - £1."
Mrs Hodgetts and her five children are now solely dependent on the parish. They are paid Necessity Money, averaging at first about six shillings per week. A fortnight after the father's funeral, however, Katherine, the youngest child, is buried. Necessity Money is now reduced to between three and four shillings, though the family also receive quite a lot of help in kind:
Feb. 23. Pd for 6 hundred of coal for the Widow hoghits 4s. 0d.
March 5. Bo[ugh]t the widow hoghits half a peck of Beanes 1s. 2d.
Apl. 15. Hodgetts had a pare of Briches 1s. 6d.
Unfortunately, the Overseers were not prepared to go on subsidizing the family to this extent indefinitely; and the only way to escape doing so was by placing the children out as apprentices. Accordingly, on 15th May, William, the eldest boy, aged ten, is bound to William Rothwell, a steel-snuffer maker of Birmingham. In July, Hannah, aged twelve, goes to Arley - twenty miles away - to serve Thomas Lee in husbandry. By now Necessity Money is down to 6d. per week: the parish is being "saved harmless."
At the beginning of October, the Widow Hodgetts herself dies. On the day of the funeral, after the burial fees, there is the pathetic entry: "Bread for the Children - 5d."
The following March, the last remaining boy is apprenticed. Thirteen months only have elapsed since the death of the father. Yet of a family of seven, only Elizabeth, the eldest girl, remains in Sheldon. During the next ten years she presents the Overseers with two illegitimate children.
Now a story like this really does throw some light on the workings of the old Poor Law. And it is marvellous classroom material. Not only will it evoke the imaginative sympathy of the children, but it can be used to set them thinking too. For instance, by question and answer, the contrast between this system and our modern system of social security can be elicited from the pupils. Had John Hodgetts fallen ill today, instead of his "3 poynts of wine," he would have been whisked away into hospital and cared for, free of charge, under the National Health Service. Very probably he would not have died. Had he done so, the Widow Hodgetts would have had a widow's pension, together with child allowances; and, if these proved inadequate, she could have applied for National Assistance. Instead of the children being apprenticed and sent away from home, they would have stayed with their mother and continued their education.
This is an effective story in any case; but I do not think I am guilty of overstatement when I say that teaching in a Sheldon school, I have found it at least fifty per cent more effective than it would have been had the Hodgetts lived elsewhere and the story come out of a textbook. Apart from which fact, one can by no means be certain of finding such stories in textbooks. In the local records themselves they abound.
Why, then, with such excellent material available, is the local approach still making so little headway in the schools? Partly it is due to shortage of teaching time. But, as I have already said, the extra time involved need not be excessive. Besides, what is generally lamented as a shortage of time can, from another point of view, be just as truthfully described as an overcrowding of the history syllabus. In which case, at least in the pre-examination years, there is nothing to stop the teacher from doing a little pruning. There is nothing to stop him either from considering what kind of history really interests the child. "It used to infuriate me," writes W. G. Hoskins, "to see my eleven-year-old daughter grappling with 'subjects' like Castlereagh's foreign policy, but knowing nothing of the history of the Oxfordshire parish in which we then lived, of the fact, for example, that in the field next to our own garden there lay the visible remains of the 'lost' medieval village of Steeple Barton. No wonder so many grown-ups loathe the very word 'history'." (4)
I myself do quite a lot of lecturing to 'grown-ups' nowadays. I have one lecture on the development of Birmingham in which, among other things, I try to put across the idea that the modern city contains over forty buried villages and hamlets, each of which had anything up to a thousand years of separate and independent history before it was eventually swallowed up by the expanding 'wen': not, needless to say, without leaving conspicuous traces behind. This idea comes to many of my listeners with the force of a revelation, and, time and time again, their response is the same: "Why weren't we taught this kind of history when we were at school?" I submit that, in the incidental way I have tried to indicate, their sons and daughters should be.
