We all like to look back on our childhoods with a sense of warmth and nostalgia, but how different was ours from those enjoyed by children today or those who grew up 200 years ago?
A fascinating exhibition at Lynn Museum – Little Lives - brings childhood to life, from the 19th century to the present day, exploring how young people lived, learned and played.
Imogen Clarke, curatorial teaching museum trainee, says “I think the adventure and imagination of childhood is something captured in all of the stories throughout Little Lives. Though times have changed enormously, it is interesting to see how play seems to be a common theme. Three of the children featured grew up in the days before the internet, before mobile phones, and before the now ubiquitous use of social media.”
As well as exhibiting previously unseen items from the museum’s collection, it also gives visitors the opportunity to explore memories from their own youth and it tells the stories of four local children who grew up at different periods during the last 200 years and who all had very different experiences.
“Whilst developing the exhibition we looked through Lynn Museum’s fascinating collection of childhood objects for inspiration,” says Imogen. “The four children we have focussed on were chosen because of their personal relationship to the objects on display.”
Ian, Mike, David and Alastair Breen grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and went to King Edward VII Grammar School in King’s Lynn and their memories form part of the exhibition.
“The Breen brothers’ story is particularly interesting. Sheila Breen, mother of the Breen brothers, worked for the museum some years ago and donated the boy’s school uniform and text books to the collection,” says Imogen. “We were then able to trace Michael Breen to Korea, where he now lives, through a newspaper cutting and Michael and his brothers were happy to share personal stories and memories of their childhood.”
Another of the featured children is Emma Morse, who grew up in the 1990s and noughties.
“Emma went to a local school and had lots of memories of contemporary childhood in King’s Lynn. She recalls the excitement of newly published Harry Potter books and films and her time as a Brownie. Emma has also kindly loaned us many personal objects from her childhood to help tell her story.”
The other children featured were Beatrice Monement, who was a child in the 1850s and played with a dolls house made by her father, as well as croquet and chess, and Elaine Lowerison, who was a child in the 1900s and went to the Ruskin School in Heacham. Her family photographs and ephemera have helped to tell the story of this unconventional school.
“One story featured in the exhibition looks at the Ruskin School at Heacham – which was founded in 1900 by Harry Bellerby Lowerison. One of the unusual aspects of this privately-run school, was that it was for both boys and girls in mixed classes. Mr Lowerison believed in enabling the children to enjoy sports activities and to make good friendships. The house was even nicknamed “The Wilderness”,” she laughs.