Many of us are quite used to reading sources only for the information that they explicitly give us – burial registers tell us the dates of burials, and so on. But quite often those same sources can be very revealing about other issues, things that aren’t explicitly stated. The same burial registers can reveal an accident or epidemic in a village, for example, if there are a more of burials than usual within a few days of one another.
Thinking sideways about the sources in this way can lead us to a much fuller picture of life in the past than we might otherwise have had. In particular, it allows us to build up a picture (sometimes directly, sometimes by inference) of what everyday life was like for ‘ordinary’ people in the past – something that few historical sources do. In this blog, I’d like to highlight a few interesting examples of this from within our collections.
One of the most difficult things to discover about the past is what people wore in their everyday lives. Most of the clothing that has survived through to the present day tends to be high-status clothing, either belonging to an ‘elite’ or only worn on very special occasions. Even in the age of photography, it can be surprisingly hard to get a sense of what people wore: until relatively recently photographs were expensive and out of the reach of most people. A consequence of this was that having a photograph taken was often only done for special occasions, and was frequently quite a formal event that people wore their best clothes for, so the images don’t necessarily reflect what people wore every day.
One of the more unusual ways of finding this information is through photographs of people who had just been arrested, in the police force’s criminal records. We have quite a few of these images in our Constabulary collection (F5), and they usually include a photograph of the offender, alongside a summary of their details and the crimes they were convicted of. They’re mainly used for researching details of the crime(s) committed, but they’re also incredibly useful for giving us a snapshot of everyday clothing at the time, as well as the ways in which fashions changed over time or across social groups, as you can see from these two images taken eighteen years apart:
Interestingly, they can also tell us about tattoos and body art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the records also include any identifying marks, as in this example which shows the convict having a tattoo of a woman and a man on his right and left forearms:
Another thing that can be quite hard to discover from surviving sources are the more mundane elements of daily life. Often what has survived are official accounts, which don’t offer much of a window into the realities of the everyday. One of the best sources to use for this are wills. These, of course, tell us a lot about people’s possessions (which can be revealing in themselves, as we’ll see), as well as helping to confirm the names and relationships of relatives making them an important source for any family history. Very occasionally, however, they can reveal something of the nature of those relationships, particularly if family members had fallen out with one another.
This will from William Edwards in 1732 refers to ‘the many and great troubles expences [sic] and vexations occasioned me and my dear wife by the undutiful and disobedient behaviour and perverseness of my son William’, and left him ‘one shilling and no more’:
Wills also offer a glimpse into private living arrangements. In 1763 Richard Townson left his possessions to ‘unto Anna Maria Byer who lives and cohabits with me (and is Really and truely my wife)’, where most sources talk of married couples.
They can also reveal some of the more sinister elements of private life that aren’t captured in other records. In 1625 Richard Dawers left his daughter Anne (and her children, should she have any) £20 in trust so that her husband could not access it. ‘The cause of debarringe my sonne in law to have any medling or dealing therewith’, he wrote, ‘is in regard to his unkind & churlish dealinge with my daughter his wife, duringe my life time, that I doe much feare, if god give him not more grace, it shall goe worse with her after my death’.
On a lighter note, sometimes wills offer an insight into some of the more mundane parts of everyday life. Francis Lambe left his daughter daughter a pair of ‘waffinge irons to make waffers’.
Last but not least, my favourite: in 1596, Thomas Warr gave his daughter Alice ‘a cowe knowne by the name of Whurlock’ – proof that giving animals odd names isn’t confined to the present day!
During lockdown the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has worked to bring our collections to you in as many different ways as possible. This difficult period has emphasised the importance of having a strong digital presence and we are continuing our endeavours to help everyone gain better access to our county’s wonderful heritage resources.
One method of doing this is increasing our capacity on the Know Your Place website. This project, which began in Bristol and later expanded across the south west of England, layers historic maps of the region and provides interactive layers of historic data, archival collections and community input. This enables the public to compare and contrast contemporary OS maps with historic maps, such as tithe and estate maps, which is great when studying the development of areas and communities. But not only this, it pinpoints (geotags) heritage collections of all shapes and sizes to their relevant locations on the maps – these are known as information layers. Watch this short video to get an idea of why you might use Know Your Place and the ethos behind this progressive project, which is always looking to add documents and detail for public consumption.
