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Voices from the Past

August 26th, 2011

Sue-Wilkes-author150History is all around us, and Britain’s wonderful heritage should provide plenty of ideas for WB students who ‘don’t know what to write about’. Your local library (if still open!) should be your first port of call when researching an article idea. The internet is also a wonderful resource, but use it wisely. Always double-check facts if possible because mistakes on one website may be copied onto another.

Bring your work to life using quotes whenever possible. Libraries and archives sometimes have oral histories which could give you a good quote (always ask permission first before using this type of material).

Going further back in time, parliament conducted many enquiries into working conditions during the nineteenth century. Special investigators interviewed workers about their daily life, and this evidence was printed in parliamentary papers (some of which can be found online, some in specialist reference libraries).

I read many of these Royal Commission reports while researching The Children History Forgot (Robert Hale, 2011). The workers’ stories made fascinating reading. For example, in 1842, eight-year-old Sarah Gooder, who worked in a mine, told investigators that she had to work ‘without a light’ and she was ‘scared’. In the 1860s, a fifteen year lad working in a Birmingham pen factory was interviewed. His clothes were always in rags because he worked with vitriol (sulphuric acid). Ragged clothes meant he could not go to Sunday school, as his clothes were not smart enough.

children-history-forgot-covIt was people who created our heritage, and their voices can summon up the past, I think, more vividly than bricks and mortar can ever do.

Sue Wilkes is the author of ‘The Children History Forgot’ (Robert Hale, 2011), ‘Regency Cheshire’ (Robert Hale, 2009) and ‘Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives’ (History Press, 2008). Her book ‘Tracing Your Canal Ancestors’ (Pen& Sword) will be published in October 2011.

Sue is a member of the Society of Authors and a creative writing tutor specialising in non-fiction.

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