A day in which I solve a murder and learn how NOT to interest children in history…

Apparently there has been a floral feud in my home town of Wellington in Somerset, and a senior horticulturalist has met a sticky end. I have two hours and two miles in which to discover who committed this dastardly crime and what weapon was used in the attack. Along the way I should find out more about the history of the area, note some historic buildings and uncover some local historical ‘celebrities’. A fun and educational morning for all the family. Apparently.

Now I am going to write a proper review of this Treasure Trail for Have a Lovely Time, in which I will discuss this particular day out, with honesty, and I will be sure to mention how many similar trails from the same company we have undertaken over the years which were entertaining and informative. This post is more about how yesterday my initial suspicions that our small town would struggle to find fifteen minutes of fame let alone two hours seemed to be realised; and how unfair that judgment actually is.

How many of us take any notice of our immediate surroundings? The house, street, town, county even in which we spend much of our time? I have a long-term interest in the social history of my family and of London where I was born and spent 25 years of my life, but I must admit that other places have failed to ignite my interest. In Brighton, like many others living and working in the city, we would go days without even noticing the sea, and in Somerset I feel quite the outsider. It has been a few years now, but I still feel a little as if we are on holiday down here.

Perhaps I could liven up our home town with a touch of murder and detective work then. The 19 clues are all laid out for us, we just have to find them: on buildings, pavements and around churches for example. Dates eliminate weapons, initials and names eliminate suspects. Eight year old Belle with us to give us feedback, my friend Jo (Slummysinglemummy – she does give herself time off occasionally…) and I set off full of enthusiasm. I admit, quite frankly, that it was on the wane by clue four. Interesting old buildings were passed by and we were directed to drain covers and hydrants. Where the clue did lead us to a Victorian or Georgian building, there was no explanation – who built it? Was it important? Had anything interesting happened in it? The large parish church, with gravestones lined up against the wall and plaques beneath the trees was the scene of the most frustrating discovery of all. The clue was the name of the manufacturer of the hideous floodlight on the grass. It was pointing up to what was a terrific, if worn, gargoyle. Which would most excite an 8-year-old?

After two hours, Jo and I were ready for our hard-earned cup of coffee, but Belle was adamant we would have to finish the trail first. Having gone wrong twice, we were glad the last two clues were straightforward and we flopped exhausted and frustrated in the cafe.

These trails cost £5 each and some are marvellous value. This one was not, and to be sure that it wasn’t all the fault of our little market town I have today done some research into the area. Apparently, the Catholic Church was once a workhouse; there was a gallows just outside the craft shop; our town housed the last independent bank to issue its own five-pound notes; the man who built the parish church (the floodlit one) was actually a rogue who swindled people out of their money; James Lackington, one of the most successful booksellers of the late 18th century was born here; there was a huge woollen mill and a brick works (which I knew as I bought our house almost solely because the exposed brick showed the marks of the brickmaker’s hobnail boots..) and Wellington school is an historic and well-known public school – in the centre of town. Of course there is also the Wellington Monument, but up a steep hill two miles out on the Blackdowns I don’t really blame them for leaving that one out. But these interesting places could easily have been on the route, with others besides.

If we are to inspire a love of history in our children we need to do better than this. I don’t mean the huge battles, empire or the royal family; I think social history is more interesting and more illuminating, giving us an understanding of who we are. It is why genealogy programmes are so popular. Just go two or three generations back and life was so very different and I believe we ought to have an understanding of how rapidly change occurs. I want to write to the people who put the trail together and offer to do a better job, but it seems a little presumptuous. Perhaps I should though, Wellington deserves it.

In any event, I have now learnt a little more about the town I live in, and will read more. It isn’t the most exciting place to live in the world, but there is an awful lot more to it than we uncovered in our sleuthing.

Including, apparently, vicious murder.  Just in case you have this trail to do in the future I won’t reveal the villain. But in my view you would learn more taking the kids for a good walk up to the monument, followed by a walk around the town’s tiny museum, the library and a nice sit down in a cafe. I just wish we had known that yesterday….

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