In the upper forms of secondary schools the present examination system does much to retard the introduction of local material. The most favoured G.C.E. papers, being almost entirely political, offer little scope for it. In any case, where the stereotyped answer is felt to be the best, because safest, way of ensuring success, anything which lacks the authority of the textbook tends to be excluded as suspect, if not positively dangerous. At my own school we took the Oxford Social and Economic 'O' level paper and I encouraged pupils to use apposite local material wherever possible. My successor reversed this policy. When pupils had recourse to local illustrations in their essays, he scrawled in the margin, "Not relevant to National History." Incidentally, I recently met a product of the 'safe' method who is now in his third year at university. On asking him how he was getting on, he replied, "Not too badly. I think I'm just beginning to understand history instead of learning it." A few months from tripos seems rather late in the day to be making such a disturbing confession. Is it too much to hope that this examination-induced travesty which still passes for successful history teaching will one day pass from our midst? Perhaps not. Some C.S.E. papers are already offering scope for a more satisfying and meaningful approach; and maybe, as happens so often in education, the process of re-thinking is destined to spread from below upwards. If so, the use of local history in the schools is likely to spread with it.
Another withholding factor is that the sources of local history are still largely unknown to teachers. I came down from Cambridge without realizing that such a thing as the Parish Chest existed, or at least that it might contain anything of interest to the serious historian. As for our "richest historical record," an Oxford graduate who had been commissioned to write a textbook on British medieval history recently expressed astonishment when I explained to her that the visible remains of the medieval open fields are still to be traced all over the midland landscape. The widespread failure of the universities even to introduce potential teachers to the topographical and documentary sources of local history is surely one more argument - to be added to a good many others - in favour of establishing independent university departments which are devoted to this aspect of historical studies, along the lines of that at Leicester.
Before leaving the subject of curricular teaching, let me draw together my remarks by considering briefly what might be the overall pattern of the local content in a school history syllabus. I suggest that ideally a school would avail itself both of the history of the region in which it is situated and that of its own township. Certain periods and themes it will be difficult to illustrate otherwise than regionally. As a rule, this would apply to the prehistoric, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon periods. Thereafter, the teacher could continue to etch in the regional picture if only by describing the characteristic topographical remains. But from Domesday times onwards, it should be possible to handle many subjects from the actual place where the school is situated. Thus, the emergence of the feudal system by 1086 could be illustrated by giving pupils a 'feudal ladder' derived from the local Domesday entry; the manorial system by quoting the local court rolls, and saying whatever it is possible to say about the layout of the local manor, the site of the manor-house, and so on.
According to this framework, the region would be quarried for archaeological and topographical material, whereas the use of the documentary record would be restricted mainly to one's own town or village.
At least, this might be so until the mid-eighteenth century: with the Industrial Revolution and the approach of modern times, the canvas ought again to be widened. In the West Midlands, the teacher would probably want to take as his local theme the development of the Black Country and the rise of Birmingham.
For the most part the local material would be put over by means of brief oral intrusions. Occasionally, however, time might be found for students to undertake a short research exercise. With very little trouble, a school could obtain photo-copies of forty probate inventories of local inhabitants in Tudor and Stuart times. Transcriptions would have to be made and attached to the photo-copies. Then, at an appropriate point in the course, each child could be handed an inventory-photo-copy plus transcription - and asked to discover from it how many rooms there were in the house, what the rooms were called, how they were furnished, and, by inference, how they were used. It might be possible for them to produce a diagram indicating the layout. They could also ascertain what crops the yeoman or husbandman was cultivating, how many cattle, pigs, and sheep he kept, what farm implements he had at his disposal, what crafts were carried on in the home. When each pupil had studied his own inventory, the project could be rounded off by a class discussion, relating and comparing the findings. (5)
At a later stage, similar exercises could be based on extracts from the Overseers' accounts, on a series of apprenticeship indentures, or of examination certificates, with their brief but illuminating biographies of the labouring poor . (6) Sometimes a lesson or homework might be devoted to field-work in the town or village concerned: visiting a moated site, tracing the line of an old road, walking along a section of the local canal, or identifying the houses which survive from a particular period.
A number of C.S.E. Boards allow candidates to submit an individual local study for examination purposes. Pupils who had received the kind of introduction I have suggested, both to the local historical background and to some of the simpler techniques of research, would be well fitted to avail themselves of this attractive and enlightened option.
