Pupils' seal of approval as Jim takes them on a historical tour

11th September 2009 at 01:00
You can take the man out of education, but you can't take education out of the man, as retired head Jim Tollerton proves

It is fortunate Jim Tollerton is accustomed to young children's questions and he'll probably dine out on this story down at the golf club.

The retired headteacher is taking a group of Aberdeen pupils on a tour of the 12th-century Arbroath Abbey, telling them how it was built. One of them asks: "Were you here when it was built?"

It is two years since Mr Tollerton took early retirement as head of Warddykes Primary in Arbroath. He has since taken up this part-time role as local learning officer with Historic Scotland at Arbroath Abbey.

His job is to develop and deliver new education materials and take schools like this group from Westpark Primary in Aberdeen on tours. It's just one day a week in term time, so it leaves plenty of time for his other responsibilities as secretary of the local golf club and key player in his Friday night five-a-side football team. "I knew I would need something to do and my wife saw a report in the local paper about Historic Scotland needing local learning officers to promote some famous sites like Arbroath Abbey," he says.

"My remit is to try and encourage schools to use the facilities, particularly those from the area, but from other areas as well. I had a good idea of what was expected by the Angus schools, because I had written the environmental studies syllabus and knew where things fitted in and what the target group was."

He has just compiled a guide for Historic Scotland, which will give all visitors an insight into the abbey's roots as a monastery founded in 1178 and its significance in Scottish history.

Mr Tollerton focuses on how the abbey was built and explains how it is most famous for the Declaration of Arbroath, which was sent from here in April 1320. A facsimile of the document can be seen and, during his afternoon workshop, he shows the Aberdeen children how to make their own seals, like those fringing the declaration.

The abbey is also famous for another iconic moment in Scottish history, when a group of Glasgow University students removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and brought it here.

A star turn during this visit is Ian Deveney from historical re-enactment company Battle Scar Entertainment, who shows his weapons in the role of Gilbert de la Hay, one of the signatories of the declaration.

Westpark's P6-7s have been studying William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and are storing up all this information for the museum they are making for their enterprise morning for parents. Profits subsidise trips, with parents contributing pound;2 towards this visit.

"I like to take them out at least once a term. I think they remember things better if they've been somewhere and actually seen it," says teacher Alice Atkinson. "And it's ideal having someone like Jim who's an expert who can answer our questions."

"It was just ace - getting to feel the armour - just all of it," says pupil Kate Stephen. "We're about to make a museum. I'm doing what it used to be like in a ferm toon."

So what it was like? "Mingin'. They didn't have proper bricks or anything, it was just stony, so it would have been cold."

Mr Tollerton has done a thorough job and Colin Shaw, 11, talks about what he's learnt: "The Declaration of Arbroath has loads of little seals on it from all the people who agreed with it. It was in Latin and I think it was asking the Pope to accept Robert the Bruce as King. Most people couldn't read or write and they used seals, which was like a signature but without letters."

"The best bit was making up our own seals," says Laura Grant, also 11.


Historic Scotland has local learning officers based at Bothwell Castle, St Andrew's Castle and Cathedral, Melrose Abbey, Urquhart Castle and Arnol Blackhouse on the Isle of Lewis.

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