Here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre we have been working hard during lockdown to improve our part of the site, KYP Wiltshire, by creating more layers to assist with local history research across the county. A huge amount of work has been done during the last 6 months, by multiple members of staff, to recreate the tithe awards layer. Some of you may have noticed this layer before, or even used it in the past, but not every tithe award was uploaded, and some were found to be faulty. The layer is now up and running, with every tithe award (over 350 T symbols as below) accessible on the site.
For detailed information on tithes, we recommend browsing The National Archives’ handy research guide, but here’s some brief information on how are they can benefit local history research. In 1836 the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, which put an end to tithes being paid in kind to the church (as was often the case previously). Tithes (one tenth of agricultural produce) were now a monetary tax to be paid to the church, but in order to ascertain who would have to pay what, a nationwide survey was taken, with the whole country being mapped (tithe maps). Alongside the maps, the tithe awards (part of a larger document called the tithe apportionments) were produced, which detailed landowners and occupiers of the land.
Plot numbers, listed alongside names, link the award to the map, and show how much each plot of land is due to pay in tithes. Any historic document that lists names in relation to a place is going to be useful for family historians. The tithe award will place a family in a specific location, give an idea of how wealthy (or not) they were, e.g. if they are listed as a landowner that would infer wealth, and they sometimes throw unexpected names into the mix. For example, their relatives may be living nearby and would thus be recorded in the same document. In terms of local and social history, tithes give us a great sense of how the land was being used at a certain point in time, and by whom.
We thought it might be of interest to describe exactly what’s gone into making this data available. Our fantastic volunteers from the Wiltshire Family History Society had previously transcribed the documents in our search room and created a mammoth Microsoft Word document, so this needed to be split up into single documents for each parish. We then needed to convert every document into a PDF (the preferred file format for Know Your Place). Finally, we had to get easting and northing grid references for every individual parish, which proved very time consuming and required some serious local knowledge from various members of staff. This enabled the team in Bristol to upload the tithe awards very accurately over each parish church, or otherwise in the centre of the town, village or hamlet.
To activate the tithe award layer and find the data, follow these simple steps:
Thanks to the interactive nature of the website, you can view the award data in conjunction with any of the historic maps available, or indeed the present-day OS. To change the map, simply click on ‘basemaps’ on the legend to the right of the screen and choose whichever map you’re interested in, though in this instance you may wish to view the tithe award data in conjunction with the tithe map, which can be found at the very bottom of the ‘basemaps’ section. You can also bring a second map into the equation, by clicking ‘comparison map’ at the top of the legend, choosing your map and then using the drag and slide function across the main screen.
There is also a spy glass function, on which you can change the transparency to examine change in a precise spot on the map – this can be used by clicking the small square towards the top right of the page and then the slider beneath it manipulates the levels of transparency. This may all seem a bit fiddly to begin with, but you soon get used to it.
The drag & slide, together with the spy glass function, is a valuable tool to local and house historians. Area development is easy to examine, as is property history. For large or very old properties, it is often possible to see boundary changes over time, as well as structural changes or additions, such as extensions to properties.
It is well worth exploring the webpage further, such as the Historic Environment Record section of the information layer which includes monuments and listed buildings – each item in the list can be accessed in the same way as the Tithe Award data.
It has come to our attention that certain tithe maps have enlarged scale drawings of town or village centres on the physical document, but due to the nature of the digitally stitched together maps, these could not be included on the tithe map on Know Your Place. However, we are now in the process of creating image files of these sections of maps, that will be included as data points in due course, which will be accessed in the same way as the tithe award data.
As I mentioned earlier, this project welcomes community input. This is done through the ‘community layer’ which is automatically active each time you open the webpage (the green dots all over the screen). So, if you have a local monument, church, school or an old photograph of your ancestor’s home, you can take the picture, add some information, and add it to the layer. This can be done by clicking the pencil like symbol on the far right of the screen, then clicking directly on the relevant location and then following the instructions from there.
We’ve been helping get the community layer started by adding some examples from our History Centre collections. You will find images of schools and churches. There’s also the results of the Public Art Project, a fine array of images of public art in the county. If you spot any gaps, why not take a photo and add it to the community layer yourself?
Other organisations have been adding to this layer, Chippenham and Salisbury Museums, the Swindon Heritage Action Zone project to name just a few, plus members of the public and local history groups.
