A film, a community event, a Facebook group, a great deal of research and a lot of fun.
It all started with an NWR meeting back in 2014 when we looked at the Trentham memorial for World War One. Seventeen men are named so we decided to research them, their lives, their families and how they died. Along the way we learned a lot about Trentham 100 years ago and it gradually became the Trentham World War One Project with eight of us from NWR Trentham group embarking on further research and, along the way, setting up a Facebook page called Trentham 100 years ago which now has over 200 members.
Showing eight year olds in 2016 what it was like
An exhibition on the seventeen men in our NatWest bank led to interest from the local primary school and before you could say ‘Lord Kitchener’, we were planning to help year four with their history syllabus by using our research to teach them about life in Trentham during the years 1911–21.
The Duke of Sutherland had abandoned his Staffordshire home but still owned most of Trentham and the surrounding area. By 1914 the country was at war so a great many men and horses had departed for the front leaving their families to cope and worry. In 1916 conscription came in and things in the shops started to run out.
Two members of our group went to ask advice from Ray Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Film Heritage at Staffordshire University. In answer to the question ‘how can we bring our research to life?’ he immediately answered ‘let’s make a film!’
We climbed a steep learning curve which started with some crowdfunding for the project. Then we found actors, we developed a narrative that became a film script which we felt would appeal to the children while, at the same time, teach them something of life in the Trentham community one hundred years ago. Costumes and props were hired or borrowed, locations were scouted and approved, as not much of Trentham looks as it did in 1916. We were all set, then…the weather intervened! Torrential rain all day made filming outdoors impossible, so the timetable was revised, plans were changed and we met again on a drier but very cold day in February. Indoors the dialogue was recorded in front of a green screen at Ray’s house to produce scenes like the one below with an old photo behind the police sergeant.
Eventually all was declared to be ‘in the can’ and Ray had three weeks to work his magic and make all the bits join together in chronological order.
Inviting the community to the premiere of ‘Letters to Hem Heath’
Of course it all came together in time, the film was finished and the DVDs were ready for our community event at Ash Green school on 19 March which would include the first showing of our film. In addition to the film we prepared seventeen panels to show our research. Each told of a different place or family of one hundred years ago. We enlarged old maps, printed out the 1911 census return, the Land Tax Valuation Survey and many old photographs, some showing places long disappeared, others still standing in 2016. On the day, the year four children arrived with their parents in the morning to show off their classwork and watch the film. There was complete silence in the hall as they watched two of their classmates travel back in time to meet Frank Harris, the postman and join him on his round, meeting local folk as they went.
Eight year olds in 2016 know all about time travel but I’m fairly sure this is one film that will stay with them, what with 1916 being a time of few telephones or motor cars, of gas lamps, steam trains and a postman who knows everyone by name. In the afternoon the community came –around a hundred of them – to read our research, share their own memories, meet up with old friends and even to ask the question – what is NWR?
You can read more of our research on our website.
Sarah Akhtar | NWR Trentham