Class 7B recently enjoyed a (very careful) hands-on History lesson under the watchful guidance of Mr Hallett when 14th Century manuscripts were discussed and studied up close in the classroom.
The School is extremely fortunate to have been donated two pages from a medieval manuscript by Mrs Jean Bennett (nee Fitzpatrick) who attended The Alice Ottley School (1929-42). Following her years at the School, Mrs Bennett went up to St Hughes College, Oxford to read History, which was no mean feat at a time when the University was still overwhelmingly male orientated.
Mrs Bennett donated the manuscript pages along with other books to RGS when she last visited the School. She explained that it is her wish for the current pupils to experience the thrill of studying the past with reference to items from the particular era.
Mr Hallett rose to the challenge of his University training and translated the pages from Latin in order to explain it to his pupils. It appears that the pages are taken from a ‘Book of Hours’, which was a prayer book that wealthy citizens could commission in order to help save their soul. This book would have informed them of the prayers they should recite at different times of each day. Each book would have been individually tailored and hand written since this was prior to the Gutenberg printing revolution.
The pupils of 7B were given an overview of what went into making these ornate manuscripts and learned, for example, that the most expensive element required was not the gold leaf but rather the blue dye. This is because the blue dye was made from the semi precious stone ‘lapis lazuli’ that is only found in mines located in modern day Afghanistan. The cost of getting those stones to Britain 600 years ago would have been immense. The class also discovered that the red ink came courtesy of crushed dead beetles, and that the production of a manuscript was shared between the writer and the illustrator (who would have been paid much more for his work than the writer).
The pupils correctly identified that the manuscript material was vellum and it was commented upon that the House of Lords has only recently decided to stop using this material as its preferred option to preserve important documents.
The Class then received instruction from Mr Hallett as how they should handle precious and fragile ancient documents. Pupils were given the opportunity to use protective white gloves in order to inspect the intricate detail on each page close up. The lesson was completed with 7B developing their own versions of a manuscript.
Mr Hallett commented, “I am extremely grateful to Mrs Bennett for her generous and thoughtful gift to the School. It has enabled our pupils to experience a vital aspect of our past both in terms of the production of books and the religious content. When pupils can appreciate the cost, complexity and effort that went into making a medieval book it really does bring home the determination of those scholars who worked so hard to spread learning through this medium at schools such as RGS in Worcester.”
Mr Scott MacDonald – Development Manager