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What can Victorian buildings tell us about how the Victorians thought?

Blyth Police Station and magistrates court was built in 1896 in Free Gothic style. The building's main entrance has 'Police Station' carved above it and internal doors have 'Magistrates' and 'Solicitors' above them. It was a very practical building designed for a definite use.

Blyth Police Station, Northumberland
Blyth Police Station, Northumberland © Mr Erik Borg. Source Historic England Archive Ref:236000

Teaching idea

Display the image and ask students to look at the building - students can write down a list of words they would use to decribe it eg imposing, fancy ironwork etc and contribute their ideas to a class discussion. If you have the image displayed on an interactive whiteboard they could write the words around the image. Ask students to think about the question - What do you think was in the minds of the Victorians who decided to build their town's police station in this particular style and on this site? Use the Victorian Buildings card sort activity (above) to develop the idea that the Victorians designed buildings for specific purposes and as a reflection of their values and attitudes. The 'Information Sheets: What can Victorian buildings tell us' (above) can be used for background information. Ask pupils to look at the images by theme based on Victorian Buildings. They should use the information in the captions to fill in the worksheet above, using the evidence to decide what these buildings can tell us about Victorian minds. To increase motivation and raise local awareness this activity could be based on buildings in your local town; see the Extended Learning section below.

Learning aims and outcomes

  • To investigate aspects of local history and how they relate to a broader historical concept
  • To use ICT to research information about the past, to process historical data and to select, categorise, organise and present information

Prior knowledge

  • Some basic knowledge of the Victorian period, industrialisation and the growth of towns

Extended learning and useful links

  • Focus on the same key question but use buildings from your own local town. There are several ways you or your students can identify suitable Victorian buildings
  • Search on the National Heritage List for England website using the advanced search facility. Type in name of your town under 'Place/Site/Street Name:', then select  the period 'Victorian' from the drop-down list. This will give you a selection of buildings complete with architectural and, in some cases, historical information.
  • Do some research online using local history websites. You should find reliable websites produced by Local History societies, museums, archives, special interest groups or local councils. Those written by private individuals may be well researched but may need checking. Simply 'google' the name of your town and see what you get!
  • Do some research by visiting your local archives or local history centre. Find out where it is by searching the National Archives directory You may wish to make a detailed study of a small number of buildings using archive source

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