World Turned Upside Down – Education Programme

Time Title Content
Denise Greany with Mike Gibbs
[35:16] Mike Gibbs: Denise, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to talk to us.  Can I begin by asking you to tell us about your role at the National Civil War Centre in Newark, in Nottinghamshire. and also to tell us a little bit about the centre?
Denise Greany:  Yes of course.  Thank you for inviting me.  The National Civil War Centre is both a National Museum, telling a big national story, the story of the British Civil Wars, and it’s also Newark’s local museum, so it also has galleries of local history collections.
Newark was an extremely important strategic location during the British Civil Wars.  It became known as ‘the key to the north’ because it sat directly in the centre of the transport network of the country.  It sits on the crossroads of two of the biggest roads in the country at the time and at a crossing point of the River Trent, so if you want to fight and win a civil war, Newark is the jewel in your crown.  For that reason, Newark came under fire several times, and that story is a story we tell using Newark as a representative town during the British Civil War.  We’re able to talk about the big national story and to show how that story had an effect on the local population.
[36:43] I am a Learning Officer and, at the moment, a part-time Learning Manager of the Learning Team at the museum.  We are a small team that comprises lots and lots of different skills and experiences so we have ex-actors and historians and writers on our team. Myself and other colleagues have a teaching background.  I taught for many years in Oxford and London and was also a literacy consultant for many years, so I have quite a cross-curricular background.
[37:34] My role at the museum involves developing resources and activities on the subject of the British Civil Wars and other periods of history, for students and teachers across the Key Stages and for other visitors, families and interested visitors who come at the weekends and during school holidays.  We have a formal learning offer and a thriving school programme, about 3,500 pupils and students come to us every year from right across the Key Stages.  About 50% of our school visitors come from primary schools and slightly more than 50% come from secondary schools, and we also welcome quite a few university groups as well.
[01:07] Mike Gibbs: Could you tell us how are the Civil Wars incorporated in the national curriculum today?
Denise Greany: The British Civil Wars can be studied in several places on the curriculum.  In Key Stage 2 lots of primary schools study it as part of a local history study, but it can also be studied as a significant event post-1066.
Most secondary schools teach the British Civil Wars in either Year 7 or 8 and many A Level syllabuses also include it for students in Years 12 and 13.  At the museum we are very lucky that we have visitors that come from all of those stages in their education
[02:07] Mike Gibbs: What programmes do you offer to support students in the various Key Stages of the curriculum?
Denise Greany: We offer a real range of very hands-on sessions that have strong curriculum links and are really great fun, so students in Key Stages 2 and 3 train as soldiers, for instance.  They dress up in armour and handle replica weapons.  They learn how to reload and fire a dummy musket and they take part in a pike drill and often they also use foam pikes to fight a battle.
[03:21] One of the things we do, particularly with our younger school visitors, is we put them under siege and we help them to understand what it was like to be in a town in that very dangerous situation.  They become the real people who appear in some of our archive material trying to survive through the many challenges that a siege placed on the local population.  They can also be recruited as secret agents and try and smuggle information out of similar towns and influence royal strategy.  Newark was a Royalist town throughout the war and the King’s secret agents can try and help him to win the war. They can also meet a costumed character and follow him or her around Newark ‘s amazing surviving 17th century buildings and hear about what happened during the town’s sieges.  Older students in Key Stage 3 or A Level can participate in one of a few different courtroom style drama re-enactments.  Key Stage 3 students can become petitioners asking for money to help them because they’re wounded soldiers or they’re widows or orphans.  They look at some of the letters that were written to successive governments after the war finished and they present their cases at a county court and compete to win the money available.
[04:46] Both Key Stage 3 and A Level students really enjoy re-enacting the trial of Charles I.  Our Tudor Hall at the museum was actually standing during the Civil War and it becomes Westminster Hall for us during those sessions and the students take on the roles of people in the trial.  They re-enact the trial and decide whether or not they would sign the death warrant and they find out what would happen to the people who did so.
