An image of a world long gone...

on Wednesday, 04 September 2013. Posted in Art

Here at the History Centre we have a collection of over 1,000 prints dating from the 17th century to the late 19th century; artistic snapshots of our county in time. A selection will be on show in our reception area in the form of a mini exhibition, running from the 28th of September 2013 to the 3rd January 2014. Entry to the exhibition is free, open during our normal working hours. Please feel free to pop in and take a look; they are beautiful works of art in themselves!

The earliest examples of printed illustration are the woodcuts used by William Caxton to illustrate his books in the late 15th century. Saxton’s atlas of England and Wales was published in 1579 and has been called the greatest publishing achievement of the 16th century, being the first national atlas of its kind to be produced in any country, utilising the latest technology of line engraving.

By the 17th century it had become established practice to issue books with engraved title pages and portraits. The process required a different printing process to text and led to an increase in the use of the copper plate press. Demand for this new type of publication increased, resulting in the establishment of two new trades; the publisher and print seller.


The popularity of etching in Britain was predominantly due to one man, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) from Prague. He arrived in Britain as a member of the household of the Earl of Arundel, one of Charles I’s Ministers of State who was a great patron of the arts. Less than 10 years later both the Earl and Hollar had to flee due to the Royalist defeat in the Civil War.

Paper Conservation Volunteering at the History Centre

on Tuesday, 03 September 2013. Posted in Conservation

Saya Honda Miles has been volunteering with the Archives conservation team to help with large conservation projects. She has been working with Senior Conservation officers Paul Smith and Sarah Money conserve Inland Revenue maps from 1901, 19th Century tissue plans of Great Wishford Church and manuscripts for Sir Richard Colt-Hoare’s volumes: The Ancient History of Wiltshire and The History of Modern Wiltshire from the Wiltshire Museum.


Saya graduated with a First-class honours degree in Conservation from Camberwell College of Arts in 2008.  After graduation, she worked on a cellulose nitrate negative deep-freezing project at the Ashmolean Museum. She became an Icon Intern for the Conservation of Photographic Materials; hosted by English Heritage and National Trust in 2009. After the internship, Saya started her private business; SMILES Conservation and she became a member of the ICON Photographic Materials Group Committee in 2010.


In March 2013, she completed the Red Box Project; a digitisation and conservation project of 600,000 open-access architectural photographs as a project conservator at the English Heritage Archives. After completing the project, she started volunteering at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in May 2013 to refresh her paper conservation skills. She has recently been appointed at the English Heritage Archives as the Maternity Cover Assistant Archive Conservator.

WWI, from the pens of Wiltshire's school teachers

on Tuesday, 27 August 2013. Posted in Schools

Since Victorian times, schools across Wiltshire have kept a weekly or daily account in rather fancy log books. During our week working at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, we had the privilege of looking through a selection of the log books kept in the archives, some more battered than others.


Once we were able to read the copperplate handwriting used in these books, we were able to unlock the secrets of historical schools within these books. Focusing mainly on 1914-1918 (looking for any mention of The Great War) we read about children and teachers almost one hundred years ago.


Of course, there were some immediate differences that we noticed: fires in the classrooms, measuring and weighing at schools and excluding of pupils when there were epidemics of illnesses. However we also noticed some other things that have changed over time: we are no longer sent home for being dirty, nor are we caned but unfortunately, we no longer get granted holidays for blackberry picking, going sliding in icy weather or afternoons off for tea parties.

The Wiltshire Yeomanry in Action: El Alamein

on Friday, 13 September 2013. Posted in Military

The Battle of El Alamein has been seen one of the major turning points of the Second World War and although it has been viewed more critically in recent years, it cannot be denied that it was a major boost to British morale. Churchill declared "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat."
The first battle took place in July 1942 with the decisive second battle being fought over a period of 13 days from 23rd October.

An article from The Times, November 6, 1942 reported


“Victory in Egypt
No doubt remains that a major victory in North Africa, for which the country has waited so many months, has been achieved at last.”

'Lacock Unlocked' is unlocking secrets already!

on Tuesday, 20 August 2013. Posted in Archives

It is about two months now since I started working on the Lacock collection and every day I am finding something noteworthy in the boxes. The collection contains a range of beautiful and informative documents: legal documents and correspondence are particularly good at providing valuable insights into the Talbot, Davenport, Feilding and related families who are associated with the Lacock estate. Different documents appeal to different researchers according to their area of research but also their personal preferences. An example here is a series of letters discovered as part of the Davenport collection.

Henry Davenport (1678-1731) was married twice, the second time to Barbara Ivory, the younger sister of John Ivory Talbot who was one of the owners of Lacock. Later, the Lacock estate would come into the hands of Henry and Barbara’s descendents, first in trust to their daughter-in-law Martha (Talbot, who married their son William) and then to their grandson William Davenport Talbot. Sharington Davenport (1709-1774), Henry’s son by his first wife Marie-Lucie Chardin, attended Eton and many letters have survived from his school days and into his time at Cambridge, written to his father and stepmother Barbara Davenport from him and also from his tutors and servants at Eton. These letters are fascinating, and show his character as a slightly rebellious and highly amusing schoolchild, also displayed from various letters written to his father by his aunts (spinster sisters Arabella and Leticia Davenport). Henry Davenport kept many varied letters especially from family memmembers and Sharington’s schoolboy writing is particularly clear and consistent.

Barrow Clump - more exciting finds in the second season!

on Friday, 02 August 2013. Posted in Archaeology

A couple of weeks ago, the archaeology team visited the Operation Nightingale excavations at Barrow Clump. This is the second season of excavations on this Scheduled Monument. I’m going to talk about our site visit, but if you would like to know more about Operation Nightingale generally or the Barrow Clump excavation specifically, there is more information here: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/barrow-clump


This excavation is being undertaken because the barrow (which is one of a large cemetery of Bronze Age barrows) is being badly damaged by badgers. Previous excavations had revealed that, in addition to Bronze Age remains, the site had an Anglo-Saxon cemetery that included some high status burials. The excavations have Scheduled Monument Consent, which means that only the specifically agreed works can take place. The barrow is still scheduled and so unauthorised works, including metal detecting, is illegal.


The team visited on a beautiful, sunny day. The first thing we were shown was the earlier ring ditch that is inside (and covered by) the later Bronze Age barrow.

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