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Paper 1     |     Paper 2

‘I am writing about the important events in my life, so that you, grandson - and I know you love history - can do well in the Townsend-Warner History Prize in 1400.’  So started one answer to the request to ‘write a letter, as if you were a grandfather writing to your 13-year old grandchild about the momentous events of your life.’  This prize is one of the oldest features of Preparatory school life, but it is only 126 years old, not over 700!  Whatever, its enduring appeal in encouraging a love of history among the young was evident in the many enthusiastic and lively papers produced by nearly 200 boys and girls who qualified for paper 2 from over 700 entries.

The winner was Jack Hagger who wrote five informative and well-constructed essays on an interesting variety of subjects – Rorke’s Drift, Boudicca, a Spaniard visiting England in 1600, Culloden and the Battle of Britain.  He moved above Wilf Ward who had presented an outstanding Paper 1.  Three from King’s Junior, Wimbledon followed with detailed and lively papers, but it was two others with lower marks on Paper 1 who wrote with particular fluency and enthusiasm, and scored excellent marks – Lawrence Berry from New Beacon and Jamie Collings from Summer Fields.  Many gained a very good mark over 70; the standard was high this year.

King’s Junior, Wimbledon was not to be denied the team prize again.  Indeed, their string of historians was one of the strongest presented by any school since the team prize was inaugurated.  St Paul’s Preparatory School followed them with many lively papers, and those from Feltonfleet, King’s College, Cambridge, Quainton Hall, Rokeby, Shrewsbury House, Summer Fields, The Dragon and Twyford were informative and interesting.  As ever, the historians from The Hall School wrote some wonderful answers.  Many schools are to be congratulated on presenting two or three good candidates: Beaudesert Park, Brighton College Preparatory, Davenies, Durston House, King’s House, Lyndhurst House, Marlborough House, Thomas’s Battersea, Vinehall. Wellesley House.

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-two ranging from Boudicca’s Rebellion to the end of Apartheid in South Africa.  Nearly all subjects attracted one or more answers.  Boudicca was a popular choice – ‘Boudicca was one of the fiercest women who ever lived.’  The following produced many answers: the importance of the battle of Stamford Bridge – ‘if you had had to march from York to Hastings, you would have been tired’; Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – ‘Henry’s problem was that he kept falling in love’; the defeat of the Spanish Armada – ‘won by nimbler English ships’; James I – ‘he had a very dubious court’; the Boston Tea Party – ‘the sea turned brown’; the reasons for the start of World War I – ‘there are so many reasons that it is impossible to list them all.’

Question 2 offered a choice.  Some imagined that they were a foreign visitor to England in 1500, 1600, 1700, 1800 or 1900, and wrote about their impressions.  Some excellent answers surveyed the political, social and artistic scene.  Those who chose 1600 or 1900 gave a good impression of the end of the long reigns of two very different Queens and the problems that might merge. Those choosing 1800 usually homed in on the start of industrialisation.  The other choice was that of writing as of a grandfather to a grandchild.  Many chose to give information on different wars and their part in them.

Question 3 asked candidates to write two essays, requiring some analysis, from a wide choice of titles.  Some wrote well on the changes made by the Norman Conquest.  The question on the evidence available on a historical mystery attracted many answers on the death of the Princes in the Tower, the death of Amy Robsart, the death of Lord Darnley or the Gunpowder Plot.  It is always pleasing to find some writing on family or local history.  One claimed an ancestor who was the judge in the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The maturity of some answers is always encouraging.  From Jack Hagger: ‘The marshes at Culloden hampered the effectiveness of the Jacobite charges.  As the chiefs led the charges and were often old, this slowed them even further.’  From Lawrence Berry: ‘The Battle of Marston Moor was important for our society as it allowed the Parliamentarians to seize power from the King; and while its republic may have only lasted until 1660, it created rights and liberties that no monarch has since been able to challenge.’

It was a great pleasure to read the varied papers.   Many of this age group write with disarming phrasing and occasional touching inaccuracy.  ‘Wolsey was educated at Marlborough.’  ‘James I came down from Scotland to be King and found it an uphill task.’ ‘The architect was Indigo Jones.’  ‘The Puritans were people who never had Christmas dinners.’  ‘Walpole bought 10 Downing Street so that he could get to Parliament quickly, if needed.’  ‘The Reform Bill ironed out the creases in British politics.’  One that produced interesting visions was: ‘Churchill went to the Royal Military Academy at Stonyhurst.’  I always learn something knew every year.  I had no idea that Brunel swallowed a penny as a bet at a children’s party and had to have an operation to remove it from his oesophagus.  When I checked this, I discovered that the great man then even invented a machine from which one could be hung upside down to allow for dislodgement.

2011   Paper 2

The Townsend-Warner
Preparatory Schools History Prize

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