1930s Hat by Lynda McCraight


Well it was more a headband than a hat really. She was going to a 1930s evening in June, dancing to the Palm Court Orchestra – not that she could dance, but she’d have a go at a waltz, and the chance of being asked to dance would keep her happy between now and then. I mean, you never know what type of beaux might turn up to this kind of thing; it wasn’t exactly a run of the mill Friday night out, now was it?

Anyway, she’d done a bit of googling to find out what the evening fashions were like for ladies of that era, and she’d looked up evening gloves, handbags and headgear. She’d even checked on whether fans were used – she was pretty sure they would be – in all that heat. Then she’d visited Oxford by train, stayed a few days and found the most gorgeous dress in a charity shop in the covered market.

The sales lady had been really helpful, urging her to try it on, saying, “Oh yes, it could certainly pass as 30s with its figure-hugging body and slightly flared hem.”

When she’d come out of the changing room, just a corner of the shop with a curtain across, the lady had complimented her figure and said how much it suited her, just the right colour to go with her eyes. A young Polish man who was buying literary fiction agreed, smiled warmly and said how the colour accentuated her hair. That had made her feel all giggly inside – a young man and a compliment all in the same day – things were looking up!

The sales lady had looked around for an evening stole or jacket that would go with the dress but then she’d remembered the maroon feathery stole she’d had for her 60th birthday bash and knew instinctively that it would go. A little later she’d also remembered the light maroon dolly-bag that friends had bought for her birthday and realised her outfit was taking shape.

She got the dress home, wrapped carefully in her nightie so as not to catch on any of the suitcase fittings. All the way there on the train, she dreamt of dancing in the 1930s style, the music and the dress. She felt quite warm when she arrived home and instantly ran upstairs to try it on all over again with the accessories that she’d earmarked all those miles away. And now she knew the shoes she’d wear too – those chocolate brown ones she’d bought for £2 from the charity shop in Knottingley for the 1940s events she’d taken part in – wouldn’t they look just grand? And they did, and she had those lisle-look stockings that she’d worn on stage, they’d do too. Oh this was going to be a night to remember – if only for the outfit.

Next day she had a friend over and they went back to the same Knottingley shop on the hunt for scarves in the same colours as the dress. Because it was multi-coloured it gave her plenty of choice. There was pale green, chocolate brown, a hint of purple, dusky pink and those turquoise sequins that twinkled in every light. Boy was she going to outshine all the other ladies on that night in June. And if she could just find a scarf or two to create some kind of headgear, that would be magnificent.

She and Jen didn’t have far to look as scarves were on the end of every rail of clothes. Straight away, she saw a fringed greenish-blue one that would certainly work as a shawl or might make the base of a turban-style hat. And then, just two rails away, she saw the most exquisite scarf imaginable – it had a satin edge and the rest was semi-transparent in pinks and blues and greens. She had never seen anything like it. It was so delicate and feminine – like nothing she’d ever had before. She bought them both, ideas already brimming over in her mind.

Later on that day, she assembled the outfit again but this time, turned the fringed shawl into a little evening cape to hide the tops of her arms – she couldn’t imagine that any ladies in the 30s had “bingo-wings” and she certainly wasn’t going to show hers! No, everything had to be as authentic as possible. The satin-edged scarf worked well as a tight fitting hat that she could tie in a bow at the side of one ear – very much like the flappers wore in the 1920s. “That’ll do,” she thought.” Women often wear things left over from a previous decade and this will be no different. All I need now is a brooch to embellish it and maybe a feather.”

And the opportunity for those presented themselves that weekend when she went with Jen to a local Antiques Fair and bought, for very little money, two delightful brooches in turquoise and all sparkly, and at the last minute – when the stall holders really wanted to pack their things away- she found a pair of longish gloves in pale blue and spied in the bottom of the lady’s box a dark brown feather, a little dog-eared perhaps but certainly enough to create a stunning feature on her hat.