So why not take a look and digitally explore Wiltshire, both past and present. Check to see if you can spot your house on the 1st edition OS map or see if you can find any family members’ names in the tithe award data, but be warned – you may spend more time than you intend when you get ‘lost in the map’!
Finally, keep an eye out on our social media announcements of more historic documents being added to the information layers and feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. You can find our KYP centred Facebook page @KYPWilts.
Just like many, many others, at the end of March we picked up laptops, chargers, diaries and the odd office chair and settled down to life and work in lockdown at home.
My work is centred on the Wiltshire and Swindon HER (Historic Environment Record), a database and fantastic resource that holds information on all the currently known archaeology and historic monuments for the county. This still functions extremally well for any enquiries we have had, from commercial searches undertaken during planning applications to the finding of interesting flints when someone is out walking on the Wiltshire downs.
I now start work in the morning at my kitchen table and am very lucky to have my garden to look at with the myriad of spring and summer life that goes with it, from baby long-tailed tits to a sparrowhawk sitting on the garden chair, an inquisitive crow and a less welcome rat.
A family lockdown walk developed fairly quickly and I’ve used the route frequently from March onwards, enjoying the seasonal changes and the variety of architecture and countryside in and around Corsham.
The following is a brief description of some of the associated sites from the lockdown walk which are also present on the HER. Each site is identified with its unique number.
My route takes me past the playing fields of The Corsham School. Second World War allotments are visible on this site from aerial photographs taken in 1946 and these were created as part of the Dig for Victory campaign that was introduced in September 1940. MWI74074 - Second World War Allotments, The Corsham School. On my left is Hatton Way, named after Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite courtier of Elizabeth I. Sir Christopher, when expressing devotion for his queen, always signed his letters with a hat drawn over the word ‘on’. Hatton spent about four years at Corsham House (Corsham Court) until financial problems caused him to sell up. Down Hatton Way is MWI65896 - Site of Purleigh Barn, a demolished 19th century outfarm of regular courtyard plan. The farmstead and all historic buildings have been lost.
The Wiltshire and Swindon Farmsteads and Landscapes Project Report summarises the results of mapping the historic character and survival of more than 4000 farmsteads and 2700 outfarms and field barns, all mapped onto the HER. Knowledge and protection of these historic farmsteads is inevitable if they are to be retained as a distinctive part of the rural landscape: otherwise, they risk decay and dereliction.
The route now reaches Pickwick, once a separate settlement from Corsham with strong Quaker roots. The area contains some 44 listed buildings and is a designated Conservation Area in its own right. Although the A4 speeds through the middle, it is always a great pleasure to admire the Georgian architecture. To my left is Pickwick Manor, MWI34416 - Pickwick Manor or Pickwick Farm Grade II* listed, described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as an "unusually impressive example of a late 17th century manor house, having remnants of a 14th-century wing”. In the 1920’s the building was restored, altered and lived in by Sir Harold Brakspear, noted restoration architect and archaeologist, renowned for the restoration of St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
Crossing the road and passing some lovely 18th century houses, the walk reaches Academy Drive, named after the Bath Academy of Art, which was established in 1946 by Clifford Ellis after the destruction of the original premises. The then Lord Methuen, artist Paul Ayshford, allowed his home Corsham Court to become the centre of the Academy and Beechfield House, where the drive leads, was an annex to this and accommodation for male students. Aerial photographs taken in 1946 show several military buildings dispersed within the grounds of Beechfield House, presumably associated with the nearby military quarries, MWI74106 - Military Camp, Beechfield House. More aerial photographs taken in 2009 show the area to have been redeveloped and the wartime structures demolished - their locations are now partly occupied by the houses on Academy Drive and Woodlands.
Continuing along the main road our route passes a lovely roundhouse or toll house, MWI34400 - Roundhouse or Toll House, a Grade II listed building once locally known as the ‘Pepper Pot’, a sweet shop, kept by an elderly lady called Sally Watts. It is now a summerhouse.
Further on we can see the Church of St Patrick, which was originally built as the Pickwick District School in 1858. Later used as a glove factory and then a gas mask factory in WWII, the building has had many uses in its comparatively short life MWI34419 - Church of St Patrick and Pickwick School.