Not one place in a hundred yet has anything approaching an adequate parish history, so that the teacher who wishes to bring his immediately local material into circulation will very likely find that the only way of doing so is by mounting his own research. However, it is possible to turn this difficulty into a positive advantage since such work can provide an interesting and valuable field of activity for a school historical society.
Supposing a teacher wishes to tackle a local research project, how can he best set about doing it? There are, of course, dozens of ways; but there is one golden rule that must always be borne in mind. Whatever he does, the teacher must not start without a plan, without a clear objective in mind. The secret of this work is to ask questions. Decide to begin with the kind of things you would like to find out about the place you are studying; formulate these curiosities as questions; then set about systematically collecting all the facts that will enable you to answer the questions. In this way you will always retain control of your material. You will not be inundated by facts. Nor will you be in danger of imitating countless earlier local historians who made a heap of all they knew. An appetite for information is not enough in this kind of work. What is rather more important is the capacity for digestion.
Some teachers may decide to begin by doing research into a specific and limited topic, like the local enclosure award, or the local turnpike road. Others - particularly if they have at their disposal a sizeable historical society - may be brave enough to embark on a more general study of their town or village. Obviously each school must tailor its programme to its own resources and requirements. If it is at all possible, though, there is much to be said for an all-round approach. Not only will this be exciting in itself; it will also ensure that you arrive at a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the place in question, thereby giving your teaching of local material a richness and depth which might otherwise be lacking.
I am going to assume that what you will be studying is a parish, which, if we exclude the corporate towns, was normally the basic unit of the old English community: not only ecclesiastically, but also, from Tudor times to the nineteenth century , for most secular purposes.
In studying your local parish, then, the question I suggest you might ask to begin with is: What was this place like to live in about a hundred years ago?
Now this big question will immediately suggest subsidiary ones. First, a hundred or so years ago, what was it like in appearance? The document that will help you to answer this question is the mid-nineteenth-century tithe map and award. This is generally dated about 1840 and was made when tithes in kind were commuted into money charges on land. Most parishes, though not all, will be bound to possess this document, and there should be three copies in existence: a parish copy (probably in the vestry or the parsonage), a diocesan copy at the diocesan record office, and a third copy with the Tithe Redemption Commission, Finsbury Square, London.
The tithe map is an accurate, large-scale survey which shows every individual field or plot of land, as well as all roads, buildings, and boundaries. Accompanying it should go the tithe apportionment, which serves it as a schedule. (7)
I would suggest that you have a photostat made of the map: for an average sized parish this would cost £2-£3. You could have the schedule photo-stated, but this might be rather expensive, and it would not be a terribly long job to take a transcription.
With the photostat of the map and a copy of the schedule, you are ready to start bringing the parish of a hundred years ago to life. On the map every field is numbered; on the schedule, against the number of each plot, you will be given the following information: the name of the landowner, the name of the occupier, the name and description of the land or premises, the state of cultivation (i.e., the land use), the acreage, and the rent-charge apportioned.
Working in pairs, the members of your research group can make four outline tracings of the map. Then the pages of the schedule are circulated amongst them, and one pair takes off all the field-names, ultimately producing a complete field-names map; a second group concentrates on landowners, building up an ownership map; while the third and fourth groups produce occupation and land use maps respectively.
When they have been completed, a great deal of interesting information can be discovered from this series of maps. The ownership map will show how strong economically the local squire was. The occupation map will give you the number and size of the farms and the names of the farmers. The land-use map wi1l reveal what type of farming predominated. Every building in the c.1840 parish wi1l be shown on the tithe map, so a field survey can be instituted to see how many of these survive, and in the case of the more interesting ones a record can be made of them with the aid of drawings and photographs.(8)
Gradually you will be able to build up a clear and detailed picture of the topography of the parish as it was in the mid-nineteenth century, as well as establishing some of the essential facts about what in a rural community would have been the most important village industry, farming. After the landscape, you will probably want to consider the population of the parish as it was about 1840. The most obvious things to make for here are the early directories - the Post Office Directories, White's, Kelly's, etc., - which should be available at any large library. These directories will give some useful information, followed by a list of the principal inhabitants, including most tradesmen and craftsmen; so that, with the information already gleaned from the tithe award, a general idea of the social and economic structure of the place should begin to emerge. (9)
If you decide to go beyond this, the next thing to get a copy of is the 1841 or the 1851 census return. (10) The 1851 return is more detailed than the 1841 in several respects. On the other hand, if you wish to hold the work together, it is probably best, irrespective of this fact, to choose the return which is nearest in date to the year of your tithe award. The detailed census enumerations are available for every parish at the Public Record Office, and for an average sized place a microfilm copy can be obtained postally for from £2 to £5. A microfilm projector is not required; an ordinary filmstrip projector serves admirably.
