Kenneth Baker recalls the early experiences and the school-teacher that instilled him with a love of history.
When I was invited to write this piece for Point of Departure, by which is meant the magic moment at which one’s love of history was sparked off, I was quoted, as an example, Gibbon being moved by the Colosseum to write a history of the Roman Empire. But Gibbon is in a league of his own. I suspect that there are very few people who have had such a dramatic conversion as Gibbon but thank God he did. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire remains one of the great works of historiography in the canon of English Literature.
I fear that the origins of my interest in history are much more humble and humdrum. During the Second World War, my family had been evacuated from London to Southport and, as a boy living through that war, one was made poignantly aware of the great stir of events. I remember huddling over a radio set with my parents, listening to a speech by Churchill as the German bombers came over Liverpool. We then visited the city to see what damage had been done and whether the Liver Birds had been hit. I also recall as a boy being taken to the waxworks in Southport and Blackpool where I was fascinated by the Chambers of Horrors which had a tableaux of the Pit and the Pendulum with the great knife slowly descending towards the victim, but beyond the Chamber you reached a gallery of historic figures whom I wanted to know more about. All this made me aware of the past of our country as well as what was happening around us.
At school most of the boys collected cigarette cards and a good part of the time in the playground was spent in winning them in games, swapping them and even, occasionally, selling them. I remember collecting the set of the kings and queens of England and an even earlier set from Wills of Historic Events. I picked up a lot of historical tit-bits from these, most of which had to be modified by later study.