Archive for the ‘England’ Category

London: A Photo Essay

I really liked how this picture turned out! Waiting for Heathrow Connect…you can see that the train says London/Paddington if you squint really hard!

And I couldn’t resist this…Paddington at Paddington! I wanted to get one for the kids, but was hurried along as we jumbled through a mass of people with our baggage, eager to find a taxi after our long drive and a hassle over train tickets at Heathrow.

The Palace of Westminster (Victoria Tower).

The Houses of Parliament, also a part of the Palace of Westminster.

Why that’s Big Ben of course! Again, never thought of all these separate buildings as part of the Palace of Westminster before, until I saw it…check out the musing Bobby in the foreground.


Picadilly Circus

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Evenings are a wonderfully quiet time to go and visit the museum, there are no crowds to get in the way of you and the painting you want to look at!

Westminster Abbey

Of all the street performances we saw, this one was the best!!

Buckingham Palace

I was ready to leave London. I had been away from my children for over 10 days. We had spent many relaxing hours of enjoyment in Bath and the Lakes, and had some good experiences in London as well. City slickers we are not, however, and after two days of roaming the streets amidst crowds, following maps and searching for destinations, and enjoying only one meal out of the five or six that we had while there, we hopped aboard Gatwick Express and watched out the window as we left the city behind us. A nine hour delay at the airport not only put a wrench in our plans for spending any time with family in Ireland as we had hoped to do with the small window of time we had between flights, but it added to our exhaustion and our longing to be home, even if it meant having four little ones crawling all over us and returning to the noise and commotion (and messes!) of family life after a stretch of being “just us” again.

I battled motion sickness for the next 24 hours, with the exception of the few hours of sleep we were able to get. However, once home, it was wonderful to hear the sweet voices of my children and to feel their little arms embracing me. They had so many exciting things that they wanted to share, and so did we.

I admit that the long break and the rest were both much needed and very much appreciated. I am thankful for that time, and still look back on it with delight through these long, dark, cold days. I hope someday to return to that place where I experienced so much rest and joy.


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A Perfect Day…

Thursday, our last day in the Lakes, dawned with storybook charm. The tiny walled garden of our cottage was awash with sun, spilling over stone and flowers and pouring through skylights and windows to fill our little dining area as we discussed our plans for the day over our last English breakfast in that sweet place.

There was a large estate just a mile from the village that boasted of beautiful gardens and charming rooms…I was curious to see it and we determined that we could pop in for an hour or two on our way to Coniston for our last hike.

Should you find yourself in the Cartmel Peninsular and need to carefully plan your daily outings, please know that Holker Hall is shabbily decorated and not very large at all, though the gardens were somewhat pleasant to stroll through. The gift shop outside the house, however, was simply overflowing with wonderful treasure and I believe I may have spent more time in there than I did in the house!

Jay and his new friend, Neptune

I did however, make a discovery of great importance in the Holker Hall Tea Room:

Snacktime perfection! Now that’s what I call elevenses!

Ah, how I miss fresh scones with cream and jam! Our scones just aren’t the same here. Our cream is certainly nothing like. Even our jam is different, although English jam is easily procured from a gourmet food store or even the grocery store.

We left Holker, double-checking that we had all of our gear and our field guide. We sped along the now familiar roads, alongside Lake Windermere, through Bowness and Ambleside and beyond. As we travelled north and west, the scenery changed from rolling hills to higher and more rugged peaks that cradled beautiful valleys dotted with farms, stone walls, and sheep.

We found our way to Coniston, pulled out our field guide, and set off. The beginning of this hike may have been a little less exciting than our jaunt from Cartmel, but we were soon rewarded with the most amazing variety of scenery and experience that seven miles can offer. Village, pasture, lake, woods, mountains, tarns, waterfalls…every bend in the path a new adventure!

A little shiny from the sunscreen!

The Tarns– mountain lakes or ponds. Beautiful! There was a lovely (even if obviously man-made) path running in a loop all the way around this picturesque grouping of tarns.

Stunning waterfall at the exit of the Tarns.

One of my favorite moments…as we approached this charming farm, a herd of sheep rushed toward the gate to be led across the road to pasture.

Wrapping up…our last meal in the cottage.

We trudged in to Coniston after nearly 8 miles of dazzlingly beautiful terrain…exhausted yet exhilarated! And hungry! We poked around the village for awhile, checking out pubs and pondering menus, but nothing seemed inviting enough to spend our last evening on, and we were also conscious of the leftover curry and salad sitting in the fridge back at the cottage. So back to Cartmel we went.

