In archives, as in everything else, some jobs take longer than others. The archivists at the History Centre can generally list small or medium sized deposits of documents within a few weeks or months of receiving them, but larger collections may take years, or even decades, to catalogue fully. A catalogue I recently completed was a case in point.
Forty years ago, archivists from the Record Office (then based in Trowbridge) collected a large number of clients’ papers from the offices of the Calne solicitors, Spackman, Dale and Hood. Once safely in the record office, they were placed in acid-free boxes (forty-eight in all) and allocated the collection number 1409. The boxes remained on the strongroom shelves, safe and secure but not listed. Eventually, in 2003, it was decided that I would devote my time (when not on public duty or attending to more urgent priorities) to sorting and listing the Spackman, Dale and Hood collection. My listing gradually proceeded, box by box, over several years. By 2007, when our office relocated from Trowbridge to Chippenham, about three-quarters of the work was done. Increasing public duties and other urgent matters in our new building meant that work on collection 1409 was again shelved for several years. Finally, two years ago, I completed listing the last couple of boxes, and then handed the collection over to my strongroom colleagues, who numbered and packaged each item. This took the greater part of another year. I then word-processed the lengthy catalogue and added it to our online catalogue.
So, what have we ended up with, after all that effort? A slimmed-down collection, reduced from 48 to 35 boxes, after weeding out the rubbish, rough copies, drafts and duplicate documents. But still a large collection – one thousand separate items, listed in detail in a 125 page catalogue (available in hard copy at the History Centre and on our online catalogue). As one might expect, a large proportion of the collection concerns Calne people and properties, and those of the neighbouring area. The two largest categories are sale particulars (the greater part dealing with Calne properties between the 1880s and the 1970s) and title deeds and associated conveyancing papers. Title deeds are useful to both family and local historians. To take one example, a bundle of deeds (1409/16/54) relating to a house in Calne Church Street, “commanding one of the best positions in the town”, prove that at various times between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the building was occupied by a shoemaker, a baker, a seedsman, and C. & T. Harris, Ltd., as well as being used as the library of the Calne Literary Institution and, later, as an Oddfellows lodge. There is also a series of 44 eighteenth century leases of properties in Castle Combe; the tenant of an enclosed three-acre field at Thorn Grove was given “liberty to set up cribs for sheep on Castle Combe fair day”, in 1779 (1409/16/259/33).
Other contents of the collection are more unusual. For instance, there is some correspondence (1409/10/5) concerning applications for midwives’ certificates by Mrs Sarah Gaby of Sandy Lane and Mrs Elizabeth Ponting of Cherhill, 1904-1905.
Wiltshire is well known for its southern chalk and northern rich pasture dairy land, and cheese production was once a well established part of Wiltshire life, from cottage industry to factory production. Chippenham’s cheese market opened in 1850, reported in the London Illustrated News and the market soon became famous. Wiltshire Cheese was renowned from the 18th century and became highly sought after. The Wiltshire Loaf is a semi-hard cheese, smooth and creamy on the outside and crumbly in the centre. The North Wiltshire (or Wiltshire) Loaf reached the peak of its popularity in the 18th & early 19th centuries.
William Nichols was a Chippenham Chemist who developed the use of the substance annatto as a food additive. Annatto comes from the achiote shrub seed and is produced in South America. You can still see it as the orange skin on some cheeses today, and it is used to give colour to dairy products.
WBR recently looked at Wolseley House in Market Lavington. This fascinating house is tucked away at the east end of the village. The land on which it stands apparently once belonged to the chantry of the parish church. Examination of the physical fabric showed that it dated from the early 18th century, as the listed building schedule suggested, and the rough dates of additions. What the list does not do is tell you about the succession of occupiers and what they did. Our redoubtable researcher Margaret researched the history and among other facts she found that from 1826 until the early 20th century the house was occupied by those of the medical profession. In 1831 the parish registers show William Tucker, a surgeon, as both owner and occupier of a house and land on which 9/- tax was paid. The house next door (now called Ivy Lodge) was also curiously occupied by a general practitioner in 1851.
It was then found that this concentration of medics was probably due to the proximity to Fiddington House, which had become a private lunatic asylum in about 1817. Other medics occupied the two houses after 1831 including a James Herriot, a general practitioner (not the vet!), and William B. Pepler described as a ‘surgeon and apothecary’.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the archive service we are putting together an online exhibition of 70 favourite documents from the archive chosen by staff and volunteers. One of the items chosen was only recently deposited and is a remarkably detailed record of its type; Thomas Pinniger's farming diary for Little Bedwyn and Beckhampton farm, Avebury 1828-1832 (ref 4381/1/5).
Entries of note include the purchase of Beckhampton farm and Beckhampton Inn from Anthony Guy of Chippenham, 27 Feb and 18 Jun 1828; a note about Guy's subsequent bankruptcy, Nov 1829-Jan 1830; Work on the new house began 25 Sep 1828, completed Oct 1830; difficulties in digging chalk for the roads led to an accident in the chalk pit, 29 Jan 1830; note about the 'Swing Riots', Nov 1830 (pictured above); efforts to clear snow from the main road (A4) , 21 Jan 1830; fruit trees planted in garden, 8 Mar 1830; fire at Mr Neat's farm at Monkton, 5 Jun 1831; trees planted in the yard, 10 Dec 1831; notes of the deaths of relatives and friends, including son Thomas (Large), 31 Jul 1828; verse by rev William Lisle Bowles on the death of Richard Sadler Smith at Bremhill, 31 Mar 1832; and references to thrashing machine, 6 Mar and 23 Jul 1832.
