The Croft: I can be an historian

The work of students at The Croft after an energising visit:


LO: I can be a historian

Today, we were so lucky as Michael Gorely came to visit. He works at Historic England and came to teach us about how to be a historian. First, he asked us what we would like to find out about Swindon, we said:

When was Swindon invaded by Romans? (Szymon)

Who was the most famous person to live in Swindon? (Rowan)

What is the oldest building in Swindon?

We couldn’t believe it as Michael Gorely didn’t know the answers. But then he taught us what we need to be a historian. He said that we need evidence and sources (not mayonnaise). We thought about the sources that can be used and we came up with:

Archaeology / Diaries / Internet / Art / Paintings / Books / Letters

Michael then gave us secondary sources to look at. They weren’t primary sources as they were pictures of the originals. We put our ‘white hats’ on and wrote down everything that we can see that told us about the past. We only had 15 minutes in our white hats. Looking at the archaeological objects we found out, they look rusty and dirty. They look old. There are three objects.


Looking at the postcard, we saw that there were: shops, windows, cars, a tram, street lamps powered by whale oil (prior knowledge thinking), flat caps. We thought it is in Regent Circus. We recognised the clock tower. (They were right- the picture is about 100 year ago)

The letter: difficult to read because of the handwriting, the date (26/11/18) it wasn’t this year, it was from the past, Ronald Simpson died from a chest infection.

Painting: they have dogs in the past, there are two girls and one boy and the girls are wearing dresses.

Our next task was to wear our ‘green hat’ which was our creative hat. This is the hat we use to speculate and make assumptions about what information we think the picture is giving us. We also had to write 5 questions that we would like to find out.

Painting: we thought they were royal because they had their portrait painted. What were the necklaces made from? We found out they were wealthy people from Corsham, 1600-ish, they had their portrait painted which meant that they were wealthy.

The Letter: We think it was a formal letter of apology for the death of someone’s child. We think someone got shot in the chest in WW1 and it got infected and they died of their wound. This letter is dated two weeks after the end of WW1.


The objects: we think the objects were used on the trains because of the GWR in Swindon. What year were these objects made? (Roman objects that were nearly 2000 year old. They are broaches that were dug up in 2017).



This session was all about being a historian using different sources of evidence. These were all secondary sources as they are photographs of the original.

The next session, we focused on Swindon. We looked at an old map in 1901. We played a game (that was like Battleships, Guess Who and Where’s Wally). We had to choose where to hide Wally and our partner could only ask questions like, ”Is your Wally north of West Plantation?” and we could only answer yes or no.

When we finished the game, Michael asked us, “By playing this game, what was I hoping that your would learn?”

We said that we were looking at the map in detail and in much more detail.

We then got to look at a modern Swindon map and compare to the old 1901 map. Our task was to find three things that were the same, three things that were different and three things that we found interesting. We wrote down all our ideas and came up with some burning questions that we would like to find out. 

Michael then taught us all about census. We got to decipher the handwriting and find out the name of people, the relationship, age, occupation and where they were born. These were people that lived in St Margaret’s road (some of us live there now). We stuck our findings in our Learning Journies. 

We found lots of people that worked for the railway and someone even found someone that was an engineer, a clerk, a teacher, a domestic servant, a clerk that worked for the Town Council. We found people with the same names as some of us such as, Oakley, Amelia, Emily, William. We are going to look on the historic England website to find pictures of what Swindon used to look like.