Rachel Young: Norwich’s ‘Voice of Local History’ pioneered children’s activities at city museums

Obit Rachel Young 1

Obit Rachel Young 1 - Credit: Archant

A tutor to the Workers' Educational Association across Norfolk for almost half a century, Rachel Young, has died peacefully in Norwich, aged 99.

In her 14 years at the helm of the leading city museums, the Bridewell and Strangers' Hall, she pioneered educational initiatives for children and started special activities during school holidays.

She became Norwich's 'Voice of Local History' for more than 40 years. When she finally retired shortly before her 80th birthday, she had been a tutor and lecturing to classes for close on 50 years, latterly at Wensum Lodge in King Street.

During her career with the Norwich museums, she published several books, the most successful being Norwich – The Growth of a City, which was written with Barbara Green, keeper of archaeology. Her other books included Teaching Toys in Norwich Museums and A History of St Peter Hungate.

Born and brought up in Sheffield, she went to a Quaker school near Pontefract, which she hated, but her father and aunt had been to the same school. Fortunately, after moving to a village near Chesterfield, she was inspired by a history teacher at a small country grammar school.


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Having graduated with a first in history at Somerville College, Oxford, she spent a year in welfare work and taught in Nottingham at a girls' grammar school, where she discovered a love of teaching. Her working life had begun in the depressed 1930s, organising clubs for the unemployed men in the north Staffordshire villages of the Potteries.

During the Second World War, she worked in the Land Army at Grantham, Lincolnshire, and on a poultry farm near Peterborough.

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Having been a student at a Workers' Educational Association class before the war, she came to Norfolk in 1945, initially for six months. Her first task was as a tutor for Cambridge University Extra-Mural Board at WEA classes on local government. Later, she started giving classes in Norfolk on social and local history and eventually was allowed to join the salaried staff.

For years, she travelled the county from Hunstanton to Feltwell, and from Oxburgh to Potter Heigham – always by public transport. If not, there was always her trusty bike, which had cost 17/6d (87.5p).

In 1961, she was appointed keeper of Strangers' Hall Museum of Domestic Life. In 1964, two other city museums, the Bridewell and St Peter Hungate came under her wing when she became keeper of social history for the Norwich Museums.

A year later, she became the city's first museums education officer and classrooms were made available in the Castle, the Bridewell and Strangers' Hall, where children could be shown objects of interest.

Having become temporary assistant director of the Norwich Museums in 1969, it was made permanent three years later. She retired and left the castle in April 1974 at the age of 60 and started as a social history lecturer at Keswick Training College the following Monday.

She gave a lecture organised by the Norwich branch of the WEA as part of the association's 75th anniversary in 1978.

In 1982, she compiled and edited the Norfolk Countrywomen's Year, which included 92 diaries written by Norfolk WIs in the 1978 diamond jubilee year. In 1990, she was awarded an honorary degree, Master of Arts, by the University of East Anglia.

She leaves seven nieces and nephews.

A celebration of her life will be held at St Faith's Crematorium on Friday, January 31 at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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