Paper 1     |     Paper 2

‘My great-great grandmother was a suffragette.’  ‘One of my ancestors has his name on the Arc de Triomphe.’  Question 3 of this year’s paper asked for candidates to describe any investigation into family or local history, and to say how it had helped them to appreciate wider historical issues.  Some wrote with enthusiasm about their families, one back to the Conqueror, one producing a conductor, a Nobel Prize winner and a Peninsular War hero, and one linking through to Charles Dickens.  On local history, one school had been to the remarkable Fuller’s Follies and that visit provoked some lively accounts.  These answers show how a teacher initiating such personal studies can inspire a lifelong love of history in a boy or girl.

The winner this year, Dhiren de Silva, the first winner from Quainton Hall, scored highly in Paper 1, and maintained his position with answers on Alfred, the Bill of Rights and the Gunpowder Plot, and then with two essays on unusual subjects – the Emperor Yong-le of China and the explorer, Amerigo Vespucci.  He only just came in front of Thomas Hill of The Hall School who wrote with much maturity and sensitivity, particularly in the outstanding answer of the year on Charles Darwin.  Four others stood out, presenting some excellent answers in a fluent style: Tom Britton, Robert Harvey, Toby Cohen and Imran Ahmed.

King’s Junior, Wimbledon celebrated their return to this prize by producing a string of very well informed papers on a wide range of topics.  All their twenty candidates wrote with maturity and at length, and they ran away with the team prize.  In other years, Quainton Hall might have established a claim with some thorough answers; and those from The Hall, although not often highly marked in Paper 1, wrote some wonderful answers in Paper 2, full of interesting stories and ideas.  The Dragon, King’s College, Cambridge, Rokeby, St Paul’s Preparatory, Shrewsbury House, Vinehall, all with strings of good papers, followed these three.  Some schools with fewer candidates did their teachers proud:  Arnold House, Brambletye, Hereward House, King’s House, New College School, Newland House, St John’s-on-the-Hill.

The paper is designed to give boys and girls the chance to show off their knowledge of history, and the questions invite them to write with some flair and imagination.  Question 1 asked them to write on two subjects from a possible sixty-six ranging from Stonehenge to President Ronald Reagan.  Boudicca was surprisingly popular – ‘Boudicca was a woman and therefore a very fierce leader.’  Many concentrated on the 16th and 17th centuries, especially on Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon – ‘Henry VIII is one of the most famous Kings of England due to his notorious attitude to women and his spectacular wife count’; on Mary Tudor –‘the country reeked of burnt bodies’; and on the Gunpowder Plot – ‘Guy Fawkes, explosive expert.’  Only a few boys and girls appear to learn about the 18th and 19th centuries, a shame in many ways.  I was surprised to have no answers on The Great Western Railway or The Great Famine in Ireland.  There is so much for them to study now, I suppose.  Good answers appeared on 20th century topics, especially on Hitler and D-Day.

Question 2 asked for two headlines and a newspaper article on some event before 1970.  Some showed sharp journalistic skills.  I liked: ‘God was on our side.  The Longbow helped as well’ for Agincourt.  ‘Come and fight the Germans now.  Back by Christmas’ for 1914.  I winced a little at: ‘Man was in the Moon.  Man is now on the Moon’, and even more at ‘A rain of arrows ends Harold’s reign.’  I admired a report that started: ‘Sadly our main reporter has already been killed in this battle, so I, a mere scribe, will have to take his place’, and I sympathised with another who wrote accurately: ‘I can’t really tell you what happened in this battle as all battles are such chaos.’

Question 3 allowed a choice of either the description of local or family history mentioned already, or an assessment, as if written one year before their death by a King or Queen, a Prime Minister or a leader of any other country, of their reign or time in office.  Some chose skilfully those whose reign spanned a long era – Elizabeth I, George III, Victoria.  Some nice lines appeared.  Julius Caesar ended: ‘The man whom I trust most is Brutus.’  William I offered: ‘By the way, I also invented the Feudal System.’  John stated: ‘I have had to sign Magna Carta; but that will soon go.  I must stop writing to eat my favourite peaches and cider.’  Henry VIII ventured: ‘I have endured six wives; I suppose that there will be more.’  Napoleon exclaimed: ‘I will escape and will conquer Britain eventually.’  Queen Victoria started: ‘We have had a good reign.’ 

Question 4 asked candidates to write an essay, requiring some analysis, and giving a wide choice of titles.  Sadly only one wrote about the Hadrian Exhibition at the British Museum, but a number had obviously studied Charles Darwin and wrote very well about his life.  Many homed in on Henry VIII or Mary, Queen of Scots.  Some used the wide range to write with special knowledge on less common personalities or topics, for instance on the First Crusade, Marco Polo, Handel, George Washington, Jane Austen, Einstein, Pablo Picasso.

It was a great pleasure to read the varied answers, often full of enthusiastic comments.  Some each year write with real authority and style.  From Dhiren de Silva, the winner: ‘Some feel that America should be named after Columbus, but Amerigo Vespucci was the first explorer to find out that two big oceans cover the earth, and thus will be remembered eternally as the man after whom two continents are named.’  From Thomas Hill: ‘The ‘eureka’ moment came in 1838 when Darwin read an essay by the economist Thomas Malthus on human population growth and food supply.  He suddenly realised that all life was a competition for survival.  Characteristics that enhance the change of reproduction spread and those that are at a disadvantage die out.’  He started his account as if written by Oliver Cromwell: ‘I have ruled this country for eight years now.  By the grace of God I hope that it has been for the better.’  Others produced remarkable knowledge.  One recorded accurately the names and ranks of all ten VCs at Rorke’s Drift.  My two favourite lines from 2009 were: from an account of Hastings: ‘At about one o’clock they had a break’, and one to change one’s image of south London: ‘One of the Rotten Boroughs, Dulwich, even fell into the sea.’

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