"John Broad's Story": The Building of the Canals

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Dorothy Heathcote was working on a project about the building of the canal system. She recalled: "In order to introduce the century, the period element, we took the genuine account of ... John Broad. He worked on the canals..."

The story was written out by hand, for use in the classroom. This is a great example of how information can be “planted” in the teaching materials, for the children to discover.

It's the story of the tragedy. It’s why the Eighth Rise [canal] was never - was never finished. If I just read you:

“John Broad began his working life at the age of eight as a beater” -

So, we're seeing how people move from one job to another. And when the canals came, he began to work as a carter with the canals. We've put pictures in, to avoid explaining what it was like in 1834 …


And then we have; “In the summer of 1835” - and you see, we've information planted: “the steam navigation company.” We've got [an image of] wooden planks, to shore up the site. They’re all “keys”…

And we know: “On the eighth day of rain, the engineer having ordered that building, which had been suspended, should recommence at noon, John Broad harnessed his mare Nell” – a load of information – “to the cart with the last load of shoring timbers and began the long haul from Ingstone Bottoms.”

And then, you see: “… the sixth rise, the rain [had] washed away the temporary gravel footpath” - temporary gravel footpath is part of the building of a canal; later, it will be the footpath that the horses walk to pull the barges.

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I mean, the amount of material put into these few sheets is enormous, to avoid the teacher saying: “Oh, well” - you know. …

Now, you see, that sort of information would provide the absolute basis for [an understanding of] village life. His dinner is mentioned, the food is mentioned, how she [his wife] carried it is mentioned, but very briefly.

Now, you see, you can give children a book like that, and say: “Read this story, it is very interesting, about the canals, and then you’ll know how bad the accidents were.”


Well, will you? Will you? Is that what you want to do in school? It's a nice story - I mean, well, it’s a horrid story.

But what you want is: whenever they see a canal, they see who paid. When they see monks, they don't just laugh. When they see old houses, and say: “Oh, it's Tudor” - they have some images.


They are educated.


And we can't educate them in everything; but even one project like that [on John Broad] enables children to realise, that whatever you look at, you can look into.


And they’ll have all their lives to look into things.

But if they’re taught in school: “Get through it fast. Finish it before the bell goes. Hand it to me, you'll get it back” - nobody is learning anything, of the kind we are talking about.

Source: “Rolling Role and the National Curriculum” video series (1993), Tape 4 (University of Newcastle).

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