Ellen Buxton came from the large family of social reformers and philanthropists. Her grandfather was Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton who led the campaign to abolish slavery. The Buxton family had made their money in the family brewery, based in Spitalfields. Ellen married a cousin, Robert Barclay, whose family were connected with Barclays bank.
As a young girl growing up in Leytonstone, Ellen had a great deal of time to explore the local area and Epping Forest with her brothers and sisters – she was one of 14 children, although three siblings died in childhood.
Ellen loved to write in her diary and make sketches of family life, including many of her brothers and sisters playing with their favourite toys. Her descendants published extracts from her diary and the images in these make a wonderful resource for helping children today find out what toys children played with over 100 years ago. How many toys do you recognise in this drawing of everyone playing the garden?
There is a china doll in the museum’s collections, which comes from the Buxton family. It is possible it might be the doll Ellen drew her sisters playing with in this sketch. They are certainly handling it very carefully.
This blog has been written by one of our remote volunteers, Amanda Ciccone.
Epping Forest District Museum is hosting the Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered exhibition, on loan from the V&A Museum of Childhood, from 25 September to 24 December. This is a highly interactive exhibition that not only educates, but entertains.
There is so much that can be said about board games and their lasting value, and the exhibition attempts to cover it all. For instance, board games allow us a snapshot into history: Monopoly comes to mind, created in the early 1900s as a sort of cautionary illustration of what happens when private monopolies have ownership of land. Board games are adored as artwork (i.e. Pachisi), and can be thrilling for their level of strategy (cue in Risk). Sometimes we see board games intersect with other mediums: Legos serving as chess pieces, Cluedo being the basis of a movie, tv shows and books, and Star Wars actually becoming a board game. Playing a board game is a social activity and can be used to see what it says about the player; discover what kind of player you are in the exhibition’s What’s your Gameface? section.
Let us look at one game in particular, Snakes and Ladders, a children’s classic, and with a background story that may be unexpected to some. Originating in India in the 2nd century, called Moksha Patam, it was a morality lesson set against the journey of life, the ladders representing karma, or destiny, and the snakes representing kama, or desire. In England, that morality allegory was preserved, though altered to Christian values and vices, and the name changed to Snakes and Ladders. Later, when Milton Bradley released the game in the 1940s, the snakes were replaced by the tamer image of chutes, or slides, thereby changing the name to Chutes and Ladders in North America. All traces of ethics were stripped from the board itself by then, replaced by a playground, thought to be more appropriate for children.
The object of the game is to land on the finish line by rolling the dice or spinning a spinner. Hope that you land on a ladder, which will allow you to cut ahead on the board, and cross your fingers that you don’t land on a snake…which will take you backwards a few or several spaces. It is a game won and lost purely by luck.
Games exist as an effective vehicle for learning, which has never been more relevant to me than now as being a teacher of English as a second language. I have discovered that a board game is a useful incorporation into a lesson, because the rules are often already familiar to the student, and because the game can be transformed to fit one’s needs. In my version of Battleship, a certain sentence structure will hit your ship, not an “E2” coordinate. In Snakes and Ladders, you must conjugate a verb accordingly, regardless of landing on a snake or a ladder*. [i] In playing a board game, everyone is on the same level, and a common tongue is not particularly essential; a meeple is a word specific to Carcassonne and does not exist outside of the game, for instance.
The moment I realised that these games, which I had known my whole life, were also robust education tools, was an educative moment in itself. When done right, games make you laugh, think, be challenged, and they pass the time with ease. Playing a board game has the potential to create strong bonds and moments, which we all know can be powerfully formative. In sum, learning is effective when having fun, and I am appreciative of the timeless, universal relevance that board games have.
Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered is thought provoking, vibrant, and memorable. It was said in the beginning that this exhibition not only educates, but entertains. But it can even be said in the inverse: that this not only entertains, but educates; this depends on your starting point. A good game is often both, in any case.
During these current times that have often been isolating, this exhibition could not have come at a better moment.
[i] * Snakes and Ladders could be used to reinforce vocabulary, though I do not attempt to teach moral ethics!
We were thrilled when children’s author, Tom Palmer, contacted us with an offer to write a short story connected with our exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District.
Tom’s book After the War tells the story of the Boys and their arrival in England to begin their journey to recovery from the terrible experiences of the Holocaust on the shores of Lake Windermere.
Tom researched material for this story, speaking to historians such as Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project, as well as local people who still remember the boys to make sure his story reflected their lives and experiences with as much historical accuracy as possible. It was important to Tom to do justice to the story of the boys this way. He includes photographs he used in his research in his book so you can see the evidence for yourself.
The three main characters in After the War are Yossi, Mordecai and Leo. They are composite characters, but elements of their lives are all based on what happened to the real boys.