Unsurprisingly diaries can be one of the most engaging sources in the archives because they enable us to hear such a clear and individual voice from the past.
We have some interesting examples in our collections, including an almost complete series of diaries belonging to writer Edith Maud Olivier (ref 982/32-78). The entries are daily and written in detail covering 1894-1948 including this entry relating to a visit of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in February 1944.
The Wiltshire Record Society has also published volumes of transcripts of diaries and notebooks including:
‘Cherished memories and Associations,’ a manuscript memoir by William Small 1881 (Volume 64; original document reference 2713/2)
William Small, a painter and glazier of 1 New Street, Salisbury, of his life in Salisbury, with biographical details of his family and Salisbury people, tradesmen, apprentices and inhabitants of the Close. There are also details of the history of several houses, particularly in East Harnham where Small was born in 1820. The text is interspersed with poetry and items of local and national interest such as the funeral of Benjamin Disraeli in 1881, the Shrewton flood 1841 and an account of the history of Salisbury probably based on the work of Robert Benson and Henry Hatcher. There are also notes of various events in the Salisbury area 1737-1739 (probably taken from the Salisbury Journal).
These entries provide an insight into his trade, historic Salisbury, particular buildings, and into the detail of everyday life that would otherwise be lost to history. Plants and animals often feature as well as the agricultural area surrounding the city.
Through his description of The Close of 50 years previous, we gain an insight into how the area changed:
“The Close was quite different then from what it is now, Wild thorn and elder hedges in a wild state, a great many large trees about… the Grass was laid up for Hay and Farmer Drake of Netherhampton, used to bring his Waggons in, & cart it away. In 1836 or 1837 there was a very high wind in January I think, & blow down all the stately Elm trees on one side of the walk (called lovers walk) but one, prostrate across the field, then the same year the present young ones were planted” (volume one, page 161-2)
The final piece of the Arctic Convoy project has just been completed – and what a resounding success.
The History Centre joined forces with writer and arts facilitator Dawn Gorman to work with a group of young people on a creative writing project using the Second World War Arctic Convoy oral histories as source material. We approached St Laurence School in Bradford on Avon and the Chippenham Air Scouts to recruit youngsters to the project.
We were knocking on an open door at St Laurence as we had worked with the school in 2016 on the Iron Duke project and we knew there would be students eager to hone their creative writing skills. Four students signed up to the poetry workshops being run by Dawn.
To be fair the Scouts were a slightly trickier audience, even with the promise of earning another badge if they took part. Dawn and I attended one of their meetings and spoke with around 20 youngsters, mostly aged 11-13 and mostly boys, about the stories of the Arctic Convoy veterans and the idea that anyone and everyone can enjoy creative writing!
I had brought with me Second World War magazines, a selection of photographs of veterans interviewed by the History Centre in the first part of the project, and a medal presented by Russia to British sailors who had served on the convoy ships.
This brief session prompted two of the Scouts to share with the group that their great grandfathers had been sailors on Royal Navy ships escorting the merchant ships carrying supplies to Russia. In the end we had four Scouts signed up to the workshops and they were joined by a member of Corsham Sea Scouts.
The starting point for the creative writing was to listen to the stories told by some of the Wiltshire veterans of the convoys. These oral histories and their transcripts can be accessed at the History Centre. On our website we have uploaded a series of short films with abridged versions of the oral histories and it was these recordings that were used in this project.
Dawn worked in school with the Year 10 and 11 students on poems inspired by these men’s stories while the Scouts took part in a more structured series of workshops held at the History Centre.
The boys created both poetry and storyboards based on the Arctic Convoys. Dawn worked with them on “found poetry” – creating poems from pre-existing text – the five senses and creating a hero profile and story.
I was recently cataloguing an early 20th century postcard for our Historic Photograph & Print Collection which was quite unusual; it was commemorating the death of two gunners called Harrild and Murray. Included on the front of the postcard were photographs of each of them. I really wanted to find out more. What happened to these men and what were their full names? Even a location for the event wasn’t clear, so I needed help!
After a timely tweet, Trowbridge Museum came up trumps and confirmed that the men had been stationed at Trowbridge Barracks and had been involved in an accident with the funeral being held on 30th July 1909.
My next port of call was to a local newspaper, the Wiltshire Times, where on Saturday 24th July 1909 the inquest was reported. The two gunners were Sidney Harrild (age 19) and Richard Murray (age 26), and another, Gunner Wells, who was seriously injured. It appears that the gunners were removing primers from shells although there was a debate around whether the powder was also being removed. The powder in seven of the cartridges exploded, with “terrible results”. The funeral was also reported, occurring slightly earlier than we thought, on 27th July.
“With full military honours, the remains of Gunners Murray and Harrild were laid to rest on Tuesday afternoon, the awfulness of the tragedy and the solemn progress through the streets of the soldiers with their dead comrades combining to make this occasion one that will not soon be forgotten.”