Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

Childhood visits to London

When I was still quite a small child my mother began to take me up to London on trips to visit historic sites and museums. I loved these trips and it may well be that my lifelong love for museums and historic sites originated with them (also my interests in science and industrial history).

These trips will have begun in the early 1950s, and I seem to remember that there were still areas of yet-to-be-repaired air raid damage from the war. Unlike today when there are hordes of tourists and hefty admission fees, there were then few tourists and it was easy to go everywhere without having to spend a lot of money. Also, there were then no security issues — so we dutifully visited 10 Downing Street (the PM’s official residence), for example, which it would be impossible to do now. We were fairly tireless, and followed some children’s guide book (I-Spy) ticking off all the sites we went to — including things like climbing up the Monument and inside St Paul’s to the whispering galley.

I had a particular love for the Science and Natural History museums so we visited these on many trips. As a very tiny child, I had an obsession with dinosaurs and used to dream of them, so I was delighted when I saw the reconstructed skeletons in the NHM for the first time, proudly announcing to my mother “Look my friends” (That sounds like the sort of thing a 4 or 5 year old might say, so that might give me a way of dating our earliest trips). The Science Museum also then had what seemed to me a wonderful replica of a coal mine which I also liked a lot.

I have a vague memory that my mother hit upon the idea of these trips as an intelligent means of child management — I was an energetic (i.e. exhausting) child, and walking around London for hours may well have been a useful way of channeling that energy. Certainly, those trips had an enormous and unconscious educational impact on me. Museums then had none of the ‘children’s sections’ and play areas that they have today, and I loved learning (as I still do).

This memory doesn’t need to have a moral, but if you wanted one, then I might praise the value for parents to take their children off on educational visits and not to underestimate the child’s potential for enjoying learning.

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This entry was posted on August 20, 2013 by in Peter Smith.
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