Again, she returned home and worked wonders with the feather and the brooches. It was just enough to set the whole outfit off. She fell back on the bed exhausted but happy that her outfit for June was now complete. Later as she was hanging it all up on the door in her bedroom, the phone rang, but she couldn’t quite get downstairs quickly enough to take the call. By the time she reached the lounge, there was a message on the answer-phone: “Sorry about this, but the 1930s night has been cancelled due to lack of numbers. To get your money re-funded you need to phone this number.”

“No!” she said over and over, “No. No. No!” It had been the one thing that had been keeping her alive. She wasn’t interested in the money. She stumbled back upstairs, put the outfit on for the last time and sobbing softly, cradled herself to sleep.





A History of England – Words and Pictures

It was undoubtedly an ambitious task to cover a history of England in a six week WEA class, but by focussing on themes and selecting images and text the recent ‘A History of England – Words and Pictures’ course did indeed achieve this goal. The course included how Roman mosaics reflected changing society and beliefs, the influence of religion in key Anglo Saxon texts, the representation of conflict in the Bayeux Tapestry, issues of democracy through the Magna Carta, vivid agricultural scenes in the Luttrell Psalter, Tudor Portraiture, the turbulent seventeenth century, Pepys’ Diary, Daniel Defoe’s accounts of different places, Victorian innovation and representations of conflict in the twentieth century and emotional responses to the poetry and art of the world wars.

However, it was the collaborative and very much creative endeavours of the group that really made the course. Drawing upon the many inspirations of how words and pictures have been used to record historic events, describe everyday life and campaign for change from throughout the course, students embarked upon a project to document daily life in the twenty-first century.

Here is a selection of their work:-


Ruth showcases her pictorial story of the history of dance through images – dance is an important part of her life and her design was inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry we had looked at in an earlier session.

Pauline reflected on her family history and said “The world has always needed leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, people of power, but try to imagine life without the ordinary man or woman going about their daily business, working, farming, fighting wars, paying taxes. There would be no goods to trade, not much food, no army to defend the country, no transport no mills or factories, no offices, no schools, teachers or colleges – the list is endless. The unknown, unsung masses are what made the world what it is today, and also put the Great in Great Britain”


Joan explained how she had started a personal discovery of the Halifax area and as she travelled she thought of writing about what she saw but in the end opted for a visual representation of an important hobby – gardening

An extract from a letter to Daniel Defoe by Jonathan:-

“Dear Daniel Defoe,

It is now 290 years since your visit to Halifax in 1725. I enjoyed reading your account of your journey here in ‘A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain’. I thought you would be interested to know something of the changes that have taken place since your visit.

You described your journey here on the main packhorse route from Wakefield as being ‘exceedingly troublesome and dangerous’. The road was ‘so steep, so rugged…sometimes too slippery’ and hardly suitable for carriages. The route was replaced by new turnpike roads in 1741 and 1824. Then in 1841 there was a development you would have found exciting. The Manchester and Leeds Railway Company opened a railway line through the Calder Valley. Naturally, the Rochdale and Halifax Turnpike Trust tried to delay proceedings…in recent years there has been a development that I think you would find even more astonishing. A broad road has been constructed with room for three carriages to travel abreast in each direction. This road crosses the old packhorse route near Hipperholme. Today the carriages are referred to as ‘cars’ and are powered by internal combustion engines using refined oil. They can maintain a speed of 70 mph. The average daily flow of cars on this road is 1000,000 travelling east and 78,000 travelling west!”

The letter continues to describe changes to religion and governance and finally publishing discussing e-books. It concludes “I think it would please you to know that many of your writings are still in print. It is possible to buy an ebook at a cost of £1-6s-6d with your Complete Works (illustrated)”.

My journey to Walsingham by Margaret described it as a “marvellous place of peace and quiet, able to concentrate on important parts of our lives away from every day things we normally do”.


Sue wrote a poem entitled ‘My Favourite Things’

“Give way to drivers – they look miserable

Not a wave to me – am I invisible?

Shop assistants – I’m ignored

They just stand chatting looking bored

Litter from cars lands with a bump

Turning our village into a dump

Junk emails – nuisance calls

Cause me to bounce off all four walls

Can’t climb trees can’t play conkers

Health and safety drives me bonkers

Please forgive me I’m only human

Or am I just a grumpy old woman”

Congratulations to everyone who contributed this work to add new words and pictures to document some aspect of their lives – great innovative work.

