Fight to present the past;Curriculum

26th February 1999 at 00:00
Raymond Ross sees a one-woman show that re-enacts episodes of Scottish history - and reveals what the Highlander really wore under his kilt

Bringing history alive has never been easier according to Kathryn Baldwin, who has been visiting Scottish schools for two years now in various historical guises.

Under her company name History Alive in Schools, Kathryn is regularly appearing in a classroom near you dressed variously as a Viking Warrior, a Celtic Warrior, a Medieval Scot and a Jacobite Highlander. It was in this last guise that I caught up with her in Forehill Primary School in Ayr.

"Johnny Cope was the first commander of a British Army to bring back news of his own defeat himself, following the Battle of Prestonpans (1745)," she tells the spellbound P6 pupils who - perhaps because they come from Burns country - seem well versed in the Bard's Jacobite song "Hey, Johnny Cope". But they also seem well versed in other aspects of Jacobite culture.

What Highlanders really did wear under their kilts may come as a surprise to them (they tied their shirt tails together) but the pupils do recognise the White Rose in Kathryn's bonnet immediately as the Jacobite emblem.

Perhaps they also know their history because Kathryn's visit is the climax to a "Jacobite week" which has already seen them visit Kelvingrove Museum for a Jacobite "handling session", practise Jacobite songs with Scottish Opera, listen to Jacobite music played and explained by visiting expert Bill McLaughlin, and explore Jacobite art.

And Kathryn's own one-and-a-half-hour talk is also something of a "handling session"; an interative experience with the pupils dressing up in Hanoverian and Highland costume and handling replica weapons of the period from basket-hilted broadswords to dirks and targes.

Could this be too militaristic for primary pupils in these politically correct times? "Certainly not," says Kathryn, a member of the Carrick 800 Battle Re-enactment Society, as she draws her plaid around her in mock defiance. "I don't glorify weaponry, but weapon drill is part of history. It's how Culloden was won and lost."

This she has already demonstrated by showing the intricacies of the Hanoverian repulse of the Highland charge at Culloden (1746), a close-quarter technique developed after Cope's routing at Prestonpans.

That it might appeal more to boys than girls is not borne out by the girls' obvious interest in Kathryn's display. "I don't make any gender difference in approach. I'm a female presenter," she says, while similarly parrying any notion that her approach might be construed as nationalistic.

"I'm exploring Scottish history and am as likely to be a Viking as Jacobite on any given day. It's certainly not anti-English. Anyway, I was born and brought up in Bolton," she adds, tucking away her broadsword.

Each of Kathryn's displays is specially designed to provide the service required by individual class needs and national curriculum requirements, she says.

It is a highly visual, hands-on experience which the Forehill pupils clearly enjoyed and which, teachers and pupils agree, will stay with them vividly.

Other areas brought to life in these interactive displays include the Normans in Scotland and Knights and Castles as well as Wallace, Bruce and the Wars of Independence.

And with Kathryn Baldwin's eye for historical detail in dress and demeanour, you can rest assured that William Wallace will not appear like the woad-begotten Mel Gibson with a Saltire stamped across his face.

History Alive in Schools, tel: 01465 871256

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