History lesson close to home as pupils uncover varied past of school site

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BEFORE pupils at a Yorkshire school moved into their current home the building had already had a rich and varied 

The 18th century Baldersby Park, said to be the country’s first Palladian style mansion, has been home to an MP, “a railway king” and even the Canadian Air Force before it became a school.

For more than two decades it has been home to the independent girls’ school Queen Mary’s.

Now its pupils are helping to uncover its past through a year-long project which will see them carry out a range of historical research including an archaeological dig and a search for veterans from the Canadian Air Force who were stationed there during the Second World War.

The project has been assisted by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and is part of its All our Stories initiative.

Teacher Lucy Nuttall said: “This is the first project of its kind at the school, and will involve all our year eight students, and doubtless pupils across other year groups will get involved too.

“It is very exciting and will be of great significance both to Queen Mary’s and to local community history. Our history department will pay a key role in the research which will focus on the school building itself, which is Britain’s first Palladian villa, and the parkland around it. We also have digs planned for next summer.”

She added: “Talking to local people is going to be a key part of the work, as they will have memories we can draw upon, and we will be creating a digital archive of artefacts, photographs and documents.”

Baldersby Park, which was formerly Newby Park, has a recorded history spanning around 1,000 years. The school building was first erected in Newby Park in the 18th century for Sir William Robinson, the MP for York and former Lord Mayor.

In 1845 ralilway king George Hudson purchased it and rebuilt it as Baldersby Park, providing it with a northern front in a “Jacobethan” style, retaining its Georgian south front.

The pupil’s project is being supported by community archaeologist Kev Cale. He said: “This is hugely important as it is enthusing a young audience and getting them to look at the past with new eyes, and in a hands-on non traditional way.

“Queen Mary’s is on such a historic site. Early prehistoric tools have already been recovered from within a stone’s throw of the school, so it will be fascinating to learn what else is out there.”