11 September 2023
Recording of the week: Memories of school
As September starts in the northern hemisphere, for me (and I suspect many others) this means one thing - 'back to school'. This could be both memories of one's own school days, or the relief as a parent or carer that ordinary term time routines can resume. From my childhood I think of the restrictive feeling of school shoes on my feet, the formality of school uniform, the confines of the classroom and - for those of us for whom school was a mostly happy experience - the reunion with classmates after a long summer break.
Almost all of the oral history interviews in the British Library’s vast collection cover educational experience - as it is a foundational era in most lives. This means we have myriad accounts that explore a variety of time periods, educational establishments, social experiences, teaching methods and learning styles through personal testimony.
A great example is from the interview with Elisabeth Standen (1944-2020): a writer, community organiser and consultant on disability and equalities. It was common in the 1950s for children with disabilities to attend specialist boarding schools, even if their parents wanted them at home - as was the case with Elisabeth.
In this recording, made in 1999 with Helen Lloyd, Elisabeth describes bedtimes at her first boarding school, Exhall Grange in Warwickshire. When she was a few years older than the period she recounts in this clip, Elisabeth describes how she became blind, which to me makes the detailed visual description in this interview even more compelling. Close your eyes, listen to Elisabeth and see if you can picture the school setting and bedroom she describes.
If you want to hear more about experiences of home and the sounds of domestic life, dip into 'If homes had ears' a rich resource of over 70 audio clips explored in themed essays. This resource was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.'
Elisabeth's interview (reference C900/18556) was recorded in 1999 by Helen Lloyd for BBC Radio as part of the ground-breaking BBC and British Library Millennium Memory Bank project which explored British life at the end of the 20th century. The Millennium Memory Bank holds over 5,000 oral histories recorded by local and national BBC radio stations, from which each participating station broadcast a series of programmes on 16 common themes. All of the full unedited recordings and the subsequent programmes are archived and made available at the British Library.
This Recording of the Week is by Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History.