Friday, 12 February 2016

Taken back in time

Catherine Clark and Jacqueline Moore from Whitehaven Record Office and Local Studies Library on special activity sessions with an historic twist

 A GROUP of seven-year-old children put their X boxes and Playstations aside and were momentarily transported back a century in time when they took part in specially-arranged activity sessions at Valley School in February.

And whereas they would normally be glued to the TV screen and computer games for most of the evening, instead they were discovering how times have changed since their grandparents were young.

The youngsters were taking part in a series of pilot sessions designed to encourage children and their parents or carers to learn and discover together. During the sessions – dubbed Family Learning activities – the children and their parents focussed on creating their own childhood ‘Memory Boxes’, but also had great fun working with archive sources from which they discovered lots about Whitehaven’s past.

The sessions were organised by Cumbria County Council’s Archive Service, along with Howgill Family Centre, and were lead by Archive Service staff Catherine Clark and Jacqueline Moore who are based at Whitehaven Record Office and Local Studies Library, on Scotch Street.

Catherine Clark is one of the custodians of our local history and, as Area Archivist for the local Record Office, supervises the care of tens of thousands of original archives.

“The aim of the scheme was to make local history fun and to reach out to individuals who previously hadn’t used the Archive Service,” said Catherine. “During the four sessions the children had their eyes opened as to how Whitehaven used to be, and how people lived and played when their grandparents were young.”

Toys such as Diablo, Jacob’s ladder, Clackers, Connect 4, Sindy doll, and K9 from Dr Who brought back many happy memories for the parents and Record Office staff alike, and aroused much interest from the six and seven-year-olds. Household items, original magazines, historic advertisements, and magazine clippings on pop stars and bygone fashion provided much amusement for the younger ones and a bit of nostalgia for mums and dads.

Catherine and Jacqueline devised history-themed games to highlight how the town has changed over the years. These included their own versions of Snap and ‘Spot the Difference’, using modern photographs and historical images of the same buildings, shops, streets and other parts of town.

They also created a ‘Name the Decade’ game which made use of a variety of old memorabilia and photographs from the 1920s, 50s, 60s, 80s and 2010. The children and their parents had to try to work out which decade the items and photographs belonged to.

“That was fun because we had two generations and they couldn’t always agree which item belonged to which decade,” said Jacqueline, who works as a searchroom assistant at the Record Office. “The picture of a school-dinner tray was supposed to belong to the 1970s, but the children said they use similar trays now.

“They were very amused by the size of an old record player because most of them are familiar with the size of a modern MP3 player.”

But the sessions were also about the children themselves – their own history and memories. Each week they brought pictures, photos, old toys and other items of special significance to them and their families, and set about decorating their own wooden memory box so they would each have a special keepsake of their personal memories from childhood.

This part of the project gave them lots of opportunity for being creative, using their imagination, and developing arts and craft skills. Inspiration was provided by Carlisle-based artist Joe Dias, who has worked creatively with boxes in many forms throughout his career, taking much of his inspiration came from his love of the Solway Firth.

“This whole experience has been so rewarding,” said Jacqueline. “The children have been a pleasure to work with and they have eagerly taken to each activity. I especially enjoyed working with them on forging the wanted poster.

“We got them all to bring a picture of themselves so they could make a Wild-West-style ‘wanted’ poster. We wanted the posters to look old and the children had a field day scrunching the paper – tearing it and generally making it look old and grubby – using some of my secret ingredients. I promised them I wouldn’t tell anyone how it was done! The end results were fantastic and wouldn’t look out of place in our archives.”
“At the end of the course we were very proud to present everyone with their special ‘History Detective’ certificates,” added Catherine.

The children clearly enjoyed the sessions, but the parents saw the benefits too. Some parents remarked on what they could see as the children’s growth in confidence, as shown by their willingness to speak up, make observations, and generally join-in. This, they said, was markedly different from their experiences in the school classroom.
Karen Ross, from the Howgill Family Centre, was pleased with how the project had worked out. “The Family Centre at Valley enjoyed hosting the sessions and the excellent quality of the resources used extended the children’s learning and we look forward to working with Whitehaven Record Office again,” she said.

A photographic exhibition showing the fun the participants had is now on show at Whitehaven Library. Some of the memory boxes will also be displayed. The exhibition is from Friday, March 11 March to Thursday, March 24.

The programme to allow adults and children to learn together as part of Family Learning, rather than in separately focussed sessions, was a new venture for the Archive Service, and was made possible by sponsorship from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (North West). The success of the sessions means there is potential to follow this up with other sessions for family groups.

If you have a child aged between seven and 11 and would be interested in taking part in any future sessions, please register your interest by leaving your contact details at Whitehaven Record Office and Local Studies Library, Scotch Street, or email:

By Colin Edgar
Published: March 17, 2011


Have your say

i have found out that David my husband his grand father was aminer ,only his dad was a Farmer and david was took out of school at the age of 13 year to work on the family farm

Posted by sylvia Quayle on 22 August 2012 at 22:53

re Carol Franklin 26/09/11 Was Dinah married to John? as my family are looking for relatives albeit with the surname Olvinhill and the various spelling throughout the past. Could this be your relatives too?

Posted by Jan Barrance on 12 March 2012 at 22:09

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