Kidderminster-born Rowland Hill, according to popular legend, was inspired to reform the postal system when he witnessed a young woman turning away a letter from her fiancé because she could not afford the postal charge. His subsequent development of uniform, pre-paid, penny postage benefitted, in the opinion of W E Gladstone, a greater number of people within the lifetime of its inventor than any other initiative.
Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Kidderminster Choral Society has been able to give children from Franche, Foley Park and Sutton Park Primary Schools the opportunity to learn about Rowland Hill and his invention in a creative and unusual way, as well as develop their skills as singers.
At the beginning of the project, Laura Dixon, from the British Postal Museum and Archive, visited each school and introduced the children to the history of letters and stamps. The children then had a chance to find out more about how the Victorian postal industry operated by visiting the Post Office at Blists Hill Victorian Town. Shortly after their return, the classes involved were visited by Geoff Weaver (director of Wyre Forest Young Voices). They learned a number of folksongs from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, each one involving people who had been separated by distance, be they families, lovers or friends.
The writer, David Calcutt, helped the children to compose letters to and from the characters that they had sung about, and developed their work into the script of a ‘Penny Black’ cantata: Letters to a Loved One. The children joined Wyre Forest Young Voices, Primary Chords, Emily Chennery, Kieran Knowles and the Carnival Band to give a live performance of the cantata at Kidderminster Town Hall on 18 March 2011. This was directed by Geoff Weaver.
The actors, the Carnival Band and members of Wyre Forest Young Voices Chorale recorded the script and music for the cantata.
A more detailed account of the creative process, including ideas for teachers wishing to make their own heritage podcasts can be found here.