As part of the project Westhouses Primary School were treated to a trip To Butterly Station. Local performance artist Ian Pringle accompanied the group dressed in old time clothes in character for the day to observe & consult with the children’s experience of the heritage trip. Here are his reflections:
There was palpable excitement amongst the group. I asked them about their school and what they thought they would be doing today. They were excited that they would be going on a train.
Waiting for the train
The group were asked have you been on a train before? “I've never been on a train in my life” Does anyone know what heritage means? “No” “Changing?”. Interestingly when I asked them about Heritage they reflected on the times in the past that they had been on a train. They began to share their experiences with each other.
“I went on a train to Disney Land” Where do you think this train is going? “Australia” “Ripley and Swanick” Did there used to be a train in Westhouses? The children made links to their old school being near to a train station and also to the School Logo on their jumpers which is a train. This conversation led us on to discuss the Heydays of Westhouses children began to naturally think about the heritage of their village. “There used to be a sweet shop!” said one of the group.
On the Train
Whilst sitting on the train I observed the children were beginning to experience the Heritage through touch. Many children wanted to touch the windows and the seats. Getting on the train was the start of a journey. I asked them what they imagined things would have looked like in the olden days?
“More trees and forests” “Less Cars”
“Everything was in black and white” - This child believed that literally the old world was in black and white. This comment is testament to the importance of seeing heritage in the here and now. Clearly her experience of old things had only been through old film.
On the train the children looked at the countryside around them. There was a lot of excitement when they saw horses in the fields. Some children asked “What is that?” they were also rather excited to see the horse having a poo!
St Saviours Church
This church was originally in Westhouses and had been moved to the Swanick Site. The children were able to sit in the Church itself just like historically the inhabitants of their village had done so. The children appeared very comfortable in the place and there was a sense of pride and belonging. This felt like a powerful and memorable kinesthetic experience of heritage.
As the teacher explained the History the children responded with:
“Cool” “I didnt know that” “I never knew that!”
Many of the children where unaware that the church was built by the railway in Westhouses as was there own school. They began to make links between there on lives and the impact of the rail industry on their village.
Buses and Trams
The children were looking and touching everything around them. They read the destination boards on the vehicles and recognised the names of the places, making links to the places their family come from. Regularly the children ran their fingers along the sides of the vehicles, touching the wheels, the bodywork and the engine components. Literally feeling the history around them.
One boy had the opportunity to stand in the cab of a steam roller and turn the wheel. This is a boy with additional needs. He is completely absorbed in the task and clearly loving the experience. He can feel the weight of the wheel as he tries to turn it.
We get on the buses and try the seats out. Everyone wants to touch the seats and all the different surfaces. They are given a chance to ring the bell which makes everyone very excited. This is an experience they have had before on modern buses but these old vehicles feel different. The children have lots of questions for the museum guide. The guide himself is an older gentlemen with lots of enthusiasm for the vehicles. The children enjoy talking to him and as a older person this also gives them a positive heritage experience.
Exploring the uniforms of the bus drivers and conductors. Some children tried on some of the uniforms. They also had the chance to play with old money. The children were fascinated by the different types of money and how there was Sixpence “You can’t get a six pence piece!”.
Lots of the conversations and questions are centred around differences, so what’s the difference between the price of a bus ticket now and back then.
One child in the bus driver uniform is allowed to sit in the drivers seat of the bus. There is lots of excitement and a sense of theatre from the children as they see their peer in role as the bus driver. The children watching begin to copy the behaviour of the bus driver by doing the indicating signal. They are all going into role and developing empathy for the heritage role.
I spoke to one of the children who had been in the drivers seat about their experience.
“It was awesome, if you stick your arm out of the window and turn your arm one way your turn right and if you turn it the other way you turn left. I imagined if people where coming into my bus and buying tickets.”
“It was a important job in olden times but now it’s not so important for people”
Narrow Gauge Railway
This was a smaller train that travelled through a small wood. The children were extremely excited by this train. The fact that it was smaller almost made it feel like a toy to them. It was a noisy little train and the driver would press the hooter/whistle which the children enjoyed. The children are fascinated by the little discoveries they find themselves the notice of the no smoking signs are written in a different language as the train is from Wales originally. They try to sound out the words. One boy becomes fascinated by the cracks in the floor boards under the seats that allow him to see the track beneath the train. Children are fascinated by how the engine links to the carriage, and they make links between this train and other trains they have seen today.
When talking about the train we are told it was built in 1985
“My dad was born in 1985!”.
When we arrive back the driver lets all the children blow the whistle on the train. They absolutely love this and there is lots of squeeling and giggling. Children also making the noise of the train themselves and are pretending to be a train. This train is the type of train that would have been used during the height of coal mining. I have an interesting discussion with the teacher who's family is ex mining. She says it is often difficult to talk about mining heritage because there is so much politics in the conversation. Experiences like this allow the children to learn about their own heritage and make their own decisions about its impact on their lives now.
At the end of the day we look at some bigger trains. The children enjoy going in all the different carriages. They are fascinated by the Mail train, they imagine themselves sorting the mail.
What have you learnt today?
“I’ve learnt, that trains have lots of controls and you can have big tracks and small tracks”
“You used to be able to smoke on trains”
“Some of the carriages were hard and some were soft”
“Trains were very uncomfortable”
“Some trains are not for people but are for animals”
“Trains have lots of controls”
“There are trains for mail”