Mansion House, York, and the First World War: Creating Learning Resources

Posted on 20 March 2013

The placement module was one of the main reasons I chose this masters course. From it, I was able to gain valuable insight into the heritage sector and understand the role that public history increasingly playing in this field.

‌‌‌‌By running the placement alongside our core courses, students could directly relate experience to the theories. Further, with the links that IPUP have already established and the reputation this institution has in the heritage sector, those taking the module were fortunate to have such a wide choice of excellent placement providers.

Over the course of the spring term, I carried out my 10-week placement at the York Mansion House. This has been the home of the mayoralty since the eighteenth century and continues to be the official residence of the Lord Mayor. The public can take tours around the house on certain days, and the staff have created workshops for school visits. I chose this placement because there was a lot of freedom with regards to what I could focus on. With very important centenary celebrations happening next year, it was decided that my brief would focus on the effects of First World War on the Mansion House and York mayoralty. I needed to create resources that could be used for school workshops (both primary and secondary) as well as potentially for the general public tours of the house.

Getting Started

In order to establish how best to create these resources, I contacted the Head of the York Schools History Group, Maxine Squire. Her input allowed me to get a good grounding on what it is that teachers expect and require from school visits to heritage sights, and gave me a basis for what I should include in the resources. I also contacted the educational assistant at Jorvik, Frances Bennett to see how they structured their workshops and resource packs. As creating resources that could be used for school groups the most daunting task for me, having such good advice helped me to get started. In order to pursue a career in public history, it is necessary to learn how to communicate material that can be understood outside of the academy. Having written for academics my entire university career, I feel that this opportunity forced me to think how to write for the public, and will definitely serve me well in future.

Finding the Primary Material

York City Archives and the Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York) were invaluable for finding the primary material I needed for the resources, and the staff knew their collections well enough to help me. These archives shed light onto this somewhat forgotten aspect of York’s role in the First World War and brought up some very interesting subjects. I decided to focus on three aspects of the War in relation to the Mansion House and Mayoralty: The Conscientious Objectors, Chocolate Tins, and Civic Events During the First World War. The archives, especially the City Archives, had a rich amount of sources that had perhaps been ignored.

Although all three of these topics proved very interesting, Conscientious Objectors was a very controversial topic, and something that is perhaps forgotten to have related to the city. Trials were carried out in the Guildhall for those who wanted to conscientiously object, and there was a quite a difference in the amount of support some of the members of the city gave them. Due to the large Quaker population York was an important centre for these objectors, and it is a shame that this history has been a little forgotten. I thought that this topic would work fantastically for secondary school workshops at the Mansion House, as it would spark debate and give the students a chance to think critically about a more controversial topic.

Furthermore, there was a huge collection of letters sent to the Lord Mayor in 1914-15 by the York soldiers who had received chocolate from J.B. Morrell and the Sherriff, Oscar Rowntree. These letters gave a great insight into the average man’s experience of the war, and I am not sure how many people have ever read the over 250 letters held in the city archives. It was my task to find ways of disseminating all of these archives for the general public and school groups in ways that were interesting and engaging.

The Resources

It was then my task to format all this information into resources that I could be moulded for school groups as well as the general public. I focussed on making sure I had created enough activities inside and outside the Mansion House for the school groups. To each of the resources I added an introduction and explanation of each of the different topics, activities the school groups could carry out that I made appropriate for the Key Stage the resources would be used for, and finally some primary sources such as the letters, posters from the time, or case studies. I made sure all of the information was clear and simple enough to be moulded by the staff at the Mansion House or teachers. Though there was not the time to test out my resources, I hope that they can be incorporated into the House’s centenary celebration in 2014, and have demonstrated the important work volunteers can carry out.

Conclusions

This placement gave me the chance to discover some of the hidden gems of the Mansion House’s history that have lay dormant in the archives across the city. As the House has put in a Heritage Lottery Fund bid this year, I hope that my work has demonstrated how with the time to fund more staff or support volunteers, much more of the history of this important civic space can be unlocked. Furthermore, this placement has provided me with invaluable experience in the heritage sector and demonstrated how public history is carried out in practice. I think it is important that such work continues to be carried out for local institutions and museums. There is not always the time, money, or resources to carry out such research, and I therefore think the partnerships formed with the university for the placement module give back just as much as the students receive in experience.

Sophie Vorah

Sophie Vohra

MA Public History
Public History Placement