The footpath that takes the walker away from the road branches off to the right across a 24-acre field. On first glance, the field looks like any other large area of agricultural land but a quick look at our HER database gives a more detailed description. The entry states ‘These fields appear to have been created by converting an area of designed landscape associated with Guyer's House and Beechfield House into agricultural use. This former character is faintly legible through small plantations and scattered trees’ HWI4496 - Re-organised fields. The information for the field is part of the Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Landscape Characterisation Project. This complete dataset of c.14,500 records covers every part of the county, giving details about the present and past character and attributes of the landscape for each land parcel. This was done by studying historic and modern maps, aerial photographs and archaeological data to build a complete record for Wiltshire and Swindon.
NB - This data is free to use but is the copyright of Wiltshire Council and Historic England and not to be reproduced without permission and acknowledgement.
Back to the field! The scattered trees stand tall over a landscape that was once divided into smaller portions, as field boundaries and ridge and furrow, (ridges and troughs created by a system of ploughing, possibly medieval), were identified by a geophysical survey MWI74428 - Field Boundaries, North of Bath Road & MWI74430 - Ridge and Furrow. A small pit was also discovered during some archaeological fieldwork, which contained pottery possibly dating to the earlier Neolithic period MWI76326 - Neolithic Pit. The field also contains evidence of undated ponds but possibly the most exciting feature to wind its way through the land is underground. This is a former stone quarrying tunnel which probably ran from the Hartham Park Quarry and sometimes known as the Pickwick Quarry. Bath Stone, a warm, honey-coloured oolitic limestone, has been sought after since Roman times and Brunel's cutting of the Box Railway Tunnel, close to Corsham, revealed a rich seam of high-quality stone. The Corsham mines were extensively worked with miles of tunnels, chambers and air shafts and became the ideal underground storage location for the War Office during the Second World War and of further use during the Cold War – but that’s for another blog! MWI31707 - Stone Quarry Tunnel.
The path makes its green way through the field (hovering kestrels are a bonus) and crosses a lane which leads to Guyers House, MWI65891 - Guyer's House, originally a 17th century farmhouse and now a hotel and restaurant. It was the home for 14 years of Lancelot Charles Brown, the great grandson of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the landscape architect who enhanced Corsham Court and laid out the gardens and parkland. Hopefully he had a chance to admire the work of his great grandfather!
After a short distance across a paddock, the next field is reached, one which became a golden sea of colour in May and June. I’ve never been a fan of rapeseed fields but to walk through the crop was quite a pleasure during the dark news of Covid-19.
In late July the field is brown with drying oil pods, but the eye is drawn away from this to the spitfire swifts, flying just overhead for their insect meals.
To the right of the path a square, concrete structure sits in the field – is this a ventilation shaft from the tunnels?
The path reaches a country lane which leads to Pickwick Lodge Farm, a beautiful 17th century farmstead of regular courtyard plan. Note the 19th century gabled stone porch.
MWI65890 - Pickwick Lodge Farm.
If you are very lucky, you will be escorted on your walk by the farm cats for quite some way…
During lockdown our teams, like everyone, have had to adapt to new ways of working and think creatively about how we continued to support our heritage community and maintain our statutory services. In Part 1 Neil and Dorothy shared some of the work done by the Archaeology team and Wiltshire Buildings Record. In Part 2 we turn the spotlight on our Archives and Local Studies team, the Conservation and Museums Advisory Service and the Heritage Education Service.
Archives and Local Studies
While lockdown forced the cancellation of our 2020 events programme, we were able to reinvent some of the activities in new formats. County Librarian Julie Davis had planned a talk on TheHome Front in Wiltshire, as part of the celebrations for the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May. Instead she turned her slides into an online film show with a recorded narration. Julie also recorded readings from her recent publication From Blackout to Bungalows which explores the effects of World War Two on Wiltshire. These are available on our VE Day page on the website.
Pre-lockdown we were delighted to host a display of artworks by students from Wiltshire College in the History Centre foyer. Community history advisor Joy Bloomfield, who worked with the college on this project, redisplayed the pieces in our search room and created a more widely-accessible online exhibition available via our Facebook page.
