History Around Us


The street is the most accessible historic environment that there is. It forms part of childrens' everyday experience, on the way to school, to visit the shops and to play with friends. Everything they see there, whether old or new, will have a past - a past which can be detected in the shapes and functions of the buildings, in the materials with which they are built, and in changes which have been made to them since they were built.

Underlying these obvious features may be others which help us to understand how people's lives have changed over the years enabling children to check the reality of the history they read about in text books or see on the television. To find this kind of information they may have to visit county archive offices or look up past census returns in the town library but the exercise will demonstrate the way in which a complete picture of the past can only be built up from different kinds of evidence.

Streetwork at Key Stage 1

Activities which involve looking: noticing shapes, colours, textures and materials; learning the proper names of features such as doors, windows, chimneys, types of house and so on. Drawing and labelling pictures; filling in missing details; spotting deliberate mistakes; writing simple descriptions eg 'what do I see on the way to school'. Recognising that some features belong together (style); learning the names of different styles and matching them to dates on a timeline; matching costume, objects and modes of transport to styles of building so that together they create a sense of period; putting historical people into their correct background.

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Key Stage 2

Looking at the way the structure of a building relates to its function or status; making simple plans of houses and other buildings; spotting signs of change eg blocked up windows or doorways; replacement windows; new buildings that have taken the place of old ones. Comparing present day views with old photographs.

Using secondary sources like a census return or street directory to discover who lived in a house or what was sold in a shop when it was new. Discovering other evidence of the people eg in local cemetery, on the war memorial, in family albums, in the local newspaper office or in grandparents' memories.

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Key Stage 3

Plot all the information on to a large scale map to show how an area has changed over the years. Suggest explanations for the growth and development of the town where the study is being carried out and show how the area chosen for study fits in to the pattern. Use different kinds of evidence to support these explanations. Take the story further back in time to show what the area was like before the town grew and account for boundaries etc. Decide how far 'national' History is reflected at local level and vice versa.

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Resources for Streetwork

Maps are the key to local history. The first large scale Ordnance Survey maps were published in 1886 and a selection from subsequent editions will quickly reveal the way in which a locality has developed over the last hundred years. Aerial photographs make the perfect complement, together with old photographs taken from the ground and postcards which can be compared with present day views. If you want to go back before the days of photography, you will have to go to your local Record Office in search of topographical prints. Check the publications of your local archaeological society to see if there have been any digs in your area whilst your local council planning department should have copies of the Sites & Monuments register giving details of any ancient sites or buildings which appear on the O/S maps. Your nearest museum may have displays on the area and may also be a source of publications; these days almost every town or village has its own local historian who may be prepared to come into school to talk about his or her researches.

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Tithe maps

Tithes were a tax on land originally introduced in Saxon times as a way of providing an income for the parish priest although the lord of the manor often took the biggest share. In 1841 this system was about to be abolished in return for compensation so the government wanted to know just who owned what in each village and how much they were supposed to pay. A tithe map will show all the field boundaries in a parish and usually provide their names; in a built-up area it can offer important clues as to why the area developed in the way it did. Record Offices will usually print out copies of tithe maps for you and every school should have the one that covers its area.

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Parish churches

The parish church is often the oldest building in a locality and can be an excellent starting point for streetwork. Window tracery is the best clue to its age and history but beware the Victorian restorers! Much of what you see may be their handiwork rather than the genuine article. If you are fortunate the inside of your local church will provide a record of some of the changes which took place during the Tudor period with traces of screens and wall paintings that have come and gone and monuments to important families. These can also be a very good source of information about costume and armour but don't forget the humbler graves which lie outside in the churchyard. They offer a first-class data-base of people who lived in the parish over the last two hundred years as well as an index of changing tastes in gravestone design.

Illustration: Houses of the Beacon, Exmouth

Houses of the Beacon, Exmouth

Begun in 1792 these houses are typical of the modest regularity and comfort associated with the Regency period. Originally they presented a uniform appearance but time and a fall in status have resulted in many alterations. By comparing their original appearance with their appearance now, children can identify and chart these changes.

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