A fire in the woodstove, a quick reheating of the curry and rice and a tossing of salad…flowers and candles…a cozy atmosphere for our last meal in this infinitely charming place. I sank into my chair and dove into the dinner, thinking once again how truly wonderful food tastes when you are genuinely hungry! I tried not to think about the packing, cleaning, laundry and other details of getting ready to leave that had yet to be done. I wasn’t ready to leave Little Croft.

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A poignant end…

From the pages of the Student Journal from Easter Term 1923:

January 12th:     Today brought us back to Scale How. We were very pleased to be back, but felt rather overwhelmed by the thirty juniors. The Dragon is complete and very splendid; what a dance floor! The Millet Room has become a dormitory and six juniors are to sleep there. The usual number of juniors are at Fairfield, and the seven X’s are at Dr. Allue’s. We just fit in. We were disappointed that Miss Mason was not able to see us. She had been ill during the holidays and was not able to greet us as usual.

January 14th:     We are all very anxious about Miss Mason. Whe is unconscious now, and is hardly expected to last the night.

January 15th:     We are all much more hopeful. Miss Parish told us that Miss Mason had a good night.

Tonight we were less hopeful again. Miss Mason has never regained consciousness, and we were afraid that she could not last long. She has had two nurses. Mrs. Franklin and Miss Williams arrived tonight.

January 16th:     This morning at about mid-day, while we were doing exams, Miss Williams, Miss Parish and Miss Kitching came into the classroom and told us that Miss Mason had passed away peacefully in her sleep. We stood for five minutes for prayer.

Dr. Hugh came this evening to talk to us about Miss Mason. The school children came up to hear him. We sang two of Miss Mason’s favourite hymns and Dr. Hugh read some prayers.

January 17th:     Those who wished were allowed to go into the drawing room and see Miss Mason. She looked perfectly beautiful and much younger. Her face was so restful, and the lines had gone.

Mrs. Franklin talked to us about Miss Mason this afternoon.

January 19th:     Miss Mason’s funeral was at 2:15 pm. There were lovely flowers and beautiful wreaths, several students carried some.

I sat at the long table in that tiny library sifting and sorting through yellowed documents and photos and old journals and record books with worn and crumbling covers…these words from a journal kept by the students at the Teacher’s College were found amongst such a pile. How touching to read them in a hand written by a young woman who had been molded and shaped by Miss Mason’s teaching and instruction. Yet how odd it felt to sit there and read it…I almost felt like I was intruding on something sacred. I wonder if that young lady had any idea that one day a mother, whose own teaching has been molded and shaped by Miss Mason, would sit and read the account of those January days and feel herself carried back in time to the moments and events so briefly and succinctly described on the page. For a moment I shared in her sorrow, I felt myself moved and touched, as if I stood amongst those teachers during their five minutes of silent prayer, reviewing in my mind all the ways I have been blessed by the life of Charlotte Mason.

The journal entry was one of the last of the archives that I reviewed and recorded for my personal use, and appropriately so. We spent our last moments in the library chatting with Margaret and taking a quick look at the collection of Beatrix Potter’s watercolour paintings on display at the museum. Then we stepped out into the drizzle to snap some pictures of the buildings on campus and wander around Ambleside, exploring it’s shop-lined streets and odd corners and alleys.

We made our way home along the shore of Lake Windermere…I tried to call my mother, as it was her birthday and such a fun idea to call her from Ambleside! She was out, so we instead called the children and chatted with them on our rainy drive back to the cottage. I threw together a quick dinner of salmon and some fine beans (early, thin green beans). A steaming pot of tea and a warm bowl of sticky toffee pudding topped off the night.

Wednesday was a funny day…we knew we were to expect heavy rain. We slept in late and regaled ourselves with our “usual” large English breakfast. I braved the rain to duck in and out of village shops, collecting delightful treasures for loved ones. We wandered over to the Priory in the afternoon for an interesting tour led by one of the village “locals”, a member of the parish. A quick “tea” to hold us over, and an hour or two of lounging and reading. Then we decided to leave early to head off to our dinner reservations, so we could walk around and explore before going in for dinner. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend The Punch Bowl!

Lovely dining room. Delicious gastropub dinner. Incredible dessert. I literally wanted to ask if they had an opening for the following night…even after paying the bill!

We made our way back “home” and prepared for the next day, our last full day in the Lake District.

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Criticism Lessons


House of Education


Practising School Report

Criticism Lessons

Juniors 1945

Sampling of notes:

“Has quietly effective manner.”

“Bright & keen, not always wise, untidy mind, acquiring dignity.”