Humanities Day in York

This vibrant event brought tutors together from across the Humanities including history, family history, archaeology, art history, practical arts, creative writing, literature, languages and politics. Such diversity of tutors at the same event generated some interesting and lively conversations during the day.

The day provided an opportunity for tutors across the region to exchange ideas and find out what was happening elsewhere. There were also lots of interesting updates about what was happening in the region and how it might affect Humanities tutors including the ‘Out of the Box’ scheme, Voices of Conflict and the EmCett and SunCett research projects. Linda Croft introduced the ‘Out of the Box’ Scheme, explaining that it provided additional funding for class visits for groups that otherwise would be unable to participate in such activities. Liz McPherson then gave her experience as a WEA tutor who had used the funding to take her group of creative writers to the National Mining Museum near Wakefield. The group had produced a book of their creative writing inspired by the visit. Additionally, the group benefited in different ways including confidence and friendships. The scheme provides wonderful opportunities for all concerned and hopefully some more groups will be able to take advantage of it after the event. The Voices of Conflict project marks the centenary of World War One, and incorporates a wide range of course and activities. The report reflected on what had already happened in the region and the exciting prospects for the project on the horizon. Victoria Beauchamp and Nicola Thorpe gave an overview of their EmCett research about how do we effectively capture the impact that visits to cultural sites has on students; and Sarah Holland talked about the findings of her SunCett research into the impact of studying local history on mental health and wellbeing.

In addition, there were a series of workshops and short sessions engaging tutors with ideas and activities that related to the humanities. The morning sessions revolved around using the environment creatively, and included creative writing, line drawing, using maps and recording buildings. It was a great opportunity to try something new and think about how different curriculum areas could embrace the local environment in creative ways. In the afternoon, three short workshops explored ways in which to creatively record progress. Sarah Holland discussed how history, archaeology, writing and ESOL tutors and students had already effectively used the WEA Yorkshire and Humber Blog. Victoria and Nicola introduced a creative video that captured the thoughts and actions of groups of Digability students to showcase progress in a very visual format. Jackie Depelle combined family history and scrapbooking to demonstrate how this creative activity could be used to evidence progress.

A big thank you to everyone who organised the event, and especially to Linda Croft, Victoria Beauchamp and Nicola Thorpe for ensuring the day ran so smoothly.

History, Health and Well Being by Dr Sarah Holland

Interest in the links between adult learning and health and wellbeing continues to grow. Earlier this month Ann Walker posted a thought-provoking piece on the subject (http://annwalkerwea.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/health-wellbeing-and-adult-learning/). My own experiences teaching history with the WEA have provided similarly positive outcomes for the learners. Having observed the positive impact studying history has had on the mental health and well being of learners, I was interested in researching the link further. A SUNCETT research fellowship awarded to me has allowed me to explore the links between studying history and improved mental health and wellbeing. The aim of this research is to identify quantitative and qualitative data to demonstrate the impact and to develop strategies for effectively capturing the impact in the classroom. The importance of this research is two-fold: to raise the profile of history as a portal to better health and well being

The SUNCETT research programme supports the work of the successful applicants through three residentials and personal mentors. Having just completed the second residential and having received feedback from my mentor I can report that the research is progressing well. The focus is upon the study of local history, using case studies of groups taught within the WEA, as well as broader statistical data and comments.

I look forward to sharing my findings with those within the WEA and further afield in due course. In the meantime, I would welcome comments from other WEA history tutors and from history students regarding their experience of the positive impact of studying history on mental health and well being.

Have you noticed a link between history courses and improved mental health and well being?

Is this a link you had previously considered or not?

How can we capture the impact if there is one?

Your thoughts on these discussion points, and any others, would be most grateful received – and of course build upon the broader conversations being initiated throughout adult education.

Connecting Communities: Huddersfield’s Hidden Heritage

The celebration visit at the Packhorse Gallery, with Cllr Ken Smith


A group of students from S2R, a mental health charity in Kirklees, have been busy researching the hidden heritage of Huddersfield. This week they celebrated the completion of all their hard work with an exhibition and a visit from the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Ken Smith.

