In the Muniment Tower, students viewing a charter issued by Alice de Rumilly in around 1150, one of the oldest in Magdalen’s collection
A visit to the archives of Magdalen College, University of Oxford, was inevitable once Kate Norman, Foundation Curriculum Leader at Park View Primary School, Basingstoke, discovered that the Hampshire town in which she lived and taught stood on land once owned by the Oxford college. Confirming that their archives held centuries-old documentation relating to Basingstoke, the Magdalen Records and Archives team welcomed ten students from years 4, 5 and 6 and their teachers from Park View Primary to view some of these archives. Accompanied by their project partner, Helen Sinnamon, Learning Manager at Milestones Museum and Basing House, Hampshire Cultural Trust, the students gathered evidence that Basingstoke, a frequently-maligned 1960s-redeveloped town, does actually have history.
The ‘Basingstoke has History’ project partnership began with a publicly broadcast insult to Basingstoke: discussing ‘The Birth of Babylon’ on the podcast, ‘The Rest is History’, historian Tom Holland compared Basingstoke unfavourably to the ancient city:
“[Babylon] is not just a city it’s not…the equivalent of Basingstoke. It’s sacred, it’s at the centre of things…”
Following an apology to Basingstoke residents from fellow historian and podcast co-presenter, Dominic Sandbrook, Tom invited listeners from Basingstoke, who felt that their town had “divine significance”, to write in and let them know.
Listening to this podcast was Basingstoke resident and teacher, Kate Norman from Park View Primary School. Determined to indeed ‘let them know’ that Basingstoke’s history, while not quite of divine significance, is certainly of national significance, Kate partnered with Helen Sinnamon from Hampshire Cultural Trust to initiate a ‘Basingstoke has History’ project involving targeted Basingstoke & Deane schools (with a Pupil Premium of over 10%), Basingstoke historians, local history groups, local government and other relevant stakeholders. Among other aims, the project sought to:
- Collaborate and build partnerships between local schools, cultural and heritage organisations, local government and individuals
- Engage children, who may not usually access culture and heritage, with their locality and its history
- Provide schools with access to people, places, artefacts and archives that are not usually available to them, developing children’s historical skills and teachers’ local history knowledge
- Develop pride in Basingstoke as a place through knowledge of and appreciation for its history
The opportunity to view the historic records and archives at Magdalen College took place in January 2023. The Basingstoke group were welcomed by Dr Richard Allen, the Magdalen College Archivist and Records Manager, and Dr Emily Jennings, Assistant Archivist and Records Manager, with the support of Dr Alexy Karenowska, Fellow by Special Election and Widening Participation Fellow. A travel bursary provided by Magdalen covered the substantial cost of coach travel, enabling Park View Primary School to run the visit free of charge and meaning that the visit was accessible to any child regardless of their ability to pay.
The reward for climbing the stairs of the 15th century Muniment Tower was the sight of the very oldest of Magdalen’s archives, stored in wooden cupboards from which small wooden boxes emerged, some enigmatically labelled ‘Basingstoke’. Within these boxes, the children were excited to see documents about their home town dating back as far as the 12th century.
The Basingstoke students also received a tour of Magdalen: here in St Swithun’s Quad, with St Swithun’s Tower on the left
A guided tour of Magdalen’s principal buildings, grounds, quadrangles and cloisters led the students to the Old Library where a round table displayed a selection of records and archives about Basingstoke from Magdalen’s collections. Dating from the 1230s to the early 20th century, these included a town map from the 1930s with recognisable landmarks, and centuries-old documents in Latin which, when studied closely, revealed the name of Basingstoke within. The children spent much time at this table, able to be up close to the evidence of their home town’s history, have their questions answered by experts and wonder at the longevity of Basingstoke and its historic importance.
Students in Magdalen’s Old Library, engaging with records and archives about Basingstoke dating from the 1230s to the early 20th century
The students were particularly engaged in examining every document to locate the name of Basingstoke, noticing the changes and similarities in language and handwriting style, mentally constructing a chronological sequence of the documents and of their town’s history and significance.
The name of Basingstoke as written in a 13th century charter
The students of Park View Primary School left Magdalen enriched by an experience that would not usually have been available to them. The impact on their sense of place and pride in their town was clear: experiencing historical records and archives naming Basingstoke connected their present to a palpable past. Recorded centuries ago, preserved, conserved and explained by experts, these records and archives evidence Basingstoke’s national significance. Park View Primary School students and teachers will be contacting Tom Holland with irrefutable archival proof that Basingstoke has History.
With thanks to Dr Richard Allen, Dr Emily Jennings and Dr Alexy Karenowska at Magdalen College, University of Oxford.
The ‘Basingstoke has History’ exhibition created by local school children, highlighting key periods of Basingstoke’s history and their significance, will be shown at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke town centre in summer 2023.
Find out more about Hampshire Cultural Trust at: https://www.hampshireculture.org.uk/
Find out more about Magdalen College Archives here: https://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/library-and-archives/
Podcast “The Rest is History” hosted by historians Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland, episode 181 “The Birth of Babylon” (2 May 2022), 45 minutes. Available on podcast apps and online at https://shows.acast.com/the-rest-is-history-podcast.
Author: Helen Sinnamon
Bio: Helen Sinnamon is History Education Manager at Ufton Court Educational Trust; previously she was Learning Manager at Milestones Museum and Basing House for Hampshire Cultural Trust. A qualified and experienced teacher, she specialises in learning programmes for schools and educational organisations in the context of heritage, arts and culture.