A field trip to another era.

Who remembers their school trips? I’m sure you can recall a few memorable ones, can’t you? I know I can.

Going ice skating at the rink in Swindon was one of them. That wasn’t particularly memorable in itself, as I was both rubbish at ice skating and very accomplished at falling over, so combining the two made me rather damp and helped change my skin colour to various shades of ‘bruise’.

But what I do remember is my classmate executing his falling over routine far more impressively than my efforts. He even decided to top the lot and end his performance with a show stopping ankle breaking routine. There was no way I was going to compete with that, as my ankles certainly didn’t want to extend the competition all the way to the local hospital’s operating theatre. So I let him win that one.

Sometimes, school outings are also referred to as ‘field trips’. I thought that strange, as most of the ‘field trips’ I took part in didn’t contain any fields at all. In fact, during an end of term day out at Drayton Manor Theme Park, I can’t think that I studied even just one field. I did actually do some studying that day though, but it was mainly weighing up which roller coaster stood the best chance of not making me feel ill and also studying the park map to locate where the nearest shop that sold chips was.

I don’t think there were many fields at Cardiff Castle either, although there is a large patch of grass in the middle of the grounds. And there must have been a field or two at Avebury, as that’s where the ancient people somehow managed to heave some enormous monoliths to. But all I remember about the place, apart from the big stones, is a skeleton in a museum and a classmate becoming very amused (to the point of nearly choking on a sandwich) by the notion that the people of nearby Chippenham must surely eat chips and ham every single day of the week.

So given my experience of school trips, it was quite a revelation when I looked through a few documents that a customer requested to see recently [document reference series: N17/20]. These set of pamphlets from the Local Studies collection were guides for pupils of Tredworth Council School who were going on school trips between the years 1907-1913. And by the looks of it, they definitely saw a few fields and learned a great deal more than I ever did.

Each pamphlet for every trip they made – to Abergavenny, Barry, Chepstow, and the Brecon district in Wales, and also to Bristol and London – is incredibly well crafted and created by the headmaster and organiser of the trips, Mr Bertram A. Tomes, and all originally drawn and written by hand. They contain a plethora of detailed information regarding their schedule and what they will see at each place they visit. It’s a charming insight into schooling at the time and the era in general.

Taking the first guide as an example – a trip to Chepstow and Wye in May 1907 – the guide starts with a list of party members of both staff and pupils, then moves on to the aims of the trip, which states that attendees are expected to “foster habits of good fellowship, self-reliance and unselfishness” and “to learn how to spend a holiday intelligently and happily”. Then there is a list of what the pupils should take with them, including “a second suit,” a “lunch for Saturday in a neat parcel” and an “overcoat (very necessary)”.

 

There’s a timetable for the outward bound journey by train followed by a programme of events. They broke the journey at Lydney, instructed to “write home stating your safe arrival”, explored the cliffs around Chepstow, walked to the confluence of the Wye and Severn rivers, visited Caerwent and its Roman camp – described as “much like Caer-glow (Roman Gloucester)” – toured Tintern Abbey and visited Chepstow Castle before making the journey back to Gloucester, arriving at 6.11pm to “Home Sweet Home”.

Then what follows are pages of information regarding short histories of the places they visited, maps, diagrams about coal and where it’s found in the earth’s structure, sketches of fossils, lessons about contours on maps, stratification, what sort of flowers and trees they might expect to find including little sketches showing the tree’s leaf shape and ending on a couple of basic financial accounting pages for the pupils to list what they have spent their pocket money on and the balance left over.

The final few pages contain a couple of hymns, a register of marks out of twenty for each pupil relating to conduct, appearance and knowledge and then ending on a report from the headmaster.

Even now, all the books make very interesting reading, and I’ve even learned a few things myself, 112 years after they were first created.

Which is way more than I managed to accomplish when tumbling and skidding around on the ice in Swindon when I was on a school trip.

 

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