Educating the next generation about York’s history and heritage is one of York Civic Trust’s objectives in producing four beautifully illustrated packs aimed at Primary age children but of interest and relevance to anyone who enjoys discovering York’s varied past. Using historic photos, original documents and real life stories, each pack (produced in conjunction with York Explore) recounts a national historic event but viewed through a local lens.

The reader is taken into Life in York’s Victorian Workhouse, shown why Votes For Women mattered and given a taste of what it was like to live through two world wars.

In “Life in York’s Victorian workhouse” we read about Jordan Richard, of Clementhorpe, a father of four children. His job was to separate and straighten the fibres of flax ready for spinning, that is until he was “partially disabled from (a) broken body” and was forced to apply to the York Poor Law guardians for money to put food on the table for his wife and family. His sad story was just one that emerged when archivists at York Explore began cataloguing the city’s extensive poor law records.

The suffragette movement was a slow burn in York until Emmeline Pankhurst spoke in the city in April 1911. The “Votes For Women” pack tells how her meeting was publicised by women chalking the time, venue and date on the pavement, an activity which gave rise to a very irate letter to the editor of the York Press (then The Yorkshire Herald) complaining about the “very great eyesore” their advertising left on the pavement. Some things don’t change!

One member of Mrs Pankhurst’s audience was Annie Pearson, a well to do mother of four living in a large house in Heworth. So fired up by what she heard, she became determined to do her bit for the cause. Abandoning her comfortable life (complete with cook and nanny), she joined the movement, took the train to London to protest and was arrested for obstructing the police and sent to Holloway Prison. “Votes For Women” shows her Police Summons (on which she has written “What a fib!” in response to the charge of obstructing police) and the postcard she sent to her husband from prison to let him know of her whereabouts . The account of her arrest was reported in The Yorkshire Herald of February 7, 1913 and is reproduced in the pack from the city archives.

The final two packs focus on the first and second world wars, again using photos, documents and first hand accounts detailing the experiences of those who lived through those terrible events. Once more, the emphasis is on the experiences of local people, perhaps the grandparents or great grandparents of some of the children using the packs. The stories are moving and sometimes tragic but always interesting and a reminder of the everyday heroes of York who lived through national horrors.

It is often said that the story of York is the story of England and these packs show just how true that is. Full of creative activities to engage their young readers the customisable packs can be viewed or downloaded free of charge from the York Civic Trust website. Although aimed at under elevens, they will be of interest to a wider audience too.

The packs, “Life in York’s Victorian workhouse”, “Votes or Women”, “Life in the First World War” and “Life in the Second World War” can be accessed here.

Bridget Vincent
May 2021