In addition to that, A Level students have the opportunity to handle real objects.  We’re very lucky to have quite an extensive handling collection so we can offer access to real source material, both the material culture of the war and everyday life in the form of armour and weapons and other objects as well as archival documents, both printed pamphlets and manuscript handwritten documents, that come from the town’s life under siege.  Students can examine historical enquiry questions with real sources physically available to them in the room.
[0:51] Mike Gibbs: All of this sounds really exciting and I wish I was young enough to participate.  Just give me a sense of what sort of feedback and reaction you get from the students?
Denise Greany: Without exception, students really enjoy a visit to us.  What we’ve done is to prepare a programme that sits alongside classroom work.  We don’t try and replicate what happens in the classroom, we try and offer an experience which enlivens that and also perhaps enables some students, who find classroom work difficult, to access history in a different way.  There are countless times when students, who perhaps don’t find it easy to concentrate in the classroom, or who are not historians really, don’t really profess to enjoy history lessons, who really surprised their teachers during the visit with the level of Engagement that they display while they’re with us.
What we find is that we’re in a privileged position to be able to offer really awe-inspiring spaces, which inspire students and also very high-quality resources which offer a very hands-on experience of real history practice, which is incredibly effective, right across the age range.
[07:09] Mike Gibbs: Talking to some teachers, as I have over the recent months, a number of them actually say it’s a very complicated and difficult era for them to teach.  What’s your experience and how are you helping them?
Denise Greany: The first thing I would say is I understand that perspective and it is something that teachers say to us a lot, but I would say there is a clear and compelling story with a colourful cast of characters.  You have an absolute monarch and you have his extraordinary wife who travelled abroad to sell the Crown jewels and return at the head of an army of 4000 men.  You have super star soldiers like Prince Rupert of the Rhine, or Oliver Cromwell, and amazing women who had defended their homes or who went undercover as spies.
All of these narratives really help to engage students and, without exception, we find that this story speaks to children right across the age and ability range.
One of the things that is really extraordinary about this period of history is the wealth of surviving stories.  Many objects that were used at the time do survive in museum collections and lots of those, including ours, have been digitised so that they can be used in the classroom.  That does offer schools a tremendous opportunity to engage students and young people in real history tasks.  They can become historians using the sources available from the past.
[08:48] They can digitally imagine holding in their hands the objects that survive and they also have access to archive material, which offers an insight into what was going on inside people’s heads and not just the big names that we know of, ordinary people who actually fought in the war.  Lots of these are very accessible, or can be made accessible, for quite young students and we’ve tried to do this by providing materials that really help to mediate historical source material for a very, very young or developing audience.
What I would say is that there is a clear narrative, there is a big national story, a good story and that is a story that’s very easy to tell and very accessible to students of all ages.  Really helpfully for schools, the national narrative involves events that happened everywhere in the country so every school has access to a local Civil War story, that makes this big national story make sense and become relevant to the local community now.
I think you’re right to suggest that the causes of the war are complex and many layered but they can be simplified and we have tried to do that.  We have recorded an animated film that in something like 60 or 70 seconds explains the causes of the war in a way that is very accessible and memorable for students of all ages.
[10:24] Mike Gibbs: Other teachers that I’ve spoken to say ‘well what’s the relevance of the British Civil Wars to today’s Britain’; how would you answer that?
Denise Greany: I think the main thing I would say is that many of the things we take for granted in our world today have their roots in this period.  I mean, most obviously we have just crowned the third King Charles and the nature of his constitutional role as King comes directly from the time of the first King Charles. Our constitutional monarchy comes directly out of this time, but the Civil War set in motion many other ideas that I think are foundational to the world we live in now.  In many of the conversations that happened after the wars you can identify, for instance, the seeds of democracy. The idea that every person in the land ought to have a right to choose the government and have a say in how they were governed began to be debated.  A study of these events can involve, I would suggest, even quite young children in discussions about how government happens and how we all participate in choosing our leaders and where those rights and responsibilities come from.
