The idea to run this event was inspired by research from the Society’s History Group. One of our members was researching Chislehurst in the press and found an abundance of coverage of murders and foul deeds in the nineteenth century. After an event in schools where we were amused by the pupils’ desire for all things gruesome we decided to mount an activity for local children around the theme of ‘horrible histories’.The project entitled Chislehurst Chillers was born and we were grateful to the Allen Grove Trust for funding us to run the event.
We engaged a writer to put a light hearted spin on the newspaper stories (see the full versions – Horrid murder and Double murder ) and a designer to create an advertising poster for us. The local librarian was really supportive especially given that this year’s reading theme was ‘Creepy House‘. Volunteers from the history group were recruited to staff the event and tell the chilling tales.
We put on two sessions for forty one children aged between 6 and 11, appropriately enough, over Halloween half term.
The lights were dimmed, the children had torches, the leaders were kitted out as witches and we settled down for a game of hangman.
This was a useful introduction to our first story about local landmark, Hangman’s Corner. The children learned about a gruesome murder of Mr and Mrs Bonar at our grade 2 listed building, Camden Place, the location of the death of Emperor Napoleon III of France whilst in exile.
Another double murder, that of Mr and Mrs Ellis, took place in the woods where William Willett used to ride his horse in the daylight hours, the very woods that inspired his idea to change the clocks.
It wasn’t all about murder, we have ghost stories a plenty from our very own Chislehurst Caves and the children volunteered stories of their own. We ended on a humorous note with the story of Malcolm Campbell, who was born and raised in Chislehurst being fined for speeding on his bicycle aged only 8!
The children did some wonderful illustrations of the stories and enjoyed drinking blood or urine, blackcurrant and orange juice, at half time!
The most rewarding thing about the event was the interest shown by the children, the facts they learned about the history of the place where they live. The parents too said how much they had learned and have requested more sessions! As a result we were able to run Christmas stories based on the history of our many churches and an Easter session about the history of the village ponds.
It looks as if we have begun a new Chislehurst chapter in handing down a love of local history, however chilling it may be!