Using the census, a full occupation analysis of the parish can be prepared. Work can be done on the size and structure of households; on the age structure of the community, and the distribution of the sexes in the various age-groups. You can find out what proportion of children went to school, and over what period of their childhood. With the 1851 census the place of birth of each person is given, so that it is possible to assess the degree of mobility, while a map can be prepared showing where the immigrants came from.
Such a programme of research might keep a school historical society of, say, twenty members pretty fully occupied for a couple of years. The work is by no means too complicated or difficult even for young secondary children, though it does require firm direction and control from the teacher. Incidentally, I know personally of two schools which have produced excellent surveys along these lines.
Once you have gained a good basic understanding of the local community as it was a little over a hundred years ago - and assuming that you are prepared to do still more work - three possible courses will lie open to you.
First, you may decide to fill out your portrait of the parish as it was in the mid-nineteenth century. This can be done by the use of local newspapers, by the study of tombstones in the churchyard, by the questioning of elderly inhabitants.
The parish chest material is likely to be either in the care of the incumbent or else at the county record office. If you can gain access to this, a series of investigations can be carried out on the government of the parish during the early nineteenth century (from the Vestry minutes); on the maintenance of law and order (from the Constable's accounts); on the care of the poor (from the Overseers' accounts); on the upkeep of the highways (from the Surveyors' accounts). Perhaps the nineteenth-century school, or schools, could be investigated; and much interesting work could be done on the parish registers. (1l)
The second thing you might decide to do from your basic 1840 cross-section is to trace the history of the community backwards. On the topographical side, you will naturally see whether you can discover any maps of the parish which are earlier than 1840. Perhaps there will be a Parliamentary Enclosure award or a private Enclosure agreement, or you may be lucky enough to find an early estate map. (12)
The sort of questions you will be asking now are as follows. Where were the open fields situated? Where were the ancient dole meadows, and where were the original commons? Where was the manor-house? What were the boundaries of the demesne? To discuss in detail the various methods which are available for puzzling out the medieval topography of a parish would itself require several lectures. Absolutely basic to this work, however, is the systematic collection of field-names. Often identifications can be made between names occurring in ancient deeds and the tithe map field-names. Thus at Sheldon the medieval open field called Elrefurlang in 1226 is clearly to be identified with nine adjacent enclosures all marked Elder Field on the 1840 map. In this way the position and boundaries of the thirteenth-century Elrefurlang - Otherwise lost - can be safely conjectured. Then there will be other 1840 field-names which declare themselves to be of medieval origin in any case. The field-name Breach, for instance, derives from the Old English braec, meaning 'land newly taken into cultivation'; Etchells means 'an addition, something added to an estate'; Ridding comes from the Old English hryding, 'a clearing' ; Stocking was a Middle English word, meaning 'a clearing of stumps, a piece of ground cleared of stumps'. A fair scatter of such names will probably come through to the mid-nineteenth-century tithe map and they are all valid clues to the medieval topography of the manor . (13)
Another thing which will need investigation in this connection is the landscape itself. Medieval ridge and furrow may survive in some parts of the parish; elsewhere the aratral curve can perhaps be traced in the hedgerows. There may be ancient moated sites, the stumps of old windmills, depressions representing medieval fish-ponds, hollow-ways, and long forgotten boundary stones to be discovered and recorded. (14)
Alongside this, using the parish registers and any other parochial material which is available, work could proceed on the people of the parish in the earlier centuries. The number of baptisms, marriages, and burials could be counted year by year. By means of the Cox estimate, rough population totals could be worked out and graphed. (15) In the burial registers the ravages of dearth and disease could be investigated, and a study made of infant and child mortality. (16) For houses and home life, and for many intimate details regarding social conditions, the probate inventories discussed earlier provide almost limitless possibilities.
