Days Out: Bringing history up to date

Deborah Jackson's second look at fun days out with the school curriculum in mind

Still seeking inspiration for family days out, we take another journey through the National Curriculum Key Stage Two history topics.

Last week's selection of ancient civilisations forced us to use our imagination amongst stone carvings and shards of pottery. This week, history comes up to date, with three lively themes to be found in most country parks and museums. A trip to a Tudor manor-house or a Victorian theatre helps to make history "happen" for seven-to-70-year-olds. But don't forget to take a primary school child with you - they make excellent tour guides.

Study unit 2: Life in Tudor Times

Pupils should be taught about the major events and personalities of the period, including monarchs and Shakespeare.

The centre of all things Elizabethan is, of course, ye olde Stratford- upon-Avon, where a combination of bad planning and tourism has conspired to create some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. Nevertheless, the Shakespeare Country Association of Tourist Attractions has an enviable collection, from Will's birthplace to Anne Hathaway's pretty thatched cottage. The Shakespearian Heritage Trail includes a self-guiding leaflet and admission to five properties (01789 204016.)[

Hardwick Hall in Stainsby, Derbyshire, (01246 850430) is celebrating its 400th anniversary - 1597 being the year that Elizabeth, the four-times- married and obscenely wealthy Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) moved into her new home. The building is opulent, with six towers, vast windows, a world-class collection of tapestries and Bess's own chest of jewels. Events for 1997 include dancing, music and special tours.

A romantic atmosphere surrounds the more modest Owlpen Manor near Uley in Gloucestershire (01453 860261). It dates from 1450 and features a Tudor great hall and the ghost of Queen Margaret of Anjou from the Wars of the Roses. Wall paintings and craft displays help to create the scene.

But for one of the best examples of half-timbered architecture, visit Little Moreton Hall, Scholar Green, Cheshire (01260 272018), a stunning black-and-white house dating from 1580 that looks as though it is about to topple into its own moat.

Study unit 3a: Victorian Britain

For this and the next unit, pupils are "taught about the lives of men, women and children at different levels of society and the ways in which they were affected by changes in industry and transport".

Small-town Britain is awash with recreated Victorian classrooms and laundries. It must have been a devil of a job to get the ink blots off their nice white shirts. A good place to start is the Ragged School Museum in Bow, London (0181-980 6405) where the story of Dr Barnardo and the lot of poor East End children is chillingly retold.

From rags to riches: life for the privileged child, complete with nursery and nanny, can be seen at Brodsworth Hall in Doncaster (01302 722598), a Victorian country house which has survived largely intact, from the faded grandeur of the family rooms to the spartan servants' quarters.

There are many Victorian "villages" and streets to stroll, such as The Shambles of Newent, Gloucestershire (01531 822144), Flambards Victorian Village in Cornwall (01326 564093) - complete with shop smells and time- capsule pharmacy - and Blists Hill Museum at Ironbridge (01952 433522), a working Victorian town spread over 40 acres. Spend old pennies at the butcher's, baker's or pub.

Famous Victorian personalities to call on include Charles Dickens - for instance, the house at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1 (0171-405 2127), where he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby; Queen Victoria, whose private apartments, untouched since her death, are on view at Osborne House, Isle of Wight (01983 200022); and Florence Nightingale, administering to the sick in a Crimean ward scene at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London SE1 (0171-620 0374).

Other rarities include Queen Victoria's favourite railway saloon car at the National Railway Museum in York (01904 621261); a tour down a Victorian sewer (complete with sounds and smells) at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester (0161-832 2244) and a stately cruise on the steam yacht Gondola, first launched on Coniston Water, Cumbria, in 1859 and still in service (015394 41288).

Study unit 3b: Britain since 1930

The impact of the Second World War is the main theme for this topic, with lowlights such as evacuation, the Blitz and the Depression. Strangely enough for grown-ups, radio, cinema and television are also now a part of the history curriculum.

Track 60 years of change at a motor museum, such as the national collection at Beaulieu, Hampshire (01590 612345). The story of mass motoring is told through post-war cars; the Morris Minors, Ford Cortinas and De Loreans are, of course, genuine.

Or trace the history of cinema at the Museum of the Moving Image, London SE1 (0171-815 1331) where old cameras, costumes and film clips transport you back to the days of Fred Astaire, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock.

Wartime stories begin at the Imperial War Museum (0171-416 5000), while at Winston Churchill's Britain at War Experience (0171-403 3171), you can crouch uncomfortably in an Anderson shelter, experiencing the sights, the sounds, the smells and even the dust of the Blitz. At the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset (01935 840565), discover what it was like to be a Second World War pilot.

For a taste of ordinary post-war life, visit Mr Straw's House, 7 Blyth Grove, Worksop, Nottinghamshire (01909 486411), a semi-detached home carefully preserved by William Straw and his brother Walter after the death of their parents in the Thirties. Admission is by pre-booked, timed ticket only - to a world where nothing has been thrown away for 63 years.

So now you won't be short of days out with the family. Or you could stay at home and preserve the living-room for posterity. Who knows, it could soon be featured on the history curriculum.

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