Tom wanted to write a story about one of the actual boys for us and we decided to focus on Sir Ben Helfgott, whose story is so incredible it is almost hard to believe it is true. Ben survived the Holocaust, describing himself as a ‘walking skeleton’ when the war finally ended, and the camps were liberated. Yet, within ten years of his arrival in Britain he captained the British Weightlifting Team at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. And, even more incredibly, in 1948 he found his sister Mala had also survived the Holocaust and they were reunited.
We had the privilege of meeting Ben, Mala and their families at reunion of the Boys held at the museum and at Holmehurst, the house where Ben and his friend came to stay in the district. We are very grateful that Ben and his family gave us permission to tell his story, to keep inspiring future generations with this story of survival and hope.
You can read Tom’s story His name is Ben on our website and find out more about Tom and After the War on his website
Did you know? Holmehurst, the house where the Loughton boys Holocaust survivors stayed, was used as a safehouse after the Munich agreement which allowed Hitler to take control of the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia.
A Series of Fortunate Coincidences – The Loughton Boys from a Curator’s Perspective
Ellis Spicer, University of Kent
I often call where I am today helping with curating the exhibition ‘a series of fortunate coincidences’, because that’s really how it manifested. References in the Martin Gilbert book on the Boys from Windermere and after to Loughton, reflections in interviews with survivors who were there all happened by chance rather than design and led me down this path. I was doing my PhD on Holocaust survivor communities in Britain at the University of Kent, I grew up in Epping Forest and went to King Harold School, I used to be an Epping Forest Youth Councillor and volunteer at the museum. I wasn’t expecting all of those spheres of my life to come together in a series of fortunate (or what I’ve come to think of as amazing) coincidences.
And at an event in the Houses of Parliament in 2018 for the Epping Forest Youth Council, which I was part of 2009-2011, I ran into Tony O’Connor, one of the museum’s staff members and shared my fascinating discovery about the history of Holocaust survivors in the UK and the history of the Epping Forest District. His reaction was gobsmacked, he mentioned how the museum were looking to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and this could be a perfect way to showcase a little-known aspect of our area’s history.
The process happened fairly quickly and an exhibition was due to open in May 2020 at Epping Forest District Museum. Research was compiled, ideas exchanged and excitement was high. But then Covid happened. And in many ways we reflect on that disruption with an air of gratitude despite all of the horrors unfolding in the world during the pandemic. So many more avenues we could explore, so many more exciting projects to do the exhibition justice and tell such an important story the best way we could.
The research process for an exhibition has been very similar to the research process for my PhD. I started out knowing what I wanted to research and the individuals/groups I needed to reach out to, and I started there with interviews with three of the four surviving Loughton boys living in the UK: Ben Helfgott, Harry Spiro and Janek Goldberger. From there, I delved into the archives of the ’45 Aid Society Journal and the Central British Fund and expanded my networks for information, looking at archived oral history and testimony for those Loughton boys no longer with us and objects from the Jewish Museum and Imperial War Museum to potentially loan.
The biggest learning curve for this former King Harold student under the tutelage of Mr Rumsey turned PhD student at Kent turned curator is the designing stage. I have learned so much more about how to communicate research, how to engage with people and how to make things look appealing. We academics often lose sight of the everyday in our research, and this exhibition has connected me back to the day-to-day life of the stories I’m privileged to tell.
It’s always been important to me to never stop learning, and this exhibition reflects this next step for me in order to meet that goal. I credit my connection to the District, it’s schools, teachers, the museum and passionate local individuals for bringing me to this point. I want to end with the many fascinating stories of our local history waiting to be discovered, and to urge all of the passionate historians out there to capture these stories and record them where possible.
The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District is open now at Epping Forest District Museum. For more information on the opening hours of the museum and how we are managing our covid safe environment please visit https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum/
We are looking forward to running our new series of history days for schools once the museum reopens! These days focus on learning about history through fun, hands-on activities. Children love exploring the museum, some of which is housed in a fascinating sixteenth century Tudor house, and they often get special access to historic local objects which are not currently on public display during their visit.
The history days are based on topics from the National Curriculum, and each one comprises of three exciting sessions…
Pupils might be Discovering the toys local girl Ellen Buxton played with 100 years ago, using images from her beautiful diary and real old toys from the museum’s collection; or getting hands-on with ancient artefacts to investigate how life changed during the Stone Age.
They could be Exploring behind the scenes in the museum, with a chance to see some of our Roman treasures which are not on public display; or finding out about life in Victorian times using local artefacts from the museum’s stores.
And they might be Creating a clay pot inspired by techniques used in the Neolithic period; or creating a print in the style of local artist Walter Spradbery, to take home.
Whatever they are learning about, the children can expect a warm welcome at the museum and a stimulating and memorable day. We can’t wait to welcome schools back!
