Working-class history worth singing about

<span>A blacksmith working at Blists Hill Victorian Town, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Ironbridge, Shropshire. </span><span>Photograph: Jacob King/PA</span>
A blacksmith working at Blists Hill Victorian Town, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Ironbridge, Shropshire. Photograph: Jacob King/PA

As Sean Curran, the head of inclusion at Historic England, said in your article (‘Hidden stories’: Historic England funds 56 projects on working-class heritage, 21 February), it can seem that stories of working-class life are more ephemeral. As a society, we have not always considered that records of the banalities of everyday life are worth keeping. But records do exist.

At the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, we have documents and testimonies that reference the individual lives of the working classes in the Ironbridge Gorge from the 18th to 20th centuries. We used them in 2023 when we created our temporary exhibition The Daily Grind. The exhibition was focused on the stories of working-class people during the Industrial Revolution, as opposed to the industrialists and masters, and was our most popular exhibition in recent years. While this type of original source may be limited, there is no doubt that the stories such diaries, documents and even recordings enabled us to tell provided personal insight and flavour that delighted our visitors. Visitors were also invited to write down their own stories or memories of family members who had worked in industries in the Ironbridge Gorge, and in this way the exhibition helped provide further contacts and information for recording working-class stories.

Similarly, at Blists Hill Victorian Town, a recreation of a mining town on the East Shropshire coalfield, visitors love to walk down Victorian streets and discover the real lived experiences of local working-class people in the 19th century by stepping into shops and homes and learning from our demonstrators, who utilise the skills and crafts of working people of the era. The popularity of both our recent temporary exhibition and Blists Hill Victorian Town demonstrates that there is definitely an appetite for stories of working-class people and their daily lives.
Lauren Collier
Head of interpretation, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

• If you want to hear the voices of “history from below” (Editorial, 21 February), just listen to the ballads in a great many local folk sessions. From Sydney Carter’s Sing John Ball, extolling the virtues of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, to Leon Rosselson’s World Turned Upside Down celebrating the Diggers of 1649, to Graham Moore’s A Tolpuddle Man, telling the story of the proto-unionists transported to New South Wales in 1834.

Within the last year or so, I’ve also heard ballads telling of the death of British squaddies in Iraq, the Accrington Pals regiment of the first world war, the lives of trawlermen, miners and mill workers, and the mass trespass at Kinder Scout. And of the Chinese cockle pickers who died 20 years ago on Morecambe Bay due to the criminal negligence of their people-trafficking taskmasters. These stories outlast the headlines, sometimes even history itself. The Morning Star recently reviewed James Crossley’s Spectres of John Ball, bemoaning the “fact” that Ball was a lonely voice unheard outside academic history. Unheard? Not to the call and the chorus.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

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