Julie's Memory Box sessions also went online. Before lockdown the group would use written sources as a springboard for discussion and reminiscence. Unable to meet physically Julie recorded several readings themed on local fairs and industries which are now online to be enjoyed at home. Similarly, Ian Hicks has replicated his popular Introduction to Ancestry.com sessions as online videos. All videos can be found on our youtube channel including four short Welcome Back films featuring members of our team. Creating video content is new for most of us at the History Centre and, we’re not afraid to say, it was a bit daunting to begin with, but we have learnt new skills, gained confidence and seen the benefits of developing online content for the History Centre. Watch this space for more online material over the coming months.
We have also used lockdown to add more content to the Know Your Place website. Scanned copies of our tithe awards have been added to this already brimming resource. The tithe awards give details of landowners and occupiers plus land use for parishes across the county. In addition, more content has been added to pages of the Wiltshire Community History website, most notably on the subject of Wiltshire schools. Julie has also continued her engagement work with the team of Wiltshire Libraries Local Studies’ Champions to create digital material for the library service's YouTube channel.
Lockdown resulted in the disruption to many arts, heritage and cultural projects but as restrictions eased organisations looked to restart their programmes. The History Centre is delighted to be working with our new partners at Celebrating Age Wiltshire on their lottery-funded project to improve health and wellbeing of older people living in isolation. We are also feeding into the Swindon Heritage Action Zone, which is part of a wider Historic England heritage project and the project officer is working with local people in and around Swindon’s Railway Village to post old photographs onto the community layer of Know Your Place website.
Visitors to the History Centre usually come to consult documents, but the Local Studies Library is also an important research tool. It contains over 50,000 volumes and is the largest collection in the world of books about Wiltshire. We are always on the lookout for new titles and actively collect any published work that is about Wiltshire or is written by someone with a strong Wiltshire connection.
The last few months have been an opportunity to catch up with the backlog of cataloguing, making over 100 new books available to users of the service. They include biographies; newly published research on the two world wars and a beautifully illustrated book of the plants found in the gardens of Salisbury Cathedral Close. Perhaps these books may inspire you to write something and be part of Wiltshire’s written history. New lists of our latest catalogued books can be found in our Local Studies newsletters.
We have also used this time to update our staff toolkit which contains key guides on various collection themes in the hope we have the answers to all your questions at our fingertips. Quite an undertaking, we’re sure you’ll agree. Colleagues have also conducted research on topics such as militia records, the architecture of Salisbury and the Kennet and Avon Canal, plus we have been putting the finishing touches to a major new catalogue for the archive of Westinghouse Rail. This has involved formatting data collected by our volunteer Mike and uploading onto our electronic catalogue.
Like most archives and museums, we have launched a new collection that will record the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives. The History Centre’s Living in Lockdown project aims to collect personal reflections from people in Wiltshire and Swindon on their experiences of Covid-19 and how it has affected daily lives. We are also looking for printed material such as posters and leaflets, or newsletters from local groups, plus photographs recording lockdown, such as public displays of art and craft, and how local shops, services and events have been affected. Read more about the collecting project (including how to get in touch) on our archives pages.
Conservation and Museums Advisory Service
The Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) aims to promote excellence in the care and use of collections by providing conservation advice and practical treatments to heritage organisations and the public. We also support museums in Wiltshire to meet professional standards and become sustainable, resilient organisations.
Based at the History Centre, we can normally be found working in our two conservation laboratories, or out and about giving advice to museums, archives and historic houses. Lockdown meant that, like many others, we were confined to working at home and had to find a whole new way of doing things.
Without access to the specialist equipment and chemicals in the laboratory, we had to stop carrying out practical conservation treatments such as x-raying archaeological finds, cleaning coins, reconstructing ceramics and repairing documents. Instead the conservators have taken the time to carry out a number of other tasks.
We have been developing new training and support packages for both staff at the History Centre, and other museums and archives looking to gain Accreditation or better care for their collections. This includes topics like pest management, environmental monitoring and control, collection care planning, and preventative conservation of archives and historical collections. We’ve been looking at services aimed at those involved with archaeology, such as archaeological contractors and metal detectorists. There has also been the opportunity to develop our environmental sustainability plans, becoming greener to help the Council meet its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Even though the building has been closed, the archives have still required some care and attention, so we’ve been carrying out regular environmental monitoring checks to make sure the temperature and humidity levels in the strong rooms is suitable for their long-term preservation.
