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Anita Broad takes stoolball history back to school

Saturday 22 March 2014, 11.38am

The ‘Let’s Play Stoolball!’ project was a long time coming. A Heritage Lottery Funded Primary Schools’ Project, it took over three years to come to fruition and started life during my MA in Life History Research and Oral History at Sussex University. My oral history based dissertation ‘Stoolball Through the Seasons: ‘it’s just not cricket” explored the importance of this medieval Sussex game to the women who play and was the inspiration for this cross-curricular education project.

The project objective was to get more children playing stoolball in school and to raise awareness of the rich history of a unique women’s sport. By demonstrating how the history of stoolball can be used as a resource for a cross-curricular education project my aim was to show schools how to think more creatively about the sports offered to their children.

Harlands Primary School at the Weald and Downland Museum

Harlands Primary School at the Weald and Downland Museum

With the support of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, Gray-Nicolls in Robertsbridge and Uckfield Community College I was successful in winning a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project started in February 2013 and ran throughout the school year.

Four primary schools took part:

  • St Mark’s CEP School, Hadlow Down
  • Harlands Primary School, Uckfield
  • Framfield CEP School
  • Newick CEP School.

Working with one class in each school involved children from years 4,5, and 6. Each school had five full-day workshops led by professional facilitators.

The first was a research workshop with leader Zoe Ganderton. The children were encouraged to look beyond the internet. They were shown how to date photographs using old stoolball images; to think about how their playing fields and village greens are used; role playing the life of a villager who might have played stoolball in Victorian times; talking to relatives about their memories of stoolball.

Children in Victorian costume

Children in Victorian costume

Next came a history workshop led by me, Anita Broad, Stoolball England Education and Research Officer. We explored the earliest references to stoolball in medieval times through to the popularity of the game in Victorian times using Andrew Lusted’s book on the Glynde Butterflies team. We looked at Barcombe landowner Major Grantham’s involvement in the growth of stoolball during World War 1 and the children were shown the Grantham stoolball bat collection. On a reproduction 1920s map they had great fun locating the countries where the bats were made and stoolball was played.  We looked at lots of old photos and ended by discussing the first England Ladies’ stoolball match held in 2012. At then end of the day the children took part in a stoolball match.

Looking at a world map to see where Major Grantham took stoolball

Looking at a world map to see where Major Grantham took stoolball

The third workshop was led by art specialist and Brighton University lecturer, Sally Johnson. This workshop involved learning about the traditional rural craft of felt making. Each child made a piece of felt from scratch and created designs reflecting stoolball and their school. A school banner was produced which was displayed at a celebration stoolball tournament played at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. The children also used sewing and collage techniques to enhance their designs.

A folk song workshop was led by Voices Foundation singing leader, Mark Broad. The children learnt about Sussex folk singers and sang folk songs that would have been sung by villagers who would have played stoolball at fayres, fêtes and village celebrations in Sussex. Each child, in true folk style, sang and chose an instrument to create a musical accompaniment to the songs.

An art workshop at Framfield School

An art workshop at Framfield School

Last, but not least, I led an oral history interview workshop. Interviewing requires important listening and comprehension skills and a level of maturity that the children displayed impressively. In the afternoon the children interviewed and recorded a panel of stoolball related guests following interview guides compiled using research from the previous workshops. The interviewees were very impressed by the way the children conducted the interviews; a daunting task even for most adults! The interviews will be lodged with East Sussex Record Office and will be a new archive of stoolball memories.

A very exciting visit was to international bat makers Gray-Nicolls in Robertsbridge. Gray-Nicolls pulled out all the stops and took the children through the complete bat making process from growing and harvesting the willow trees to handle braiding and choosing a grip. Each school came away proudly wielding the stoolball bat they had watched being made. (A unique experience as stoolball bats are now made abroad.)

Gray-Nicolls showing how bats are made

Gray-Nicolls showing how bats are made

Sarah Wakeford, Uckfield Community College primary schools sports co-ordinator, led a coaching session for teachers and volunteers. The feedback was very positive; staff who had never played before said they would now feel confident leading their own school stoolball sessions. The children also played stoolball at Uckfield Community College in three after-school sessions.

The celebration stoolball tournament at Weald and Downland Museum was a great success; the children really enjoyed the day and some even played in Victorian costume. It was a glorious day in beautiful surroundings and Stoolball England has forged an exciting new relationship with the museum.

Playing stoolball at the Weald and Downland Museum

Playing stoolball at the Weald and Downland Museum

As part of end of term celebrations each school exhibited work produced throughout the project. Events such as:

  • a fundraising week where a stoolball match was sponsored per run for a local hospice
  • a Victorian drama
  • a school open evening
  • an end of term exhibition stoolball match.

The feedback from staff and pupils has been very positive and each school has been inspired to include stoolball in their sports programmes. The project has been filmed and the DVD will be used to promote stoolball to primary schools.

As a third generation stoolballer and an oral historian, this cross-curricular project has been a personal ambition realised. Hearing the children say how much they enjoy playing stoolball has been a real highlight. Through this project I have shown how the rich resource of Sussex stoolball heritage, combined with the fun of playing, can be used to inspire new young players and maybe some new oral historians.

Anita Broad
Stoolball England Education and Research Officer

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK.

Let's Play Stoolball was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Playing stoolball at St Mark’s School

Representatives from local clubs answered the children's questions

Representatives from local clubs answered the children’s questions

Children from St Mark's School at the Weald and Downland Museum

Children from St Mark’s School at the Weald and Downland Museum

School work by children at St Mark's

School work by children at St Mark’s

Children from St Mark's School with their banner

Children from St Mark’s School with their banner

Newick schoolchildren at the Weald and Downland Museum

Newick schoolchildren at the Weald and Downland Museum

Using technology to learn about stoolball

Using technology to learn about stoolball

Display of stoolball history at Newick School

Display of stoolball history at Newick School

Newick School outside the Gray-Nicolls factory

Newick School outside the Gray-Nicolls factory

Playing stoolball in the playground at Harlands School

Playing stoolball in the playground at Harlands School

Harlands schoolchildren studying a Nellie Wells letter from 1907

Harlands schoolchildren studying a Nellie Wells letter from 1907

Examining the stoolball bat Major Grantham had made in Jamaica

Examining the stoolball bat Major Grantham had made in Jamaica

A folk song workshop at Harlands school

A folk song workshop at Harlands school

A folk song workshop at Framfield School

A folk song workshop at Framfield School

Tags: history, schools