In Autumn 2018 through to Spring 2019, as part of Amersham Museum’s People’s Story of Amersham in the 20th Century project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, our Learning Officer Georgina and blacksmith Peter Williamson of Petefire collaborated with year 5 and 6 pupils and teachers at St Mary’s CofE Primary School in Amersham Old Town to light a fire under their Victorians history topic. Inspired by the town’s industrial history and the coming of the Metropolitan railway line to Amersham, pupils worked together with Peter to design a railway-themed metal outdoor sculpture installation to compliment their curriculum learning about the railway and how life changed in Amersham in the early 20th century following the station’s opening.
Nearly 100 pupils from the school were first treated to a local history walk through Old Amersham by Museum Volunteer Euan Russell and Victorian object handling led by Learning Officer Georgina. In these sessions, students were shown buildings key to the Victorian story of the town, including the old Weller Brewery, and cottages where lace-making and straw-plaiting took place. Meanwhile, back in the classroom, the children were encouraged to explore real Victorian handling objects from the museum’s collection which tell the story of everyday life in Amersham over 100 years ago.
Following these sessions, Amersham Museum invited blacksmith Peter Williamson to the school to demonstrate traditional smithing techniques using his portable forge. Pupils were wowed as Peter turned lumps of iron into intricate arrowheads, explained the different tools blacksmiths used in the past, and cranked his forge until it spat fire and sparks – from a safe distance of course! Throughout the demonstration, each class was also introduced to the story of real-life blacksmith Thomas Ayres who lived and worked in Amersham until 1903.
Having gained an understanding of the strengths and limitations of traditional metalwork, the St Mary’s students were asked to submit designs for the sculpture which would be adapted by Peter before being made in metal. The final piece combined traditional smithing techniques (iron scrolls made into spirals in the ‘golden ratio’) with modern lazer-cut metalwork to produce a train-themed 3D sculpture to be mounted on the wall at the school.
Georgina Barrett, 22/03/19