We have been exploring the digital world and finding alternative ways of working. A redesign of the CMAS web pages has begun including a simplified web address - www.wshc.eu/cmas - and we took part in a twitter conference organised by the Institute of Conservation (#IconArchTC) talking about our treatment of a Roman coin hoard owned by Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury. You can also watch our new video about the conservation treatment of a pair of Pele’s football boots.
Meetings have gone online, and we have been getting to grips with the technicalities and etiquette of virtual meetings, including Wiltshire Museum Group get-togethers. The team has also been available by telephone and email to answer questions and give advice to organisations and the public about all things conservation and museums.
Wiltshire’s museums have been hit hard by the lockdown, with the cancellation of events, loss of income, and other challenges that come from having to close their doors overnight. Working with South West Museum Development, we have supported them throughout the last few months, answering enquiries to help them look after staff, volunteers and collections, providing information about the latest government guidance, and encouraging applications for the grant funding available. This has continued as museums have started to re-open. Museums in the county have been working hard to address the issues and several have now welcomed back visitors, with special measures put in place to keep everyone safe: Wiltshire Museum, Chippenham Museum, Boscombe Down Aviation Collection, REME Museum, Salisbury Museum, The Rifles Museum, Crofton Beam Engines www.croftonbeamengines.org. More will follow in the not too distant future.
Although the CMAS team is now back in the building and the laboratories, we’re not quite back to normal! It’s likely to be a little while before we’re able to make visits to organisations or carry out face to face training. So, in the meantime, we’ll carry on developing our digital delivery and because we love showing off the work we do we’re planning to add more case studies, videos and a virtual tour of the laboratories to our web pages soon.
Heritage Education Service
As heritage education officer I work with schools and community groups providing facilitated sessions in schools, community settings and at the History Centre. All those face-to-face sessions ended with lockdown. The other aspect of my work involves creating classroom and online resources – and this has very much continued.
In anticipation of the lockdown the History Centre could see that digital resources – our website, blog and social media platforms – would be our way of keeping some of our services operational and allow us to stay in touch with our community of users and volunteers. With that in my mind my role morphed into coordinating the History Centre’s digital services and joining with colleagues in Libraries and Leisure to develop and deliver online services to replace, as best we could, the wide range of physical services provided by our teams. This resulted in the Active Communities webpages and a host of downloadable resources on the Wiltshire Council website.
As our services resume, with new policies and procedures in place, my work on the History Centre’s digital strategy will continue alongside creating classroom resources for teachers. I am also delighted that many of the projects we support are getting back on track, including the Salisbury Soroptimist’s Her Salisbury Story project (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) celebrating the women of Salisbury past and present. I will be providing support and training to the group and their volunteers as they work on this wonderful project.
After meticulous planning and much hard work we are delighted to have welcomed out first visitors back into the search rooms on 25th August. Making sure the History Centre is COVID-secure for staff and visitors does mean we have had to put in new procedures for accessing our services and these follow national guidelines and regulations. We are now operating an appointments-only system for accessing our services and face coverings are mandatory for all visitors. To book your archives and local studies visit go to our website. http://wshc.eu/visiting-the-centre.html For other teams please telephone ahead to make an appointment.
On 20th March the History Centre temporarily closed its doors to staff and public in line with national guidance for dealing with Covid-19. Unsure when we would return staff from all teams faced the challenge of working from home without face-to-face contact with our colleagues and community of visitors, as well as the loss of physical access to our extensive collections and resources.
Despite these restrictions, our industrious and enterprising teams have been working away on a range of projects and initiatives, from the comfort (or discomfort) of our own homes. In addition, several colleagues have combined their History Centre commitments with voluntary community support work, helping the more vulnerable members of society. As Wiltshire Council employees we have also been supporting the local authority’s response to the pandemic.
Here is an update from the first of our teams, detailing some of the ventures we have undertaken to adapt and maintain our services during lockdown.
Wiltshire Buildings Record
The WBR normally opens its doors to the public on a Tuesday. Because of the restrictions we have not been able to see any visitors since the end of March, but that has not stopped enquirers emailing. It seems that while people have time on their hands, not being able to work, researching the history of their house seemed like a great pastime. Without physical access to our own records and the archive collections, we have had to manage researchers’ expectations and point them to online resources.
