So, you know how yesterday I was ranting about The Great British Story? I watched the end of the first episode and it is still a combination of interesting and nauseating.
But! Have you seen the website? They've got a page of videos explaining how to start looking for history in the places around you. If you ignore the 'woo Britain' tone in the background, these videos are really quite motivating. (If you can't view the videos, the resources page has a downloadable fact sheet that explains similar stuff.)
While some of the stuff they talk about in the videos is very Britain-centric, the general idea behind them can be applied anywhere. The 'What is History' and 'Putting it all Together' videos are particularly good. The basic concept behind them is this: history isn't just about long dead kings, boring dates and fighting. History is everywhere and can be read in anything and it's all fascinating. Stop and take the time to think about things; wonder why things are the way they are and what they were like before. Why do things have the names they do? Why are roads in those locations? Who lived here before and what sort of people were they?
Some of you are probably familiar with the history of the things around you, and some of you might not have considered it before. If you want a starting point, try on some of these questions for size.
- When was your house built?
- Who built it?
- Why did they build it there?
- Who was the first person to live in it and what did they do?
- If the building has a name, who named it and why did they choose that name?
- If the building has a number, has it always had that number?
- What was on that plot of land before the building was there?
- Why does your street have that name?
- When was the street first laid out?
- Why is the street in that location and what was there before it?
- What sort of people lived in your street?
- Has the street grown more or less affluent as the years have gone by?
- How old is it?
- Who founded it?
- Why did they found it?
- What does its name mean?
- What were the main trades in the area and how have they changed?
- What are most of the buildings made of and why?
- How has the geography of the area shaped the place?
- Has it increased or decreased in size over the years and by how much?
- When was your company/school founded?
- Who started it and why?
- Why does it have that name and has it had previous names in the past?
- How old is the building you work/study in?
- Has the building always been used by your company/school?
- Who built the building and why?
- What was it like for people who used to work/study there?
- What sort of people were they and what did they wear?
- What does your surname mean?
- Where is your family from?
- Have they moved from another place and why?
- Were your ancestors like you?
- What did your grandparents do?
- How different were their lives when they were your age?
The answers to some of these questions can be found by a google search or by talking to people. For others you might need to dig up reference books from the library or even the original documents themselves. For some, you might just want to try using your imagination.
It may not be possible to answer all the questions, and not all the answers will be pleasant. But, for everyone, the information you discover will be unique and will tell you a lot about why things are the way they are now. I think there's something very exciting about that.
And, of course, once you start looking and questioning, it's hard to stop.
In case you're interested, I've answered some of the above questions for myself. Click 'read more' for the answers.
I live in a block of flats that was built in the 1960s or 70s going by the architecture. I don't know who built or named it, but I am assuming it was a committee of the local council.
The flats are privately-owned now but used to be council flats. They were built for people who couldn't afford housing by themselves, and like all council flats of their time, they were probably very modern and luxurious for the people who first lived there. I can only imagine where these people came from, but this could well have been the first time the family had a whole flat to themselves and the first time they had an indoor bathroom with hot and cold running water.
As for when and why it was built; a huge bomb landed on this spot during the second world war, demolishing the building that was standing there before. Why it took them 20 years between the bomb landing and the current building being built is still a mystery to me.
I don't know why my street has its name, but it sounds as if it was named after a person. Someone who used to own the land before it was built on, perhaps?
Going by the other houses on the street, it was made at some point during the 19th century. The majority of people living here look like they could have been quite well-to-do and likely commuted to work in the city. The council flats show that there were also poorer people living here, but whether they came with the building of the flats or whether they had been in the area for a while, I'm not sure.
Before the 19th century, this area was very rural. I imagine that the layout of the roads has something to do with the old field patterns.
There are plenty of books on the history of London and I haven't read nearly enough of them. Certainly London dates back to the Roman times. I have heard that the name London may be ancient British in origin, so it may even date back past the Romans.
Either way, location wise, London is there because of the river. The Thames is still tidal in London, which makes it easy for ships to dock here, but the river was also narrow enough to be bridged. All in all, it makes for an ideal trading centre.
The original location of London is a place that is now called The City or The Square Mile. It was a large bustling place and used to contain a multitude of different trades. Now though, The Square Mile acts as the financial hub of the city and hardly anyone lives there any more, making it very quiet at the weekends.
Instead, people moved out of the centre to live, with the rich traditionally moving west (where the wind was less likely to carry the smell of industry) and the poor moving east. As the railways came along and transport links got better, people moved further and further out, so that there is now a large sprawl of suburbs surrounding the centre, including the one I live in now.
The company I work for was founded in the late 19th century by one man, who was the head of the company for decades.
The building I work in, however, has nothing to do with the company. My department moved there in the 1990s because the rent prices were affordable. My building was built in the 19th century as a factory. It contained lots of heavy machinery, which means that it is perfect for all the heavy shelves we have there now.
The building has lots of windows, so you can imagine that it would have been quite bright in there, giving lots of light for the workers tending the machines.
My surname, like many English surnames, is a place name. Presumably this means that one of my ancestors, back in the late middle ages, left this place and went to try his luck somewhere else. Surnames are tricky though, so I wouldn't take that as gospel.
As far as I know, my family are working class on both sides, although there may have been a hint of the lower middle class in some of them. For example, I know that my great grandfather owned a few businesses in his time; unfortunately each one went bankrupt, which led to the bailiffs coming around a few times to try and take the best china away.
My grandmother on my Dad's side comes from London. She moved out to the country with her parents as a young girl at the onset of the second world war. They tried to do the country thing, but I think they were townies at heart. My grandmother tells a story about how their pig escaped once, and her and her sisters didn't know how to stop it, so they chased it down the road, forced it onto its side and sat on it until someone came along to help.
My Mum's side of the family are Roman Catholic. They come from the Midlands, but I've no idea what happened before that. It's fascinating to wonder how long they've been in this country, and whether they were here and persecuted during the aftermath of the reformation. Maybe they're more recent migrants to the country who took on an English surname. I don't know, but I have an aunt who's currently tracing our family history, so hopefully I'll find out one day.
My parents both come from slightly less well-off backgrounds. My Mum was one of 8 children, which must have made it quite a struggle for my grandparents to afford to feed and clothe them all. My aunt has stories about them having to share out one meat pie between all of them for dinner. My Dad grew up on a council estate and it seems like money was a little tight. My grandmother worked as a cleaner and my Dad often had to help with the cleaning after school. This did give my Dad some of his own spending money though, which he says made his peers quite jealous. There are photos of him as a teenager, wearing a three-piece suit that he bought with his own money and looking entirely smug about it.
I wonder how many of my ancestors were like me. How many of them were as short as I am? How many had the same hair colour? Where does my bad eyesight come from? Would we have shared a sense of humour? I don't know. All I can do is speculate.
So, guys, those are my answers. I think, if anything, it just goes to show how little I know and how much more there is to learn!
If any of you fancy sharing your own answers with me, I'd love to hear them :D
Comment from: [Member]
Comment from: Nick [Visitor]
I’ve answered a few of the questions for you:
- When was your house built? 1988
- Who built it? Mick Hucknall
- Why did they build it there? Money was too tight to mention and they wanted to live near Noel Gallagher
- Who was the first person to live in it and what did they do? Mick Hucknall and other no names from Simply Red. They had lot of orgies with beautiful models.
- If the building has a name, who named it and why did they choose that name? Mick Hucknall because Mick Hucknall is the bomb.
- If the building has a number, has it always had that number? Yeah, Mick spent a long time deciding on the number plan.
- What was on that plot of land before the building was there? Cliff Richard Castle
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