We can also draw another really interesting parallel, among many, between our world and these events when you look at the fascinating changes in mass communication that happened during the Civil War.  Because censorship ended, effectively just before the war began, the first newspapers were printed and there was a real hunger for news and both sides in the conflict recognised the power of the printed words and weaponised it.  They used mass media and propaganda, in a way, to fight the war and to galvanise public opinion and to gain and maintain allegiance.
[12:25] The significance of media presentations of events and the power of the press to influence popular opinion is something that certainly resonates with us today.  Even quite young children are taught how to write newspaper articles, how the press operates, how to understand what’s being told to them in mass communication and grounding that in historical knowledge is incredibly powerful.  The wars also saw the beginning of the first modern British Army.  You could list so many things that we are still feeling the effects of in our world today.
Your new programme, which I know is called Upside Down World,really looks at Key Stage 2.  Why did you choose that and where did this name, Upside Down World, come from?
[12:53] Mike Gibbs:Denise Greany:  The first thing to say is that 50% of our school visitors are children in Key Stage 2 so that is really just as much as our secondary offer, the backbone of our schools’ programme.  What those teachers were telling us is that most of the time they can’t find material on the subject of the British Civil War that has already been adapted for Key Stage 2 classrooms.  What they tended to do was to find things, there’s lots of wonderful resources on the internet, many of them are designed for children in Key Stage 3 and above and so our primary school teachers were adapting those for their classroom.
We had already worked, during lockdown, with one of our partner organisations, Newcastle University Archive, on developing a suite of digital resources for Key Stage 3 students, which is now on a website which can be accessed for free.
It has images of our collection and lots of interesting games that were developed, co-developed, with Key Stage 3 children so that already existed.  However, what we wanted to do was to offer our primary school visitors the opportunity to work with material that we had designed with Key Stage 2 children and their teachers in mind.
[14:56] I think you asked me why we called it Upside Down World and that’s partly because this, in a way, is the partner project to Your World Turned Upside Down website, and the World Turned Upside Down, of course, is a famous ballad that was printed in the 1640s.  It protested against restrictions placed by Parliament on the celebration of Christmas, but it has become a very vivid metaphor for the way in which the events of the British Civil War changed everything.  That very iconic imagery that accompanied the ballad, the printed ballad, which shows things like fish flying in the sky and a horse pushing a cart, is really often used by schools, in all the Key Stages to be honest, as a hook into this topic because it’s such an accessible source that builds a sense of the 17th century world, the norms of the 17th century world and the way in which this conflict turned that world upside down.
The notion of an upside down world is something that we always use at the beginning of our school visits.  What we do is to tell children that’s how people felt about the wars and to show them what the world looked like for 17th century people when it was “the right way up”.  We build with them, physically using children as volunteers, a 17th century pyramid of power that has God at the top, the King on his throne, the Members of Parliament drawn from the gentry and the aristocracy, the growing importance of the middling sort, and then the ordinary men and women at the bottom, in order to show them how seismic these changes were when a king was ousted from his throne and how people had to deal with their notion of God in amongst all of this.
The title really is a catchy way of painting a picture of a topsy-turvy world and we felt that was a really good place to start.
[17:01] Mike Gibbs: You’ve really excited me about this programme now and I’m going to go and teach my Key Stage 2 class.  What will I find when I access the resources you’ve created?
Denise Greany: You can find the resources on our website, which is  You can find them there or you can find them on a website called ‘MyLearning’, which is designed as a kind of one-stop shop for museums all over the country, to place teaching materials and images of museum collections together.  You can find them in either of those places, and what you will find are four modules of material that deal with different aspects of the War.  You’ll find Soldiers, ieges, Spies and Survivors, and each of these modules contains an accessible and very succinct teachers’ guide, which has been written in partnership with our academic partners, so it provides all the information that teachers need, all the subject knowledge they need, in order to work with Key Stage 2 children on this subject in the classroom.