If all this seems a little too forbidding, the third thing you may decide to do from the 1840 cross-section is to trace the history of the community forward, from 1840 down to the present day. This can be particularly interesting in parishes, like Sheldon, which were rural a hundred years ago but have been subject to extensive urbanization since.
Some teachers in town schools might well decide to ignore the rural past altogether, concentrating entirely on the urban history and industrial archaeology of their district. There is ample scope for field-work and systematic recording in this sphere, perhaps undertaken with the help of geographers. Such work would be particularly worth while in areas where widespread redevelopment is taking place and sectors of an earlier townscape are in danger of disappearing without record. (17)
A school which started off with the mid-nineteenth-century tithe award and census return, then subsequently, one after another, adopted each of the three courses I have suggested, would ultimately have brought together sufficient material for the writing of a full-scale parish history .
I know of one school which has almost got this far. And indeed, given teachers who are capable of appreciating what the new local history is about, who know the right questions to ask, and are prepared to familiarize themselves with the sources from which they must be answered; given these - plus almost limitless reserves of time and patience - there is no reason why the occasional school should not produce a perfectly adequate village history .
Nevertheless, in my opinion the ideal unit for undertaking this full-scale venture is not the school but the adult group, like those organized by the W.E.A. and university extramural departments.
Sometimes it may be possible for a school and an adult group to work together. What I have in mind is that the schoolmaster might negotiate the formation of an extramural class in his own district, himself becoming a member - or perhaps even the tutor - of this group. Suitable aspects of the research could then be taken over by him, with a view to getting the work done at school. If the topics chosen were reasonably specific and self-contained, members of the historical society could ultimately write up and duplicate a full report of their findings. They would thus have accomplished something which was complete in itself, at the same time making a useful and well-judged contribution to the comprehensive local history being prepared by the adult group.
Certainly a schoolmaster who got himself involved in radical local research of the kind I am suggesting - whether with his own pupils, with interested adults, or with a combination of the two - would not be long before he was introducing relevant local material into his everyday teaching. Moreover, if my own experience is anything to go by, a good deal of it would be material the existence of which he had hardly suspected before.
1. page 25.
2. Teaching History, H.M.S.O., p. 54.
3. W. G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape, Hodder & Stoughton, 1955, p. 14.
4. Preface to John West, Village Records, Macmillan, 1962, p.Vlll.
5. For further information on probate inventories and their use, see West, Village Records, pp. 92-131; F. G. Emmison, Archives and Local History, pp. 48-49, and 91-94; F. W. Steer, Probate Inventories, Historical Association, Short Guide to Records No.3.
6. On apprenticeship indentures, see W. E. Tate, The Parish Chest, Cambridge University Press, 1946, pp. 220-5; on examination certificates, ibid., pp. 201-3. For a remarkable example of a county authority encouraging the use of photo-copies of local records in its schools, see E. R. Lloyd, 'The use of Historical Documents in Schools,' The Amateur Historian, Vol. VII, No.2, pp.47-52.
7. For additional information on tithe awards, see West, Village Records, pp. 145-57.
8. See Hoskins, Local History in England, Ch. IX.
9. See Hoskins, Local History in England, p. 26; West, Village Records, pp. 162-69.
10. See Hoskins, Local History in England, pp. 26-28; M. Beresford, 'The Unprinted Census Returns of 1841, 1851, 1861 for England and Wales,' in The Amateur Historian, Vol. v, No.8, pp. 260-69.
11. W. E. Tate, The Parish Chest, is the standard reference work on parochial archives.
12. See West, Village Records, pp. 137-44. II
13. On field-names reference might first be made to the volumes for individual counties published by the English Place-Name Society; also A. H. Smith, English Place-Name Elements, 1956.
14. See Hoskins, Local History in England, Ch. VIII; Ordnance Survey, Field Archaeology: Some notes for beginners, H.M.S.O., 1963.
15. Tate, The Parish Chest, p. 81.
16. See Hoskins, Local History in England, Ch. X.
17. See Kenneth Hudson, Industrial Archaeology, John Baker, 1963; id., Handbook for Industrial Archaeologists, J. Baker, 1967.