Back to School

I’ve just begun a Community Heritage project with two local schools that are merging (Bramble’s Nursery and Children’s Centre and Goldsmith’s Infant School). The Day of Archaeology was my first day of fieldwork. Bramble’s was built in 1888 as an Infant school; Goldsmith’s was built in 1966 on the site of the Boys and Girls School which had accompanied the Infant School in 1888. Although the two schools work closely together, they have different structures, concerns, history. The merger has advantages but it will be a big change and the Heritage project is intended to support that change process by allowing people to focus on the changes the schools have gone through already, to provide a point of reflection in that process.

One of the real joys of this project is the excitement of the schools for the work. All of the people I’ve dealt with so far have been really happy to share memories, show me their buildings and find great archival material. They are also really comfortable with the idea that the heritage of the 1966 building is as important as the 1888 building; that the heritage is more than the buildings; that the previous schools are part of the story. Most of all they are keen to see heritage as all about change.

We are not recording these buildings because they, or some of their features will be lost (though they may be). We are not trying to preserve the sites, or any of their heritage. We are using their heritage as a source of strength in a time of change. Which is what I always wanted archaeology to be about.

A lot of the project involves Oral History (listening to people) and Archival Research (working with official documents like log books for the school). But on the Day of Archaeology I spent my time getting to know the buildings as an archaeologist. I already know the buildings as a parent. My son went to Brambles at 6 months old and is finishing his second year at Goldsmith’s. What’s so different about an archaeologist’s eye that I needed to do this work at all?

Every archaeologist is different, and every project has different aims, but for me and these schools the archaeologists gaze is about looking for the manifestations of change. Some may be big changes (like the plaque commemorating the building of Goldsmiths) Some may be smaller (the slight differences in the build of the staff room marking it as a later addition) some may be tiny (the holes drilled in the brickwork holding something now removed, or even the wear on the pavement in the new playground). I spent the day noticing these, noting them, photographing them and thinking about them. They are the raw materials which materialise the stories that the other aspects of the project are beginning to frame.

I can’t resist one of these stories which I can only see the edges of so far, as told by this piece of unbuilt heritage – a plan of the site from 1943. You can see the Boys, Girls, and Infants schools, and the gender/age divided playgrounds, walls, boundaries, doors and drainage all present. Except the school was bombed in 1941. In 1943 only the Infant School was still standing and it wasn’t in use. Most of the site was an uncleared bombsite What hoped for future does this plan represent? How does it reflect the schools that were bombed (which I can’t find a plan for yet)? And how can I use it as a thread in a heritage that supports a new future for these schools?