A guest post by LH Member Lissa Chapman.
No, you’re not going to meet Henry VIII. Or Anne Boleyn. Not even Thomas Cromwell, or Thomas Wyatt who provided the title.. But you might get to talk to someone who saw The Lady once, and someone else who is hoping to supply her with silk, and someone else again who knows her initial is being painted onto the Royal barge. Most certainly you’ll meet someone who wants your money – for the king’s latest gift, you understand. And you’ll need to have a good story ready for what you’re going to say when you’re asked to take the Oath of Supremacy.
And that’s how we teach history to London nine-year-olds. We spent most of March in 1533 or somewhere near it – us and nearly 500 Tower Hamlets and Hackney children. It’s a project that’s become a habit – 16,000 participants so far, and still counting. The children come into the past time with us, encountering people and dilemmas of a time when news travels by decree and rumour, nine-year-olds are quite old enough both to work for a living and to be hanged, and hunger is routine. It is of course a time when political and religious change is happening at dizzying speed.
The plays are specially researched, and are part scripted, part devised so the action is slightly different every day. Everything that happens either did happen, or could have happened at the church of All Hallows by the Tower in the Lent of 1533, when London was rife with rumours of the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn but it might be dangerous to mention it, and fatal to criticise it. Characters include a barmaid who has become dangerously involved in the New Learning, her childhood friend who has become one of the Lord Mayor’s enforcers and a court lady with a terrible decision to make. The children become Londoners of different degrees – some from families about to be asked to contribute to the king’s latest “present”, others already part of the working world.
During the action groups of participants are part of a sequence of scenes taking place in different parts of the church. All Hallows, like other churches at the time, functioned as a shopping centre, meeting place and informal law court as well as a house of prayer. During our initial research for the project we discovered both that the church wardens owned an extensive property portfolio at this time, including a pub called the Dolphin, and that they, like many others, made money by hiring out areas of the church to local shopkeepers. So the south aisle gains a snack-bar, a silk merchant looking for a suitable place to trade and one of the many recorded altars to individual saints reappears. The day finishes with taster sessions of Tudor music and dance, and the opportunity to write (with a quill pen) to Henry VIII to try to persuade him to be forbearing to Londoners.
Children are routinely angered, usually excited, occasionally bemused, but rarely left indifferent to the concerns of 500 years ago. Often they learn a great many historical facts, but by a process akin to osmosis. One teacher commented recently that “it was wonderful to see the children working so hard without realising they were doing so”.
And it’s Boudicca’s revolt in November…
For more details and pictures, please visit www.clioscompany.co.uk