The village hosts school trips in the week, as well as families and individuals on selected weekends. It just happened that this past weekend it was open. I had visited several times previously, as a teacher and with family. Despite having lived in this area for well over twenty years, Melanie hadn’t, nor had local grandchildren, so, armed with 20th century camera, some small provisions and sufficient currency to effect an entry, we journeyed forth.
Getting there requires some local knowledge, or a sat-nav as the area around Little Woodham is in the process of being redeveloped, from very old naval quarters into a very modern estate. Surrounding Little Woodham on the other side is the newly designated Alver Valley nature reserve, reflecting how Gosport grew out of very small hamlets simply growing together, particularly with the growing naval and military connections.
Effectively, you have the hamlet with the temporary residents, each with their specific roles, in which they “hot seat” to ever changing groups of visitors. Some are more general in their roles, helping out where needed.
So we met the travelling salesman, with his barrow of goods, which he kindly showed in the hope of a “sale” to the passing public. In addition, he gave much insight into some of the products; crushed plantain mixed with olive oil and beeswax to make an ointment/skin balm or oak galls steeped in water, mixed with ferrous sulphate, or some other iron based liquid (eg leave nails to rust in water, use the water and gum arabic. He pointed us in the direction of the producers and users of his products.
The Phoenix Tavern is a rebuilt version of an earlier building that burned down. The female proprietor was a mine of information about the food and drink available, as well as the formalities of hospitality; discovered a new word “palliasse”, a straw mattress. For children to understand something as simple as where and how people slept is significant.
Spinning, dyeing and weaving were demonstrated, as was calligraphy, the apothecary’s shop, some eye-popping sleight of hand, simple knitting, woodcraft, pottery and bodging and the armourer encouraged some participation to feel the weight of swords and helmets.
The woodsman brought out his tinder box, made by the travelling tinker, to house the flint and iron to strike a spark that could be used to catch some dry tinder alight. A couple of cut fingers later, a spark was created. On an earlier visit to Little Woodham, the woodsman told the story of the “square peg in a round hole”, the means of holding timber joints securely. While the lower part of the peg was rounded to facilitate entry into the hole, the top was left square to bite into the wood and hold tight.
Social history, shared in this way, can be a means of children entering into a study of history, by linking how they live now with an understanding of how people lived in the past.
Very young children have a limited compass against which to judge “before”, but they themselves have a story as do their parents and grandparents, perhaps great grandparents. By linking generations, “histories” can be explored back, in extreme cases up to 100 years. Creating an interest in the past means leaps in imagination. To make some parts more real, through visits, artefacts and different forms of images allows greater insights, against which less obvious elements can be explored.
History is all around, if you know how to “read” buildings and road or landscape names, or visit the local graveyard. When I was a HT, the discovery of a WW1 role of honour board led to a visit to the graveyard opposite the school, finding some of the graves and tacking down the local families that still lived in the village. A parcel of photographs, a family’s genealogy and recalled stories added to the sum of available knowledge. Personal genealogies followed and many interesting stories emerged.
If you’re in, or near, southern Hampshire, check out the website. A day out for a family (of five) costs £16, which, after a four hour visit, felt like excellent value and it did what it said on the title; living history.
Schools need to book visits.