Each of the modules includes interactive slides for whole class teaching, with child-friendly illustrations and images of our sources, 3D scans of museum objects so you can zoom in on the objects that we would be putting into children’s hands in our learning space at the museum and really look closely at them.  One in particular is a suit of armour that still bears the mark of the bullet that killed its wearer, so these are significant objects that provide a really interesting context for historical enquiry.
[18:54] We’ve also commissioned a film that has characters using some of the objects from our collection; for instance, a siege coin that was minted during one of Newark’s sieges and other everyday objects that people used in the 17th century.  There are audio clips of the voices of actors playing soldiers, or of important people from source material we’ve included so we hear the voice of Oliver Cromwell, for instance, and there are lots and lots of downloadable games and activities.
What we’ve tried to do is to provide a kind of immersive, hands-on, interactive experience.  The kind of thing you would experience if you were coming to the museum, but that sits alongside that experience, if you’re able to visit us every year or access our digital sessions, but also stands on its own.
If you’re somebody who lives far too far away to access the National Civil War Centre, you will be able to create a well-informed and interactive and exciting experience of teaching and learning in the classroom without coming to us.
[20:01] If I deal with a brief look at each of the units in turn.
‘Soldiers’ looks at the military experience of the Wars.  It asks children to prioritise different battlefield tactics and become Civil War commanders.  As the children meet the different kinds of soldiers that were on the battlefield and they hear their voices, they look at images of replica and real weapons and they have a kind of ‘choose your own adventure’ style battle where they role play the commanders in a local battle and they make key decisions and find out how it was that Cromwell led his soldiers to victory.
Then they look at a range of sources and work as historians to try and work out where the battle happened.
They look at maps and objects and Cromwell’s own account of what happened, in order to try and site that battle, and they examine that suit of armour I mentioned, that bears the mark of a killing bullet and they try and work out what happened to the soldier and when.
[21:33] ‘Sieges’ looks closely at the way the war was fought all over the country, not just on the battlefield but through siege warfare when high value targets, hundreds of them all over the country, were surrounded by soldiers, cut off and bombarded in order to try and force their surrender.  This unit looks really therefore on the effect the war had on everyday life for ordinary people.  The children role play, again, Cromwell and other commanders besieging Basing House, they choose their equipment and they work out a plan of attack. They also examine some pages from the Warwickshire Loss Accounts to see what was taken by soldiers from the houses of ordinary people, and that’s an example where we’ve shown real source material, which teachers were telling us was not always very accessible to primary schools.  By creating illustrations and supportive material we’ve tried to make that accessible for children and to give them the experience of being historians using real sources in the classroom.
[22:38] ‘Spies’ presents the role of women during the war, not just as grieving widows but also as active participants who made the most of the fact that women were seen as almost invisible, in order to become secret agents influencing strategy and very much active participants in what was happening.  It asks children to join a Royalist spy ring and to make a plan to break the King out of his prison on the Isle of Wight and they also then later change sides and are recruited as Cromwell’s postmasters during the Interregnum period.  They try and foil a Royalist plot to bring back the King, by opening a postbag and looking to see which letters seem to be suspicious and, by doing so, they learn not only who spied but also how spying was done.
One of the things these materials do is to model how to use local history stories so we’ve deliberately moved the story to different locations around the country.  We’ve not dealt with Newark [CUT]  ….we have other stories from other places around the country and methodology that can be adapted for stories that you can find locally too.
[25:45] ‘Survivors’ looks at the human cost of the British Civil Wars and it introduces children to some real wounded soldiers who’ve survived the wars and it asks them to examine the objects that would have been used on the battlefield to save their lives, and to consider the everyday ability aids that would have been used to help people live on.  What we’ve tried to do is to present these stories as positive stories of living on, as hopeful stories to show how resilient people were and how they drew on all the resources they had available to them, in order to live on after the wars were fought.