“Quick to see her mistakes, worked hard with dulle children.”

‘Gives impression of detachment & uncertainty…must learn to get interest rather than nag and say “don’t.” ‘

“Must guard against sentiment.”

“Promising. Thinks of children not herself. Serious minded but lacks ideas.”

“Anxious to learn. Ideas good but not well sorted. Criticism welcomed.”

“Plucky, conscientous, but makes mistakes thro’ ignorance & lack of intellectual grasp.”

“Improving but stilted and too dependent on book.”

“Creates a calm & quiet atmosphere. Has authority. Teaching lacking interest due to ignorance.”

“Good common sense. Has ideas which sometimes arrive too late.”

‘Good when sure of her ground (this rarely!). Not always the “seeing eye.” ‘

“Tried, but is still not in touch with the children.”

“Imaginative & thoughtful. Begins to understand how to introduce a lesson.”

“Courageous. Tried hard. Showed initiative, but class laughed at her.”

“A bright manner.”

“Excellent. Trained in good habits.”

“Gives full thought. Knows what aiming at. Detail excellent.”

“Vague atmosphere- must be more constructive. Did not hold class.”

“Needs more orderly approach mentally & practically.”

“Did not give whole mind to work.”

“Rarely exerts herself. Not enough preparation. Improved after scolding.”


Reading through the criticism lessons was one of my favorite aspects of my morning in the archives. As I scanned over these old books, jotting down phrases that spoke to me the most, I felt at times like I was in the classroom observing these fledgling teachers, seeing the students as they responded to the lessons. Alternatively, I would envision myself back at home amidst my own “pupils”…and I was at times pained to compare my own teaching methods with the suggestions I found in the pages before me.

I developed in a very short time an overall sense of what was expected of a teacher being trained at the House of Education. She must be thoroughly prepared for a lesson, having a full and detailed grasp of the material, yet she must present the lesson in a gentle yet firm way that sparks the children’s interest without giving them the upper hand. She had to engage them, help them, encourage them, and direct them, without being overbearing and without giving them too much to do. She was expected to be tidy, disciplined, organized, and serious without being rigid or dull. Personal intellectual growth and attention to good habits was to characterize her outside the classroom. Talking too much and silliness were frowned upon.

Thinking about how I approach lessons with my own children, I drew some encouragement but I also felt deeply reproached, thinking of how my own evaluation might read. My tendency towards laziness and lack of preparation would certainly be noticed. Disorganization, failure to be imaginative and engaging, and inability to discipline my “class” would also be among the comments, I’m sure.

However, not only did I leave that day with my mind full of new ideas on how to approach teaching within my home, I was also mildly encouraged as I thought of the few areas in which we already excel. The atmosphere of our home, most of the time anyway, is pleasant and fosters learning and discovery. We curl up together on our big couch and read interesting books, and all the children, though still quite young, have had their favorites and have gotten caught up in a story and have begged for more. They love to run to the globe and find the places that we’ve talked about. They will sometimes draw pictures or act out a story with dress-up clothes and toys for props. They run for their nature note books when they see a bird or an insect or a plant that interests them.

Now several weeks removed from that day spent in that dusty library, I am even more thankful for the time granted me to peruse the boxes of books and photos and letters and notes. I uncovered many a treasure amongst them, and though my hand cramped up from all the writing down of all the little jewels I wished to take away with me, I can look over them now and remember and enjoy the bits and pieces that I recorded of a lifestyle of learning, a most remarkable set of people engaged in a unique venture, preparing educators for something new and different, something that continues to have an impact on teachers and home educators throughout the world.

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CM book collection

This picture is similar to one I took in the library, but it turned out better than mine…click on the picture and follow the link for a more scholarly post on a trip to the Armitt Museum!

As promised, my next few posts will be excerpts that I copied out from various sources that I stumbled across in the Charlotte Mason Archives.

Don’t know if anyone will catch the literary reference in the title (loved that book as a child!) but it is quite appropriate. Had I not made prior contact, I never would have seen the archives because the Armitt Museum is closed in order that the Charlotte Mason Archives, as well as some other archival materials, could be sorted and organized (or “organised”, which looks so much prettier in print, don’t you think?). I overheard snippets of conversations betwixt two of the staff while I sat at a table and busily scribbled out all the “nuggets of treasure” I could manage to write in three hours’ time, and it seems that things are in quite a mess of confusion.

However, there was a skeletal kind of index that gave us an idea of which numbered boxes held which materials.

