On This Day...

on Thursday, 18 April 2013. Posted in Museums

One of my favourite aspects of working with the museums of Wiltshire is the fantastic variety of stories, events, people and places represented in the many thousands of items in their collections. Mostly these are used in a very structured way. You go to the museum to see an exhibition on a particular subject or the museum is contacted about the history of a specific village. The volunteers and staff at Wiltshire’s museums spend many hundreds of hours cataloguing the items in their collections so that they are able to know which items are relevant when they come to mount their exhibitions or answer enquires.

Why is a vegetarian looking at Bowyers meat sausages?

on Saturday, 13 April 2013. Posted in Archives

I am always pleased when several aspects of our activities come together at once.  Those of you who follow us on Twitter will have seen our tweet on a great landmark for our service that was the 100,000th record or set of records produced by our wonderful colleagues in the document production team since we opened in October 2007 (that represents over 59 million walking steps by the team to produce your records and put them back again!).

Actually, it was more than 100,000 as this figure was just for general archives, we count the production of parish registers and wills separately and so we can add a further 30,000 or more documents produced!  And the grateful recipient of the “100,000th” record was...er...ourselves. Let me explain.

 

The Old Bridewell

on Wednesday, 03 April 2013. Posted in Architecture, Crime

In the centre of Devizes is an unassuming building, not very different from those red-brick houses flanking it. It has large, airy two-by-two pane sashes with typical segmental arches which contain a shaped keystone. Behind the net curtains can be glimpsed a cosy living room, and a pretty garden beyond. This is The Grange and it was once the old Devizes jail, or bridewell, in Bridewell Street.

The Bridewell started life in 1579 as a timber-framed building in the street which now bears its name. It was established after the opening of the Bridewell prison in London in 1556 as a new type of prison to deal with the growing numbers of those regarded as rogues and vagabonds or the idle poor. This example had been followed in Oxford in 1562, Salisbury in 1564 and Norwich in 1565. It was burnt down twice and rebuilt: after a fire in 1619 and another more serious fire in 1630, but still in timber, much of which survives today.

In 1771, the Devizes bridewell was re-fronted in brick: the date appears in studs on the original front door which was reused.

Potterings in Potterne

on Friday, 05 April 2013. Posted in Architecture

One of our latest visits took us to Jenny Mill in Potterne, to look at a mill that had been turned into the Mill School when the last miller left in the mid-C20. Without a map, it would have been very difficult to find Jenny Mill as it is as literally ‘the back of beyond’ at the end of a narrow track.

According to the Domesday Survey, there were six mills at Potterne in 1086. In his ‘Notes on Potterne’ (WSHC 1172/193), written in 1914, the then Rector, Rev. H. E. Medlicott, suggested that ‘Five Lanes Mill’ (as it was then called) was ‘no doubt one of the Domesday mills’, but offered no evidence to support this conclusion.  The mill as it stands has been rebuilt over again, probably several times, and what is there represents a rebuild of the 18th and 19th centuries, incorporating fragments of an earlier, timber-framed building. Still less remains of the workings of the mill; the leat that fed the wheel has been diverted and conduited around the site, and all that remains are two huge mill-stones propped decoratively against the gable end.

Wiltshire's Wild Cats

on Thursday, 28 March 2013. Posted in Wiltshire Tales

Over the past thirty years or so there have been more and more reported sightings of large cats in Wiltshire and its neighbouring counties.  What has triggered my personal interest in this subject is an encounter experienced by my husband during autumn last year. As he was driving up Lyneham banks between Dauntsey Lock and Lyneham he saw an unusual animal crossing the road before him. He described it as being the size of a small Labrador dog, black in colour but with the gait of a cat. It resembled a small Black Panther which is actually a Leopard in species. He was certain that it was not a domestic cat as it was way too big and certainly not a dog, badger or fox. This animal may have been the same one that has been sighted in the area over the last two decades including one in Grittenham in 1994. 

                                       
It is widely believed that when the government brought in the Exotic Pets Act in 1976, some owners of exotic species set their animals free. The main reason for this was to avoid new legislation regarding mainly health and safety issues.  It is more likely that over the years a very small handful of fauna not native to Britain, have escaped and reproduced in our countryside. With some species this has certainly been the case. The American Mink and the Signal Crayfish have had a significant damaging impact to our wildlife.

Easter Folklore

on Saturday, 23 March 2013. Posted in Traditions and Folklore

Easter was the feast of the pagan goddess of spring, Eoste. It was a tradition to give a gift of coloured eggs which represented the new life of the countryside.

Hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday and were ‘carefully hung up in the inglenook, and kept for medicinal purposes’! A small piece of the dried bun was grated and mixed with water – it was drunk as a cure for diarrhoea, but to work it must be hand baked on a Good Friday! The provision of hot cross buns on Good Friday is thought to be one of the strongest surviving symbols of pre-reformation England.

It has been said that to wash clothes on Good Friday was considered an awful sin. A story is told ‘A young woman went a –washing on Good Friday. As she were about it, up comes a gentleman, and he asks the way somewhers, most pleasant like’. While he stands talking, the woman chances to look at his feet, and discovers he has a cloven foot; so she answers him very shortly, and refuses the money he offers her. ‘Whereupon the gentleman, who, of course, is the Devil, walks away, and the woman, in a fright, puts aside her washing’. You should always wear something new on Easter Sunday, ‘for good fortune’. A new pair of gloves was the luckiest item, and these were often given as an Easter present. Told by A. Clark in 1893.

 

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