What's in the Box?

In order to help make Malvern's history more accessible to schools and Home Educators, Route to the Hills has funded the production of three 'loan boxes' which organisations and families will be able to hire to learn about a themed topic from Malvern's history. The boxes are being produced by Malvern Museum, and so volunteer Simon Berry spoke with Faith Renger from the museum to find out more. 

S: Where did the idea of the loan boxes first come from? 

F: Schools have used loans boxes for many decades. The museum was keen to introduce them some time ago as a way of taking some of the museum collection into the community, especially given the very restricted nature of the museum for school groups. The idea is that they will attract primary schools as well as adult social groups 

S: Who has put them together and how did they choose what topics to include?   

F: The curator (me!). The themes were selected to meet the new Key Stage 1 and 2 curriculum changes which came in 3 years ago. The history curriculum for 5-11 year olds now has to cover the period from early prehistoric times to 1066, with an additional local history topic(s). Malvern's 2 hill-forts make an excellent local history topic to explore the wider period, and the Water Cure is another fascinating period to discover. 

S: Can you tell us a little about the different themes covered by the packs included in the boxes?     

F: The Water Cure Teachers' notes and class sheets have been designed to consider why Malvern has such a plentiful source of pure water. This ties up with the geology of the hills so also ticks a Science box in the new primary school curriculum. Descriptions of the Water Cure treatments, along with the famous doctors offer a good choice of activities. The arrival of the Water Cure led to a rapid and impressive expansion of Great Malvern, so map work and town planning considerations are encouraged. Tourism is another offshoot of the Water Cure and the arrival of the railway and the use of donkeys and ponies provide more activities. 

F: Prehistoric Malvern: Archaeology and chance finds show that the area was visited by Old and new Stone Age communities, with stone axes and flint weapons and implements being found over quite an extensive area. The Bronze Age peoples left behind some of their tools too and may well have been the first groups to excavate the 2 hill forts (Herefordshire Beacon and Midsummer Hill) in circa 800BC. The Iron Age tribes extended both hill top fortifications by 400BC and probably as many as 1,500 lived on each hilltop during the summer season, for fairs, markets and ritual practices. Prehistory is quite a complex topic to teach so to use local resources and information will hopefully make it more appealing and relevant.  

F: Geology: Another technical and complicated study for primary schools. The Malvern Hills are rich in both the variety of rocks and minerals that make up the surrounding area, and in fossils. Rock handling, determining the components of different rocks and understanding the formation of rocks way below the earth's surface is much easier when it is all on the school's doorstop. Meeting small creatures in a fossilised state is also exciting! 

F: Victorian Malvern: The museum's largest collections come from this period and while it is not included in the new curriculum, aspects of Victorian life can be considered. 

S: How did donkeys come to be associated with the Malvern area?   

F: Donkeys were used as a means of travelling up the hills a long time before the Water Cure reached Malvern. Malvern Wells had been the first to exploit its pure water at Holy Well, and many visitors came each year. Perhaps donkeys were seen as the cheapest and most adaptable for ferrying passengers? Ponies were also used. Donkeys were often very badly treated and an act was passed in the 1820s to improve their conditions, so Malvern was not alone in using these beasts of burden. Queen Adelaide the Queen Mother, rode one in Malvern in 1841 and it received the name Royal Moses as a result. This donkey became very popular and it probably stimulated the donkey trade considerably. 

S: Can you tell us what the boxes actually look like and what is in them?   

F: The Water Cure material comes in 2 plastic boxes on wheels, and this will be the same for the other loan boxes when completed. The teachers' notes and class activities are presented in a folder and can be photocopied. Dressing up clothes (donkey boy, water cure patient, bath attendant) are available, along with a water jug, towels and sheets. The prehistoric loan box will have tunics, flints, stone axes and a bronze axe, an antler pickaxe and a number of text books, as well as teachers' notes and class activities 

S: What advantage does a box have over just providing a written guide?   

F: A box of material will hopefully bring a topic to life in an informal, fun and educational way. Teachers should feel supported in having locally sourced resources that can be used and adapted, especially in topics they may be unfamiliar with. The boxes should offer ample scope for learning about difficult topics within the classroom, with practical ideas. 

S: How many boxes are being produced?  

F: Three have been decided on with others in the pipeline if schools are keen. Malvern's Water Cure is already available, and Prehistoric Malvern will be offered after Easter 2017. Geology should be ready for the next academic year.  

S: How do you hope schools and children will benefit from using the boxes? 

F: Children will be more able to interpret their immediate surroundings and make a lasting connection with their home town. Perhaps children and their families will also want to visit the museum as a result! 

S: What age of children are the boxes aimed at?   

F: The boxes have been designed to meet KS2 requirements (7-11) but can be adapted for KS1. The Water Cure box has been used with an adult group and the information and practical activities could even be tried out at this level. Prehistory and Geology could also interest all ages  

S: Are the contents and suggested activities safe for children?  

Almost all the artefacts are replicas, which doesn't make them safer but probably less expensive to replace if broken. The Water Cure box is very safe but the Prehistoric box will contain blunt but heavy stone and bronze axes, and potentially sharp flint implements. Teachers will be expected to provide a high level of supervision when these are being handled 

S: Do the schools need to pay anything to borrow the boxes? 

F: There is a charge of £15 per box, for a 3 week period. 

S: Do you have any favourites among the different contents of the loan boxes?   

F: I shall love the antler pick axe when it is made, and the bronze palstave axe head. Both will make a deep connection with our ancestors carving out a living in the somewhat hostile area 

S: If a teacher or one of the staff at school wants to borrow one of the boxes, what should they do next?   

Please contact katy.wade@malvernhills.gov.uk for more details, or send an email to malvernroutetothehills@gmail.com to sign up to the learning newsletter.

For a limited time we will be giving the loan boxes to schools for free so that we can trial the contents and activities, so get in touch quickly if you would like your school to be considered for this time limited offer.