By Georgian!

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Eighteenth-century domestic life is re-created for pupils when they visit Wordsworth's childhood home, reports Jessie Anderson

Watched by a group of young people, a boy mounts a flight of stone steps and knocks on the door of an imposing 18th-century house in the Cumbrian market town of Cockermouth. It is opened by a manservant in 18th-century livery. "Welcome to Wordsworth House," he says. The children troop inside and another Georgian experience is under way.

The childhood home of William Wordsworth is a living, working Georgian town house run by the National Trust which offers visitors a taste of living in a Georgian home.

The programme for schools is built around key stage 1 with the theme of looking at homes in the past, but all the units on offer can be adapted to KS2. I spent a morning with 25 children aged five to seven from St Bridget's Primary School, Brigham, Cumbria.

During their action-packed visit they help Amy, the authentically costumed maid, make parkin biscuits, use a pestle and mortar to grind barley, write with a quill pen, taste various Georgian delicacies, wash stocks and neckerchiefs in the wash-house, dress in Georgian children's clothes, play with skittles and other 18th-century toys, and make lavender bags to take home with them.

"We keep them occupied and moving, so there's no chance for them to get bored or misbehave," says Kate Hilton, Wordsworth House custodian. And bored they certainly are not as they discover the enormous differences between a Georgian home and their own. They watch bread being toasted at the open fire in the kitchen, and look bemused at the bread oven then gaze up at the great iron candle-holder over the dining-room table. "How did they light the candles?" asks one child. "They stood on a chair," Bill, the manservant, tells them.

They taste the Georgian delights of flummery, posset and chocolate tart, with reactions ranging from "yummy" to "a bit too sweet".

They discover that washing without a machine is hard work and understand why heavy clothes were not washed over-frequently. But with a mixture of olive oil and fat, the young laundry-workers produce a gratifyingly effective lather. They also learn that the "upstairs-downstairs"

demarcation applied even to such basics as toilet soap - cream-coloured soap balls for the family and a rough brown variety for the servants.

The programmes can be tailored to suit the requirements of individual schools and age groups. They may wish to concentrate on a particular area of interest, such as 18th-century toys, housekeeping (touching on such subjects as cleaning, heating and sanitation), food and drink or an 18th-century garden - Wordsworth House has a fine example of the latter. Or they may wish to learn something of Wordsworth the poet and the countryside that inspired him. The Discovery Room offers touch-screen computer technology which enables children to view images of the countryside, so essential to the development of the poet, and lets them listen to extracts from some of his poems. Teachers' notes are provided to interpret these.

Resource packs are also available before a visit.

lWordsworth House re-opens on March 29. Open 11am to 4-30pm, Tuesday to Saturday; also Mondays in July and August and Bank Holidays. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the house can open to pre-booked school parties from 9.30am, allowing them exclusive access to the house and costumed interpreters before 11am.

Groups of under 15 pupils pound;2.70 per child; 15 pupils and more pound;1.70 per child.

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