On the first session we had a walk around Huddersfield talking about the history of the town and how much things had changed. By the end of the day everyone had identified a building they were interested in finding out more about. Over the next few weeks we visited the local studies library in Huddersfield and looked at books, old photos, maps, trade directories and other sources connected to these buildings.

Researching at the local studies library

Exploring the buildings of Huddersfield – finding out more about the community we live in

In the penultimate session the group had a behind the scenes tour of Huddersfield Town Hall – Cllr Ken Smith warmly welcomed us and showed us around this fascinating building.

Our visit to Huddersfield Town Hall

Everyone found the process of discovering more about buildings and working as a group thoroughly enjoyable and commented on how it had increased their confidence. The impact of studying history on mental health and well-being is the focus of research I am undertaking in conjunction with SUNCETT and this project will feature as a case study in the subsequent report. They also found themselves able to engage with the community more, and shared their research with different people at the exhibition.


Harrogate’s Lessons from the First World War

The WEA in Yorkshire and Humber is marking the centenary of the First World War with a series of events under the ‘Voices of Conflict’ banner.

The programme aims to provide opportunities for tutors and students to explore the lives and experiences of those people whose lives were affected by the war.

This isn’t just about history. It’s about raising the voices of those who tend to be least heard whilst also asking what we might learn from their sacrifices. More than anything, it’s about understanding the complexity of the First World War and the enormous impact that it had on society.

These themes were at the heart of an event held last weekend in Harrogate to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the WEA. The event acted as a curtain-raiser for courses that this volunteer-led Branch has planned for the coming year and was attended by prospective students, currents tutors, Harrogate’s MP and the WEA’s very own Director for Education.   

My role was to give a taster of our approach in a talk based on the First World War.

This might sound like a simple task. After all, we all know the story of the First World War, it’s been a mainstay of our popular history since the 1950s. But the task raised numerous questions that go to the heart of the  ‘Voices of Conflict’ programme. Not least the question of why a prospective student would want to find out more about an event that will no doubt dominate the media in 2014.

It was with this is mind that I decided to use the opportunity as a chance to ask that very question. Handing out scraps of paper to the 40 or so people in the room, I asked everyone to write a single sentence on why they thought the First World War was important.

The answers are illuminating. Fourteen people mentioned the scale of the loss. Fourteen people mentioned the extent of change after 1918. Three used the phrase ‘Never Again’. Three pointed to women’s suffrage. One person said that the war proved a ‘law of unintended consequences’. And the remainder were lost amongst a sea of flyers!

As a historian, these answers are most interesting as the echo the way that the war was viewed by contemporaries. This was the ‘Great War’, a ‘war to end all wars’, a war that was remembered by the phrase ‘lest we forget’. It was also a war to which many different groups claimed a stake. A point of rupture, it was a war’s whose legacy was partly constructed by those who sought to understand its scale by explaining it as a fight for something concrete. 

We should not forget this as we consider how we might integrate the conflict into our provision. And nor should we forget that the First World War is an event about which we might feel we ‘know’ without really being able to ‘understand’. The coming centenary provides us with a unique opportunity to move in that direction by showing just how important the War – and its legacy – remain.

Henry Irving’s ‘Relics of the “Great War”‘ course starts at Harrogate’s Community House on Friday 20 September at 2pm. 

Learning from history

Lifelong Learning Matters

What has the First World War got to do with our lives today?

This was the basis of a thought-provoking day of learning and discussion organised by the WEA’s Harrogate Branch yesterday. It was a curtain-raiser for courses that the volunteer-led Branch has planned for the autumn term.

Sue McGeever, a family history student, brought the subject to life with a fascinating account of women’s contributions to the war effort. Her research had led her to find out more about women who had volunteered with the YMCA to run recreational and welfare facilities and tuck shops for troops on the Western Front.

Sue had unearthed letters and photographs describing the women’s experiences. She made them very real and relevant to contemporary life. Her story of Betty Stevenson from Harrogate was especially poignant and it was hard to believe that this was Sue’s first public presentation. An account of Betty Stevenson’s life is…

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