Working in Partnership: bringing archives alive

on Friday, 03 March 2017. Posted in Archives, Events, Schools

Students like a word search, a little bit of light relief from the rigours of normal lessons, and teachers like them as a sneaky way to revise subject specific vocabulary. We decided on a word search with a difference to introduce secondary school students to archives and working with primary sources. It was part of a new schools’ session developed by Salisbury Cathedral in partnership with the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. While the History Centre is open to the public, and has extensive experience using its archives in educational settings, the Salisbury Cathedral archive has not been so accessible. This is changing thanks to the hard work of Cathedral archivist Emily Naish and her band of volunteers, and the willingness of the Dean and Chapter to open up this amazing resource. Members of the public have already enjoyed behind-the-scenes tours of the library, located above the cloisters, and now it is the turn of school children to work with documents from the archive and enjoy the benefits of this cultural education.

Official copy of Honorious III papal bull, written in 1219
Cathedral archivist Emily Naish shows students the original 1219 document

Archivist Emily joined forces with the Cathedral’s teaching & community officer Sally Stewart-Davis and the History Centre to develop the school session which we ran in the cathedral on 27 February.

The 13th century Papal Bull that gave permission for the building of a new cathedral on the water meadows by the River Avon, so moving the settlement of Old Sarum to New Sarum. Students from Stanchester Academy near Yeovil are shown the original cartulary, or register, which contains the 1219 Papal Bull from Pope Honorious III.

Emily chose a document in abbreviated Medieval Latin to introduce the difficulties that can arise when working with primary sources. Written in 1219, the document is an official copy of the Papal Bull from Pope Honorious III giving permission for the church authorities to build a new Salisbury Cathedral on the water meadows by the River Avon. As a starter activity we asked the students – aged 11-14 – to identify a list of words that they might find familiar, even though they were in Latin. Among the words they were looking for were Sarum, benedictionem, aquam, castellani and hominum (Salisbury, benediction, water, castle and men/people).

It was a challenge, but a challenge that was well met. The students realised that even when faced with a document in a foreign language, with abbreviations and in a difficult script, there was information they could extract.

While a Papal Bull in Medieval Latin does not immediately spring to mind as the most accessible archive for school children or adults, the youngsters from Bishop Wordsworth School in Salisbury and Stanchester Academy, near Yeovil, really engaged with the document and the activity. This was real and relevant – and they were working in the building that ultimately resulted from this Papal document.

Students from Wiltshire and Somerset in the north transept of Salisbury Cathedral, getting to grips with archives and primary sources.

The second document the students worked on was a 1599 letter from Elizabeth I to the dean and chapter at Salisbury Cathedral and relates to Sir Walter Raleigh’s request that he be given the estate of Sherborne Castle which had belonged to the Church. Although in English, the students still faced the challenge of deciphering the handwriting and getting to grips with Elizabethan grammar and spellings. This they did with amazing success.

In fact it was the youngest students in the session – Stanchester Academy’s able, gifted and talented pupils – who were the first to fully understand not just the content of the letter but also its tone. Although Raleigh did get his estate, it seems from the language of Elizabeth’s letter that the Church had been slow to hand it over and the queen was not happy with their reluctance.

Students working out what Elizabeth I's letter is all about.

The session ended with a look at image and identity and how monarchs’ through the ages have attempted to assert their power and authority through official portraits, including Great Seals. As well as studying images of royal seals, ranging from Henry II to George V, students were able to see three of the original seals that had been brought out of the archive for the day.

The students were also able to see the originals of the Pope Honorious III document and the Elizabeth I letter.

The session was a success – the students engaged fully with the archives and enjoyed the challenges set. At the end of the morning, Emily, said: “I really enjoyed the session and was delighted to see how well the pupils analysed and interpreted the documents for themselves. It was great working with the History Centre and we look forward to more in the future.”

Sally added: “This session was all about accessing the Cathedral archives and enjoying what has been hidden away for decades. It is great to be working with our archivist Emily and of course within this wonderful setting.” For all involved, the partnership aspect of the project has been especially satisfying with everyone benefitting from the shared planning, preparation and delivery. And we are looking forward to delivering a second session on archives and primary resources in April.

Salisbury Cathedral Interior

Ruth Butler, Heritage Education Officer


Accredited Archive Service