14 Jan 2019

Tags: Things to do

There are lots of exciting changes happening in the museum including the development of a new space in our ground floor galleries. These changes will support our school sessions and create more opportunity for visitors to engage with the museum as a whole.

Ben (who was one of our fabulous session leaders and is now our fabulous Learning Assistant) has taken the changes underway as an opportunity to look back and reminisce about his favourite session to teach, the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Brilliant Bayeux Tapestry

With dodgy haircuts, grand medieval costumes and a throne to battle for, who cannot love the Bayeux Tapestry? At Reading Museum schools learn about the fascinating aspects of the medieval world and the drama of the Bayeux Tapestry, with our full size Victorian replica. The Tapestry stretches for seventy metres, with original medieval weapons and tools beside the colourful scenes. It is as vibrant as the nine hundred year old original and viewers can really take in the images, including weird blue horses, centaurs and camels hiding in plain sight or tucked into the borders. Pupils do not just learn the story of the Bayeux Tapestry, they get to take part in the history.

At Reading Museum students learn about the scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry and the main Anglo-Saxon and Norman characters who influenced the events of 1066. The tapestry is used alongside medieval objects, replica costume and role play to bring this period of history to life. Students are taught about how the lives of Harold Godwinson ‘the usurper’ and Duke William of Normandy were shaped by the world around them and how they in turn changed the course of English history. This may sound a little heavy, but it is easy to understand when students get to act out the parts in costume, with a stern king looking over from his wooden throne (yes there’s a real throne to capture).

Children looking at the Bayeux Tapestry
Children looking at the Bayeux Tapestry

There are eleven characters for teachers to pick out for their pupils to play (more for those who are really keen). It is easy for a group to throw themselves into the tale of William and Harold’s rivalry when a little drama is conjured up. One of my favourite characters is the vicious Viking lurking in the wings, Harold Hardrada, who lived up to his name of ‘Hard Ruler’.

The facts of poor medieval hygiene and peculiar dress weigh against the ornate crowns and real chainmail pupils can wear. Pupils can handle medieval objects from our collections, from lethal weaponry that is still sharp (held in Perspex to avoid loss of limb) to ornate pottery.

As one of the session leaders at Reading Museum I got to dress up as well from time to time. My background is in archaeology and it is easy to put across my enthusiasm with such a rich artefact. I enjoy the looks of amazement on students’ faces when they handle real objects that are nearly a thousand years old, some of which are not always on display. There is a real wonder in holding chainmail that feels like liquid metal. This is the immersive and fun experience of the past and I like to make sure groups get everything they can from their time here.

Children handling clay tiles from Reading Abbey
Children handling tiles from Reading Abbey

“And what did the Normans love to do?”

I can never resist finishing with a good question and answer session to explain why the Normans did strange things like burning down houses, stealing cattle and struggling to use their shields as plates. I cap it all with a quick fire quiz so that students leave with heads still buzzing with facts and not which of their friends made the best king.

The Bayeux Tapestry is my favourite gallery, but it is a close run thing and I enjoy all the other sessions I do here. This is because there are so many fascinating objects on display and so many stories to tell. School groups can easily link the Bayeux Tapestry with a study of Reading Abbey displayed so well in the new ‘Story of Reading’ gallery.

Children dressed up for the Bayeux Tapestry Session
Dressed up for the Bayeux Session

For some visitors Reading Museum is a home from home, where they come to explore the medieval and Roman dressing up to the holiday activities. For others it is their first time here and it is great to welcome them in a dynamic way. From observing the high fives of students at the end of a session to hearing pupils recount their favourite facts and characters; it is a great experience to teach about the Bayeux Tapestry and to see a really positive response from the children. I think I get almost as much from the experience as the pupils I am teaching.

Find out more

We will be sharing more experiences from our fantastic Session Leaders so keep an eye out for more posts about what we do here at Reading Museum!

You can find out more about what the Education Team offers on our on our schools page.