Inspiring local history resource for schools

10 Nov 2008

 One of the education charities I am involved with as a trustee - the Villiers Park Educational Trust - has been behind a wonderful oral history project that has now been turned into an inspirational resource pack for pupils in Key Stages 3 and 4. As someone who has long been fascinated by local and oral history projects, and believes in their value in teaching history, I can't recommend it highly enough.

It tells the story of the Eton Manor Boys Club, which was founded in 1909 by four Old Etonians to provide sporting and adventure activities for boys in the east end of London. The club ran until 1967, producing several world-class sportsmen.

It's story offers a wonderful slice of social history and the 'Up the Manor' oral history project has brought it all to life through interviews with old boys and research into London working-class life. The project brought together pupils at the George Mitchell School and former members of the club.

The archives of the club had been sitting gathering dust at the Villiers Park Educational Trust's headquarters near Cambridge (the Trust was set up to run the club but is now a national charity for gifted and talented pupils). Fortunately the Trust's Bursar determined to metaphorically blow the dust off the archive and - with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund - engaged the historian Michelle Johansen to work with local schools to turn it into a teaching resource.

I met some of the old boys of the club and was fascinated to see the cameraderie that has survived many decades. For current pupils in modern, cosmopolitan London it really was an education to talk to the Eton Manor Old Boys and learn about their very dfferent lives in white, working-class London in the 1930's, 40's and 50's. 

The project has produced a fascinating DVD and booklet, complete with terrific archive photographs. To be honest, it's worth a read even if you aren't planning to use it as a teaching resource (although I'll probably get into trouble for saying that). 

 These boys came from poor homes and communities with next to no facilities but the club offered them boxing, cricket, camping adventures, outdoor swimming in lakes and rivers, football, athletics and rugby and - most of all - a chance to get together and to help run their own club and to glimpse a life outside their own through the visitirs brought to the club by the Old Etonian founders. It is an insight into a culture that, although quite recent, now seems very distant. 

The resources pack offers a model for schools to devise their own local and oral history project, based on something that happened in their own locality.

As one of the George Mitchell pupils put it: 'it was the best educational experience I ever had'.

The pack can be ordered from:

The Villiers Park Education Trust, Villiers Park, Royston Road, Foxton, Cambridge, CB22 6SE (Telephone 01223 872809) or go to the website:  


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