Where history happened

Stepping inside the home of a significant person from history can immerse pupils in the past and bring to life many cross-curricular topics, writes the English Heritage’s London Education Team.

English Heritage is renowned for bringing history for life for school pupils across the country, from famous castles to magnificent mansions in far and remote locations. But for teachers looking to bring history to life for pupils in London, look no further than one of our hugely varied historical sites right in the city. From Kenwood in North London, to the home of Charles Darwin, Down House in Bromley, the great homes of London are free for schools to explore this term on a self-led visit. Pupils can step inside these great homes of London for an immersive experience linked to local history, significant people as well as many other cross-curricular topics from art and design to science and biology.

By visiting these famous houses and London landmarks, children will be walking into the places where history happened, rather than being in a museum setting and simply looking at artefacts, school groups will be standing in the environment where a significant person lived.

Charles Darwin
Down House in Bromley is the home of Charles Darwin and an internationally famous country villa with recreated Victorian interiors, original pieces of furniture, and grounds which are recognised as a ‘Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’ to explore. Schools can visit Down House for a variety of national curriculum related topics from looking at a significant person – Charles Darwin, to exploring the on-site ‘Uncovering Origin’ exhibition which explores the impact of Darwin’s theories, and the controversy which surrounded them. School children particularly enjoy seeing the full‑scale recreation of the Beagle, where Darwin embarked on a five‑year voyage. New for this year, groups can enjoy Darwin’s newly interpreted bedroom and wardrobe complete with dressing up costumes. Use our new Learning Trail for schools, available to download for free on the Down House School Visits webpage which explores both the indoor and outdoor highlights of this amazing property to enable pupils to become experts in observation!

The art world
For schools situated in North London, Kenwood is the go-to destination to view first‑hand the great masters of the art world including Rembrandt, Vermeer and Turner. It is surrounded by 112 acres of parkland for schools to have a well-deserved run around or to look at science and nature topics. The amazing art collections are not all that Kenwood has to offer, from the beginning of your visit, schools are welcome to enjoy the stunning Robert Adam interiors; the Great Library being a must-see for school groups. A library of this nature will help pupils to understand how interiors have changed over time, and how the homes of others reflected wealth and status. Schools can also make use of a bookable education room to leave bags or have lunch. A new hands-on expert-led Discovery Visit is also available for Key Stage three groups this year, linking Kenwood’s connection to former owner, Lord Mansfield and his influential role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

Eltham Palace
Moving towards South-East London is the medieval masterpiece, Eltham Palace, with Art Deco inspired interiors and acres of beautiful gardens. The former home to Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, and where Henry VIII spent much of his childhood, the mansion itself was built to adjoin to the incredible medieval Great Hall which schools can walk inside. There are many hands-on elements included in a school trip to Eltham Palace from a 1930s walk-in wardrobe complete with costumes to the luxury wartime bunker and billiard room in the basement with new interpretation and more costumes to help children understand what these rooms were used for. Pupils will enjoy spotting the quirky details in the house which are dedicated to the Courtauld’s pet Lemur, MahJongg. See if your class can find him in the mural in the basement and in his custom-built cage complete with ladder to the main house. Exploring outside, the palace has 19 acres of gardens and a fantastic travel-themed play area to explore.

Apsley House
Apsley House is the only property managed by English Heritage where the original owners still live. A great location for schools to look at significant people in their locality, in this case, the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Throughout the house, also known as ‘Number 1 London’, are dazzling interiors which are fine example of the Regency style of the time in which pupils can compare and contrast to the homes of today. Not to forget, the outstanding art collection, some of which is displayed in an impressive gallery which is 28 metres long. Many of these paintings were presented to the Duke by European rulers who were grateful for his victory against Napoleon. These paintings and grand setting provided the perfect backdrop for entertaining, including the annual Waterloo Banquet which commemorated the great victory. Downstairs, the basement gallery features a new exhibition including medals and shields, all of which represent the national hero status that the Duke had by the time of his death in 1852.

Schools can make the most of their day out of the classroom when visiting Apsley House by walking the short distance to nearby Wellington Arch, an iconic monument which was originally intended as a grand outer entrance to Buckingham Palace as well as being a symbol of Wellington’s victories over Napoleon.

Today, schools can visit the on-site exhibition themed around the famous battle as well as climbing to the top to look out at the fantastic views across London from the balconies. Groups will be able to identify other famous landmarks, such as London’s Royal Parks, the Houses of Parliament and quite uniquely, they can also take a peek into the Queen’s back gardens from this vantage point.

Further information