If you would like to book a history day for your school group, please contact Catherine Hammond on 07548 145669 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The museum has a range of boxes for hire relating to many different history topics. Schools have found many different creative ways to use them. One popular idea is to create a class museum. Pupils can choose an object to research then write a label on it – but to really develop their skills at writing and presenting information for different audiences, they can also learn the techniques we use when writing labels in the museum.
We start off by doing a lot of research on an object first. Pupils can start by reading the information on their object in the topic box resource pack. Information from this might lead them to do further research in books or on the internet. At this point it will be useful to discuss which websites might provide the most reliable information for research – another museum’s website is likely to have good information on objects.
Now comes the hard bit. After all that work work, pupils must decide what are the most important things visitors to your class museum should know about their object. They can’t fit all the information on to their label as that would be too much for a visitor to read. Remember, visitors will be looking round the museum at lots of objects, so they aren’t likely to read or remember more than one or two facts about each one.
However, this is also the fun bit – pupils are now the expert on the object, so they can decide what they think the most important thing visitors should know about their object. It might be an historical piece of information, a quirky fact, something funny or amazing – you really want to grab visitors’ attention, so they are encouraged to find out more for themselves. Can you think of another good way of grabbing a visitor’s attention? You can ask a question on the label (see what I did there?!) This will encourage the visitor to talk or think about their object.
We usually try and write no more than 50 words on a label, so pupils can try making that their word limit. Other important things to include are the title or name of the object, the date it was made and / or used but if you don’t know this you can say so.
Now think about the design of your label. You want people to be able to read it easily, when typing them we use a big font size – about 16 points for a title and 14 points for the information about it. We might use a different colour for the title or make it bold. There are lots of different font styles you can choose, but we usually go for something plain and simple like Arial or Century Gothic as these are easy for people to read. If you are handwriting them, then neat and clear writing will work just as well.
If this sounds a bit boring, then you can have a lot more fun getting creative with a poster design for your classroom exhibition. More on that, with some top tips from the museum’s exhibition design expert in a future blog!
Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) takes place each year on 27 January. We remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The museum will be hosting a special exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District from 8 May to 4 September 2021. This will tell the incredible story of the young Holocaust survivors, young men between the ages of 16 and 21, who came to stay at Holmehurst, a house on the borders of Buckhurst Hill and Loughton from December 1945 to January 1947 as part of their recovery. We think up to 30 young men came to Holmehurst, and they became known as the Loughton Boys.
The Loughton boys were part of the first group of around 300 young survivors who were brought to Britain after the war. A total of 715 children eventually came to Britain. They are collectively known as ‘The Boys’ as, despite the mix of genders and ages in the group, the majority were teenage boys.
You can find out more about them and their incredible personal stories of recovery in the new education resource packs available on our website, which include profiles of each boy.
HMD is for everyone. Each year across the UK, thousands of people come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. We know they learn more, empathise more and do more.
If you would like to take part in Holocaust Memorial Day, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website has suggested activities you can do at home to mark the day.
The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation, and genocide must still be resisted every day. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in the UK, prejudice and the language of hatred must be challenged by us all.
Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search – find Wally in Epping Forest District Museum!
This Halloween, Wally, the world’s favourite children’s book character – wearing a red-and-white striped shirt and black-rimmed specs – will be travelling the country, appearing in museums, including Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey. Families will be able to join the search for Wally at Epping Forest District Museum as part of the Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search, organised by Walker Books and Kids in Museums, to celebrate the release of the new book, Where’s Wally? Spooky Spotlight Search.
Over 75 museums around the UK have signed up to run the promotion,which is perfectly timed for Halloween. The activity will run in participating museums from 9th October – 1st November 2020 and will be tailored within each museum to comply with their social distancing measures. Additional online activities will be available for those families choosing not to visit museums in person.
Families will be able to visit their local participating museum to hunt for Wally amongst their collections, as well as spell out a spooky phrase with letters hidden alongside mini Wally standees, and receive a special “I found Wally!” bookmark on completion of the search, as well as the chance to enter the Where’s Wally? and Kids in Museums grand prize draw competition to win an ArtFund Family Membership and a bundle of Where’s Wally? goodies.
Walker will provide participating museums with an array of supporting print and digital materials including mini standees, activity sheets, posters, bookmarks, pin badges for staff and social media assets.
Alison Bowyer, Executive Director of Kids in Museums, said:
“We’re thrilled to be working with Walker Books again this year. The last few months have been a challenging time for the heritage sector so we are pleased to support even more museums to hold a fun and safe activity this October. We hope to encourage families back into heritage sites and help them enjoy all the rich experiences on offer.”
For more information on the Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search at Epping Forest District Museum, call 01992 716882 or email email@example.com