We’ve used the latest research from the Civil War Petitions Project and directed classrooms towards real letters that can be viewed on that website, so the children role play these soldiers, and others that they invent themselves, or that they find in some of our film material.  They can set up a classroom county court, presenting their cases to classroom judges and competing for the money available in order to help them live on with their injuries or other situations.
[26:57] We’ve also shown children an amazing wheelchair that we have on display in the museum, which is this very elite ability aid used by one of the most famous people that fought in the war, Sir Thomas Fairfax, who towards the end of the war was the Commander of the Parliamentarian forces.
He began to use a wheelchair because he was so very badly injured during the wars, and children are able to, again, have a look at a range of source material and investigate how he was wounded and why he needed help.  They can look very, very closely at that object which is an extraordinary object and, as far as we know, the only one that survives from this period.
[27:48] Mike Gibbs: Denise I believe you’ve run pilots in schools with this broad and very, very innovative programme.  What’s been the response from teachers and from their students?
Denise Greany: We’ve been careful throughout the process to co-design these materials with a group of teacher advisors, who’ve tried out some of the resources for us in the classroom.  What they’ve told us is that the children have really enjoyed the experience of working with these activities and sources.
The most popular activities have been card sorting games, object observations and the role play activities that I’ve described.  Also, the teachers have been really positive about having access to sources that are real but made accessible for very young children,  and what we’ve also found is that many of our pilot schools have used these materials not just in history lessons but also in other curriculum areas.
[28:47] One of the things we’ve tried to do, in designing these materials, is to allow them to be used in a cross-curricular way.  One of our pilot schools used some of the sources and activities in our Siege Unit to resource guided reading sessions in literacy lessons, and I think we have another school, locally to us, who’s looking at using the materials in the Spies Unit in order to resource writing lessons.
What these materials do is to provide fascinating history lessons but also real contexts for writing, which really excites us.
[29:28] Mike Gibbs: Remind us where and how can these programmes be
Denise Greany: The first thing to make absolutely clear is that all of these resources are absolutely free.  They’re available right now.  They can be accessed on our website, which is and they can also be found on ‘MyLearning’, which is that website I described earlier that contains a number of different resources from museums all over the country.  You do have the opportunity on that website to look for all sorts of other resources and to create kind of in-app pinboards and things like that and to share resources with colleagues.
[30:15] You can look for the resources in both of those places and you can also e-mail us at the National Civil War Centre if you would like to ask about anything at all, and we do run regular teacher network groups.  We are also planning a digital national session that you can access online for help and support with how to make a start if this topic is new to you.  Listeners can find links to these resources and to our e-mail address at the museum in the programme notes that accompany this programme.
[30:47] Mike Gibbs: Denise, this is obviously a wonderful and very, very innovative resource; what do you hope, at the end of the day, will be achieved?
[32:35] Denise Greany: What I hope is that this resource makes this fascinating period of history very accessible to primary schools.  It offers them opportunities to teach history with real sources and also to take that teaching and learning across the curriculum in a way that makes sense and makes links for children.  I think it also offers, I hope, a model for how to use local history stories to contextualise this big national narrative and how to make history make sense to children, in terms of their local area.  I hope that it really helps teachers to bring this fascinating period of history to life and to engage children in imagining how they might have managed to rise to the challenge of living in a ‘world turned upside down’.
[34:26] Mike Gibbs: Denise, firstly thank you for working with your colleagues at the National Civil War Centre in Newark to create this fascinating resource.  I’m sure that teachers all over the country are going to be really excited about the opportunity you’ve created and thank you for taking the time to tell us about it.
Denise Greany: Thank you for having me on the programme.  Thanks for offering the opportunity to talk about something that I think will make a real difference to schools.