Secondary Secondary History

Secondary History – Industrial Revolution starter activity

What can you do with an advert from a Trade Directory?

You know the feeling – you are looking for a good starter activity that will promote discussion and debate, then lead to more detailed thinking about the topic under consideration – in this case the [to many people] dreadfully dull Industrial Revolution. Try using this source – or find something very similar in one of your own County Trade Directories.

This is a tiny, one-eighth of a page advert from the rear section of Kelly’s Lincolnshire Directory 1885. Try projecting it on the whiteboard and asking pupils to tell you their reactions to it.

Normally, it is one of surprise – who would want to order ice, and by train from Grimsby? And intrigue. What size would the blocks need to be in order not to melt? How do you move blocks of ice? How do you carry them? How long would it take? Where do you store them when they arrive from Norway, presumably in the winter, until they are wanted in the Spring and Summer? How much of the ice do you lose in the process? How do you get ‘Pure Norwegian Block Ice’ from Norway to Grimsby? How much would it cost to transport? And then how do you deliver it by train? And then from the station? Without it melting? Who would be able to afford it? Lots of questions which your students may or may not be able to answer. History does not always give us the answers!

Link the discussion back to that grand Tudor or Stuart or Georgian House they visited or studied. It almost certainly had an Ice House in the grounds, usually underground and well insulated. Where did the ice come from? Why did they need so much ice anyway?

The 1880s is the time New Zealand [frozen] lamb started to arrive in the UK, and beef from South America, butter from Australia. Steam ships and railways opened up the world. What part might ice from the more frozen parts of the world play in this process?

Now turn specifically to Victorian housing in the new industrial towns. What were living conditions like – many families lived in one room, most houses were shared. No electricity. No cooker. No freezers. How do you keep food fresh? Tinned food was just beginning – and expensive. There was an insatiable demand for ice.

So you see a simple advert from a trade directory can open the door to many aspects of life in the Victorian period. And liven up your study of the Industrial Revolution too!

Alf Wilkinson
CPD Manager for the Historical Association and previously National Strategist for Key Stage 3 History. Alf has over 30 years history teaching experience and was lead author for Collins Key Stage 3 History resources.

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