Of course, there are several different ways of doing research online, and I have managed to direct some enquirers to useful websites that can answer their questions without the need for a visit. A great jumping off point is the map comparison website Know your Place. We are extremely fortunate that for Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Bristol you can tell immediately whether a building existed at a certain period right back to c1840.
Other ways of researching are:
Check the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives online catalogue to see if there are any immediately relevant documents. The documents are not available online but once the History Centre is open again to the public you will be able to look at sources such as deeds, maps, censuses, Enclosure awards etc.
Victoria County History gives an excellent overview of Wiltshire parish histories that have been covered so far and is available online.
With the easing of lockdown, we were able to resume searching our own WBR records and our specialist research service has restarted in a limited way. WBR is now beginning to undertake commissioned histories for interest again, so please do call or email for a chat. You can find all our contact details on the WBR pages of this website.
The Archaeology team has had an eventful lockdown period which has seen two members of staff leave and two new colleagues arrive, while we also sadly lost one of our World Heritage Site team, Sarah Simmons, who left her post after 14 years to pursue new goals.
The challenges of working in lockdown were mostly faced by our two new recruits; Neil Adam and Michal Cepak who are now the Assistant County Archaeologists under Melanie Pomeroy-Killinger. Both Neil and Michal have had to go through staff inductions and learn the job while working from home, but happily this task has been greatly aided by superb help from Melanie as well as from the HER (Historic Environment Record) team of Tom Sunley and Jacqui Ramsay.
In terms of the day to day, little has changed for archaeology. The business of local government continued with planning applications to be assessed and major public works, such as the A303 Stonehenge by-pass, to be planned for with other colleagues in the Council as well as colleagues in Historic England and a myriad of other government departments and interested parties.
Lockdown has meant the cancellation of our heritage walks this summer, along with a number of other public events that we had planned, but we do plan to reach out to you through a digital strategy that should see far more content going online for the public at large to access.
Living and working in lockdown has brought a unique set of challenges, but as things slowly ease, we will return to what is nowadays called a ‘new normal’, probably never exactly as it was prior to 26th March 2020, but with the same sense of public service along with a few new ways of working and presenting our data to you.
In Part 2, we will hear how the Archives and Local Studies team, Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) and Education Service have kept busy during lockdown.
Neil Adam, Assistant County Archaeologist
Dorothy Treasure, Buildings Recorder, WBR
Heather Perry, Conservation and Museum Manager (CMAS)
Whilst on a recording visit to an early-mid 18th century house in Stratford I came across a feature that I had not seen before, or to be clearer – I may have seen it before but presumed it was a faint daisy-wheel - an apotropaic mark seen inside and on the outside of houses throughout Wiltshire.
Daisy wheels are usually regularly divided with four or more pairs of petal-like scribed lines. They are thought to have been placed there to protect a building from bad luck and as a solar symbol, they ritualistically dispelled ‘darkness’.
High up on a corner stone of the building we thought we’d identified one of these daisy wheels when Peter Filtness, who had been recording the building with me, recognised it as a mass dial. I must admit I was completely mystified, not having studied churches much.
This was a scribed circle with what looked like a few randomly-scratched lines, not the chrysanthemum-shaped petals I was used to seeing. It was more like a sun-dial than anything, and in fact, worked in much the same way.
Apparently, without the aid of a clock, a priest was able to determine at what time to say mass from casting a shadow across the appropriate line with a straight rod acting as a gnomon in the central hole. Sounds simple!
The mass dial became known as a service dial after the Reformation, masses being Catholic. The principle of literally marking time was exploited generally and indicating mass times was only one of several uses of this clever device that was simply made up of a few scratched lines radiating from a central point. Obviously, they relied on daylight to cast the requisite shadow so had to be set on the south side of the church. They were also conveniently set at eye-level. Mass dials went out of use in the 16th century with the advent of the mechanical clock.
Some 3,000 of these dials have been recorded in the UK and no doubt there are others, like this one, which turn up in unexpected places on reused stone. The house we were looking at started life as a humble two- or three-cell farmhouse. There was an assumption that the very large and well-cut corner stones might have come from Old Sarum up the hill, but still, the haulage costs of such heavy stones would have been considerable. Why not use even more local material?
It was after a bit of research that it was discovered that St Lawrence church, just nearby, had its tower rebuilt in 1711. Was this after a collapse? It is not likely that we will ever be able to answer the question of where the stone might have come from except perhaps by divine intervention!