It was Dr. Coombs who pulled out this letter and showed it to me:

CM letter Page 1

CM letter Page 2

(This letter was copied by hand and then re-typed. There may be typographical or copy errors. Shared with permission from the Armitt Museum, Ambleside, Cumbria, UK)

This letter was sent to Miss Mason’s good friend, Mrs. Franklin, and concerned her daughter Madge, who was around 9 years old at the time.

I almost cried after reading this…some of it reminded me so much of my own struggles with a “difficult” child…I nearly laughed out loud in the quiet, still library when I read “Handwork, so far, we have not managed”…!! I was struck by Miss Mason’s gentle confidence…I could almost visualize her smiling and softly laughing as she thought and wrote about this unique and apparently vibrant young girl.

Other observations, random in nature:

Did they eat ALL the time? Maybe “second breakfast” isn’t unique to Hobbits after all!

Many things can be accomplished in small pockets of time…quarters of an hour to learn an instrument or a language, and to think of starting at 8 am and still managing such a full yet delightful schedule, including a rest, and wrapping up by 7 or 8 in the evening. So often I feel so pressed for time, as if the clock is my enemy, and as though time for “school” has been squeezed out of my day by the tyranny of the urgent. Granted, Charlotte Mason lived at a school where there was a staff for such things as cleaning and cooking. But I have some “servants” as well, in the form of a dishwasher, microwave, and my fabulous washer and dryer. Have I ever mentioned my washer and dryer??? Oh…I digress…

Some children thrive on activity and adventure. I was not surprised to read that Madge was “radiant with happiness” after a long drive and a 6 mile walk. My own “active one” would be just as radiant were he to have such a holiday outing. That being said, not all of my other children would react similarly. There are times when we “divide and conquer” and one or some have an “adventure” with Dad or Grandma and Grandpa, and others remain at home.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this personal letter as much as I did!

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ambleside sign

The day is Tuesday, July 28th, and we have a 10:45 appointment at the Armitt Museum to meet Dr. Margaret Coombs and to gain entrance into the library to view any of the Archives that we wish to see. The setup of this meeting was really quite extraordinary…I had sent an email through the Armitt website requesting information as to opening times and cost. I received a message in return that the museum was regrettably closed for reorganisation. However, if I would like to call the museum during our stay, perhaps we could get in to view some of the collection. I was so disappointed, as seeing the archives was to be a highlight of our stay in the Lakes, and one of the reasons I chose that region of England for our week’s cottage rental.

Later, I received a message asking if I would like to come to the Armitt one day that week to meet with a researcher from Oxford who was working on a biography of Charlotte Mason. And so it was that we not only got into the “closed” museum, but we had the great privilege of being guided through the index of the archived materials by a woman who has spent nearly 30 years closely studying Miss Mason’s life and work. When asked if I had read all of the books and articles, I was embarrassed to admit that I had so far only made it through two and part way through another. I also at times found it hard to follow along when shown dozens of photographs and having names being thrown out at me, most of which I did not recognize.

However, our hours there were well spent and our digging through boxes of diaries and letters and record books did not disappoint. I came away from my time there with a snapshot of the culture of the House of Education that I could not have developed just from the books I have read and skimmed thus far. Paging through real Nature Note Books and students’ diaries and record books from the weekly Criticism Lessons made all of the “educational philosophy” that I had gleaned over the years come alive to me. To see and touch real examples of student work, real photographs of happy youths in full costume for a play, real application of theory as aspiring teachers were each week observed and then evaluated…for a visual and “experiential” learner like myself, this opportunity was thrilling and inspiring, as well as sobering as I felt the weight of my duty as the educator of my children.

Then to step outside the musty library and view the glory of the surrounding hills and peaks and the tranquil beauty of Lake Windermere. No wonder there was emphasis on nature study in the House of Education! How could there not be? Who could survey such majestic beauty and not wish to capture it on paper, read about it, study it and experience it?

Driving away, I tried to call my mother from Ambleside to wish her happy birthday from such a special spot for both of us…just missed her as she had run out for an errand, though I did get to call her while driving through later in the week.

Just a few pictures for those who have interest in these places that have become familiar and who, like myself, peruse books by and about Charlotte Mason with great joy and overflowing soul as we meet up with Truth about ourselves, the children in our lives, the nature of learning, and the God who is over it all. In my next few posts, I will share some tidbits from the archives!


The Armitt Museum, housing the Charlotte Mason Archives, as well as a small collection of watercolours by Beatrix Potter. We were allowed entrance into the gallery to see the watercolours, also very exciting for me!

The beehive

The Beehive

Scale How collage

Scale How, the main building of the House of Education

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