Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty wants children to appreciate the history on Shaftesbury’s doorstep. They are inviting schoolteachers to brush up on their local knowledge in a workshop – and they will pay for supply staff cover, so teachers can attend.
“The curriculum does tend to focus on the national and international story and has a bit less room in it for local history. But there is a tremendous appetite for it,” explained the AONB’s Jon Woolcott. “The Cranborne Chase has had a huge influence on our national story. There are lots of ways in which teachers could get engaged with this and link it back to what they need to do within the curriculum.”
Jon says that the free session, in Shaftesbury in March, will focus on two main areas. “One of them is understanding the extraordinary history of The Chase. It’s a landscape which was under forest law until the early part of the 19th century. That meant lots of the laws that happened outside, in terms of the enclosure, didn’t really happen in The Chase until much later on,” he said.
Forests were often subject to regulations that protected beasts, primarily deer, from being hunted. It was illegal to clear land by burning or cutting down wooded areas. “We have a landscape which has been preserved and is completely different from what you might find outside the area,” said Jon.
He is keen that the significant work of one particular resident of The Chase is understood by local children. “Augustus Pitt Rivers was the father of modern archaeology. He took his vast estate at Rushmore as a kind of laboratory for archaeology and excavated huge amounts in a very scientific way,” said Jon.
The Cranborne Chase AONB, which begins a little over one mile from Shaftesbury town centre, and includes Melbury Beacon and Win Green, covers 380 square miles of countryside. Jon’s project is centred on a portion of that special landscape.
“We are focusing on the area that lies between Shaftesbury, Blandford and Salisbury, going down to Martin Down. There are many exciting areas which are perfectly explorable by teachers just outside the town. An obvious place to go is Larmer Tree Gardens, where Augustus Pitt Rivers did a lot of his work. You can also go to Woodcutts, which is a Roman farm on the Rushmore estate. Further north, there are places like Winkelbury Camp, which was an Iron Age settlement from which there are tremendous views over the valleys below,” said Jon, as he recommended the hillfort above Berwick St John.
“Part of the training is to go on a short trip which will look at the history of the area,” he added. “It’s really to train teachers to better understand the local heritage of the Cranborne Chase and to equip them better in terms of understanding what the resources would be, for instance, whether they are using historical maps or aerial photographs. It’s everything that helps children develop historical enquiry. We’ve teamed up with Historic England, who will be doing the workshops,” said Jon.
Teachers who want to attend may be concerned that their absence from school will impact on budgets. Jon says the AONB will pay for staff cover. “We are trying to make it a bit easier for teachers because we are able to cover the cost of any supply teachers. If a teacher is taken out of school for the day, that cost can be met,” he said.
This an offer for both state and independent schools. “It is a course that is deliberately designed to allow teachers to understand local history and the ways they could teach at all age groups. We don’t want to limit it to one particular sector,” said Jon.
This project, to train teachers to spread the message about the Cranborne Chase, is unique to our local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. “It is our own idea,” said Jon. “It’s trying to connect people to the extraordinary history of this place.” And he says this initiative fits into a raft of projects designed to promote a better understanding of the landscape, history and heritage of the Shaftesbury area.
“Last year, we got a large Heritage Lottery grant to run twenty projects over the next five years across the heart of The Chase, the area that I’ve described, going into the Chalke Valley. Some of it is about conservation work along the River Ebble. There are projects around nature. We were awarded the Dark Sky National Reserve status last year. There will be work to increase grazing at Martin Down. We have many projects that focus around the culture or the history of The Chase and this is one of those,” said Jon.
The Shaftesbury training session is on Tuesday, 24th March, at Gold Hill Museum from 9.30am until 3pm. Schools and teachers can reserve a place by calling the AONB office on (01725) 517417 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.