Worth Waiting For

on Saturday, 01 July 2017. Posted in Archives

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.

1409/10/5
1409/13/8

There are also a few documents relating to the maintenance of illegitimate children, such as the correspondence in 1409/13/8, concerning a child born to Beatrice Wheeler of Heddington in 1902. [The father, Albin Guppy, of the Cross Keys, Corsham, was later an inmate in Devizes Lunatic Asylum, and committed suicide in 1905. The correspondence includes letters written by Guppy from the Asylum, offering to maintain the child and marry Beatrice. (Photograph)] For those with ancestors who were shopkeepers, a substantial accumulation of receipted bills and decorative billheads from various Calne businesses, dating from the 1870s to the 1920s, will be of interest (1409/4/57 to 62). 

1409/9/1

Finally, this tiny memorandum book (above) of Joseph Sarjant, overseer of the poor for Calne (Photograph), lists loans and payments to poor people in Calne between 1686 and 1688 (1409/9/1). Found in a very fragile condition in one of the boxes, it has received attention from our conservation staff, including the provision of a protective cover. These items, and all of the others in collection 1409, are now fully accessible to visitors to the History Centre.  

Robert Jago, Archivist

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