(being a most outstanding historical workshop in the comfort of one's school)

Balestra living history proudly presents the magnificent ..



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The first commercial steam train: Stephenson's Rocket (1829-1844)

One of the greatest Victorian initiatives was the growth of steam power throughout Queen Victoria's reign and the first railways had a major impact on this.  Our Stephenson's 'Rocket' task takes pupils back to the October 1829 Rainhill Trials which served as an iconic catalyst for the massive expansion of the railways throughout the era and gave rise to many other related Victorian inventions and the following 150 years of locomotive steam power.


Our fully functioning Rocket is used in our steam activity, where pupils have to work in pairs to power it using a foot pump along a track from our mini Liverpool and Manchester stations.  This task also links in with Brunel's famous 'atmospheric railway' in that he also used air compression to power his locomotives in a true example of the more adventurous side of Victorian inventions.

The first qwerty key layout:

Remington no.2 typewriter  (1878)

The Victorian internet: The invention

of the ELECTRIC telegraph (1844)

Our Remington typewriter is a truly remarkable Victorian invention in terms of its connection with the world we live in today and, in particular, with the keyboard that I am now typing this text with.  


Firstly, this was the first mass produced typewriter to be sold in considerable numbers, both to companies and to members of the public.  Secondly, it was the first ever mass produced version of the QWERTY key layout, designed by Christopher Scholes, a Remington partner, four years earlier; and thirdly it was the first typewriter to include both upper and lower case letters via a shift key.  This is a perfect artefact for pupils to explore for these reasons.

Featured in one of our most popular activities, we have gone to great pains to restore this telegraph set to full working order to offer pupils a rare opportunity to send an actual morse code message to their friends.


Using electro-magnets to send a combined buzz of 'dits' (the short sounds) and 'dahs' (the long sounds) from one end of a wire to another, the telegraph was a trailblazer for every modern long distance communication method we use today.

Home inventions (1837-)

Many of the most interesting Victorian inventions were the simplest, and our display of home items enables the pupils to learn about the real side of everyday Victorian life, from the washboard through to the posser and bedwarmer (and of course the odd mystery object thrown in for good measure :).  

Fun inventions (1880-)

One of our most popular artefact sets, for obvious reasons,  is our 3d stereoviewer and the moving picture zoetrope, which never fail to amaze people young or old and are perhaps the most fun of all the Victorian inventions that we bring into primary schools.


In fact, they are so much fun that sometimes we have to prise them off the teachers so that the pupils can have a go!

The invention of Photography (1833-)

Our photography artefacts are a real treat for anyone interested in the foundations of the digital and mobile phone based cameras that we use today.


Perhaps the most relevant to our modern life, of all the Victorian inventions that we bring into school, our current camera stock comprises a restored Lancaster bellows camera from 1888, one of the first Kodak 'cartridge' cameras from 1894, and a Kodak box camera from the early 1900s, together with a selection of studio portraits and a reproduction catalogue for the pupils to look at.


All in all, a worthy introduction to our photographer's studio task, whereupon we actually use the brass Lancaster lens (see picture) to take the pupils' photos in traditional Victorian costume.

Our workshop is firmly centred around the pupils' historical enquiry of a range of genuine and some reproduction Victorian inventions.  The range shown here also includes some latest additions such as a section we have included on items relating to the Great Exhibition of 1851 (click here for the related article or video) which includes commemorative coins, genuine 1851 illustrated catalogues and other Victorian inventions and documents.


All of the artefacts here are available to handle and to use by the children.

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