In A Student’s Own Words: Tom Wilkinson

As we wrote earlier this week, Gloucestershire alumnus Tom Wilkinson has just received award recognising the publication of work based on his third-year dissertation work with us. In this post, he talks in his own words about his research, his passion for history, and what studying at Gloucestershire did for him.

tomwilkinsonMy decision to base my dissertation on Tewkesbury Abbey and the English Reformation stemmed from a number of factors. Growing up in Tewkesbury, the abbey had always been a focus for me and my love of History, in my early teens I had taken part in fundraising events organised through the school that successfully attempted to raise two million pounds for vital restoration. One of the main messages of the campaign was the fact that the people of Tewkesbury had saved the abbey from dissolution during the early English Reformation by purchasing it for £453 from Henry VIII.

It wasn’t until I began my History degree at the University of Gloucestershire, during which I studied the Reformation, that the importance of the purchase, or rather the reasons for the purchase, became apparent to me. At secondary school there has been a tendency to see, teach and reflect on the Reformation in England in very black and white terms; Henry wanted a divorce, the pope would not agree, Henry became Protestant and formed the Church of England, there was little resistance from a small number of fanatical Catholics, eventually everyone became Protestant and England was happy. The majority of us have been taught this narrative of the Reformation (something which I, as of last week a fully qualified History teacher, am trying to remedy). The Reformation, however, was not so simple. Many people remained loyal to Catholicism whilst others fully supported the new wave of Protestantism. In my opinion, the purchase of Tewkesbury represented the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of England in microcosm. The abbey was closed by a leading Protestant bishop, and the parish of Tewkesbury had close links with William Tyndale, the man responsible for the first translation of the Bible into English. The abbey, however, was purchased by the ordinary people of the town, through a large number of small donations and the taking up of a loan which was accepted would take until the next generation of inhabitants to pay back, a very serious decision. Most importantly, however, half of the £453 was donated to the fund by a staunch Catholic, the abbey retained most of its pre-Reformation features despite the interest of ardent Protestants, and the abbey was under investigation for holding onto Catholic items in 1577, over forty years after the break with Rome. This challenge to widely held beliefs in modern society was fascinating.

Following on from the degree I started a PGCE through the University of Gloucestershire. I started my PGCE course at the age of 28, after starting my undergraduate course at 25. I don’t think my old job, as a builder, could have been any more different to what I had let myself in for. The PGCE was the most challenging, yet rewarding, thing I have done. The commitment in time and effort was high, it soon becomes apparent that you have nowhere to hide at the front of a classroom and you do make some interesting mistakes along the way. The students do challenge you; they must have an in built instinct to sniff out the trainee teacher. Yet the most rewarding thing for me was sparking an interest in History that was never there before – something which was completely alien to me – and getting the students excited to learn about topics, like the Reformation, which hold in the eyes of my bottom set year eights absolutely no relevance at all. That is the challenge and also the reward.

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