Curriculum: Victorian life â€“ children
Context: A living museum, in a Victorian Workhouse. A place where people can learn about the past & experience something of what it was like to live & work in a workhouse.
Client: Both the people who are visiting the museum & local council (or other funding organisations).
Expertise: Historians & curators who value the past & believe it important to tell the stories of ordinary people, not just the rich & famous. And that it is important to preserve the past for future generations & make it exciting & interesting.
The way in: something like:
Step 1: Large sheet of paper â€“ begin drawing the door of a Victorian workhouse, the handle, the great brass knocker… â€śJust outside town on the Aâ€¦ there is a large building. Its no longer used for its original purpose. Now its something quite different. When it was first built, it was built to house the poor & destitute. And it had a sign above the door â€śThe Municipal Workhouseâ€ť. But that wasnâ€™t the name the local people had for it. They called it something quite different. They called it â€śThe Grindâ€ť.â€ť
Step 2: â€śI donâ€™t know if that makes you think of anything… I wonder why they might have called it The Grind. People today still know it by that name.â€ť Time to thinkâ€¦ Feedbackâ€¦ No need to worry about what you getâ€¦
Step 3: Depending on the group & their knowledge of workhouses you might need to show them a moment from the past. TIR – A person carrying a baby, wrapped, up to the steps of the house. And then leavingâ€¦ This is how desperate people whereâ€¦ it was either death or the workhouseâ€¦ important to show that the person loved the baby.
Step 4: You may need to show the person on the other side of the door, who hears & dreads the knock. Opportunity for some thought tracking â€“ as they step down the corridorâ€¦
Step 5: Draw the corridor from the front door to the end where there are two imposing doors. â€śBehind the doors you will find a desk, a grand desk with a large padded chairâ€¦ In your minds eye can you see the room. What else might there be thereâ€¦? What about on the wallsâ€¦ etc.
Step 6: â€śWhose room is this?â€ť Again you might want to describe him. What does he wear? What does he carry? How does he impose his will?
From this moment it becomes difficult to predict & give advice. One class of year 6â€™s invented: â€śThe Consequences of Slothâ€ť and delighted in creating a long list of misdemeanours & punishments. Another class invented a cane with silver deathâ€™s head, that the overseer would show the inmates & remind them that he had the power over life or death.
Of course once theyâ€™ve created the workhouse & some of the characters then youâ€™ll need to frame them as the curators. One way to do this is to draw beside the door the sign as it is today. â€śAs I said this building is no longer a workhouse. Today it has a different purposeâ€¦â€ť And Write: The Victorian Workhouse â€“ A living Museum â€“ Once called The Grindâ€ť. Do you think, just for a moment, you could think like the people who run this museum. What do you think people who visit the museum should know about the buildings pastâ€¦?â€ť
One point worth noting: I worked with a group of year 6â€™s recently who I assumed would know more than they did about Victorian workhouses. I realised quite quickly that they knew very little so I had to invent a situation where they could learn a lot fast, without me having to teach them. Luckily I had four adults in the room, so I put them in role as people who lived and worked in the workhouse. The adults could choose the role (thus protecting them as much as possible). Then the children could ask them as many questions as they liked. In fact they would have quite happily spent all morning talking to the Overseer, the cook, the nurse & the child.