Collections Learning: Victorian Children at Eton

These students at Eton are not Eton students. They are four to seven year olds visiting for a school trip, to learn more about what life was like for Eton boys one hundred and fifty years ago.  As part of a new offer from Collections, local primary school students are being invited in to discover history through the lives of Eton students.

We started the session by trying to decipher an object from the collection of the Museum of Eton Life that even Collections had misidentified until recently.  With some observation and careful thinking the children were able to decide that the object had something to do with lights – it was indeed a rush light holder (and not for pinching people). This began a discussion of candles, rush lights and life before electricity, letting the children display their prior knowledge.

Now that their brains were warmed up, students divided into small groups for various hands on activities, investigating the clothes, living conditions, leisure activities and education of Victorian Etonians. They had the chance to be creative, designing their own pop waistcoats. They practiced their skills of observation with the period schoolroom. They used primary sources with photos and excerpts from the Chronicle about different sporting events. As the children rotated around the activities, they gained an idea of what life was like for Eton students of that time period, compared to the Victorian children they had already learned about in class.  When we came together at the end, the general agreement from the children was that although they liked the idea of having cake in their rooms, they would not have liked the birch!

 

Completed Waistcoats worksheets

This session is part of an exciting long term process of making Eton’s extensive and varied collections more accessible to local schools by turning the previous informal service into a standardised programme. Although it might seem counter-intuitive that the history of Eton, a fee-paying single sex secondary school, could be relevant to co-ed state primary schools, in truth the population of Eton has one great characteristic in common with these visiting students – they are all children. The boys who attended Eton were still just boys, living through the turmoil of their time. Thus Eton is a perfect example of the home front during the Second World War, with rationing, air raid shelters and even bombing raids. Old Etonians sacrificed themselves during the Great War, Tudor students toiled at their Latin, and Victorian boys were bound by the expectations of their class. This programme is not limited to history sessions. With two other excellent museums at hand, primary school students can also investigate various aspects of natural history as well as the Ancient Egyptians!

Looking at House Life in a historic boy's room display

It is recognised that learning done outside of classrooms and through the medium of original objects is unique and different to that done in the classroom. These education sessions, using replica images and objects and containing activities to appeal to different learning styles, allow students from age four to 11 to access some of the collection’s rich resources. Once the primary programme is up and running, we will develop and expand our offer to secondary schools, focussing upon exam level students and the unique opportunities the Collection can offer them.  These sessions make our objects accessible to more people, benefiting not only the students who attend but also the Collections.

Saskia Nesja

Education Officer

 

A Collections Christmas Cracker

Welcome to our final blog of the Michaelmas half!  We’ve chosen twelve of our favourite seasonal objects from the Collections, for your festive enjoyment.  Merry Christmas!

An instructional bandage

bandage-1Formed in 1877, the St. John Ambulance Association is a charity medical First Aid and ambulance service, committed to the teaching of first aid to prevent the needless loss of life. The above instructional triangular cloth bandage is an example of the organisation’s practical and hands-on medical education for groups such as the Eton Scouts, where this is believed to have been used in training. Printed with the St. John Ambulance logo in the ‘point’, and with figures which demonstrate the various ways in which the bandage can be applied, it provides detailed binding techniques on the cloth itself.

This form of triangular bandage with illustrated instructions derives from the ‘Esmarch Bandage’, a triangular cloth bandage created by Johannes Friedrich August von Esmarch (1823-1908), a German surgeon who introduced the self-referential graphics on the cotton or linen to give instant medical knowledge on the battlefield. The original Esmarch bandage could be applied in 32 different ways.

bandage-4

The St John Ambulance instructional bandage shows figures demonstrating 22 different uses of the triangular bandage, with basic sling and splint arrangements, each numbered and illustrated in clear black print. It gives us an insight into the medical and First Aid training that the Eton scouts received in the post-war period.

By Rebecca Tessier, Museums Officer