On Thursday 11th February, year 5s at St Joseph’s Catholic Voluntary Academy in Derby logged in to an online class with a difference. They were meeting Mrs Froggott and Mrs Henstock, two 18th century mill workers from Sir Richard Arkwright’s mills at Cromford. 'Why did you start working in the mill?' 'How much do you get paid?' The pupils were full of excellent questions as they quizzed the workers all about their daily lives. They also found out about the carrots Mrs Froggott grows in her garden, her difficulties with getting to work on time, and how Mrs Henstock has moved up through the ranks in the picking room!
‘[The staff] were brilliant and really encouraged the children to engage with the learning throughout the week’ said Miss Madeley, class teacher at St Joseph’s. ‘We wanted the children to learn about the history of their local area, as we were aware they hadn’t heard of the mills and didn’t know about [their] importance. The children really enjoyed meeting the mill workers and said it helped them to realise how lucky they are - it was hard to work in the mills. [They] really enjoyed the videos too - they complemented our research activities brilliantly and supported children whose reading skills may have led to them not gaining a full understanding - which is vital when children are learning from home.’
Armed with their new knowledge, the class wrote pieces of persuasive writing, creating slogans and convincing people to come and work at Cromford Mills: ‘So come and join us. What are you weaving for? Cromford Mills: producing, providing, and progressing’ is just one of the fantastic slogans they came up with. You can download the pdf at the bottom of the page to see more examples of their work.
The session was a trial run for The Arkwright Society’s new remote offer for schools, ‘Ask the Mill Workers’, which is now available to all primary schools to book. For £30, it includes a one-hour zoom session for up to two classes, plus the use of a loans box for 2 weeks. The loans box is filled with activities for pupils to have a go at once they are back in the classroom, such as costumes to try on, cotton to card, and weaving sticks. It complements local history studies for Derbyshire schools, as well as topics that cover textiles and the Industrial Revolution.
The team have also produced a set of accompanying ‘Meet the Mill Worker’ videos, which are free to watch on YouTube. These explore the day to day lives of Mrs Froggott and Mrs Henstock, both at work in the mills and at home in the village of Cromford. There are also downloadable craft and history resources available on the Cromford Mills website.
Hannah Steggles, Head of Heritage at Cromford Mills, said: ‘We have really missed having school groups visit during the pandemic, so we are delighted to be able to offer this new way for schools to engage with the history of our site. Heritage sites offer a unique brand of learning experience, where children can visualise and engage with the past, then connect it to the present. It’s brilliant that our costumed interpreters can bridge the distance via technology and still bring the past to life for these children.’