Articles tagged with: Devizes

Living at the Workhouse in Secret?

on Wednesday, 19 June 2013. Posted in Archives

An interesting enquiry recently came in from a person seeking corroboration of the birth of her ancestor in Highworth and Swindon workhouse in 1909.
This child’s birth certificate gave her address as 8 Highworth Road, Stratton St Margaret. Read on to discover why……


It provided an example of the implementation of the advice of the Registrar General, who in 1904 suggested that the birth and death certificates of inmates should have a euphemistic address, one that spared the family the disgrace of the workhouse.

The correspondent will send this example to the website www.workhouses.org.uk which alerted her to this practice, which has interesting implications for family historians. Intrigued by this I did a spot check on two births in the Devizes workhouse in December 1909. The birth register gave the address as 7 Commercial Road, Devizes. In each case the address was for the roads in which the institutions stood.

Checking the Devizes example was possible because all but the most current registers of the Wiltshire Registration Service are held in the History Centre. Its copy certificate service is now based at the History Centre and their email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Quakerism in Melksham

on Wednesday, 19 June 2013. Posted in Architecture

We were recently called to investigate the old Spiritualist Church in Melksham which had closed. The building was originally a Quaker Meeting House until that closed in 1959 and it was sold to the Spiritualists. Investigating the twists and turns of its history was part of our remit, and we were grateful to Harold Fassnidge who had trod this path before us.

Born of the Puritanism of the English Civil War, Quakerism was a reaction against what was perceived as a decline in the religious and moral standards of the clergy of the established church. The term ‘Quaker’ originated as a slightly mocking reference to a rebuke made by their leader, George Fox, to Gervaise Bennet, J.P. that he ought to ‘tremble at the name of the Lord’.

The Melksham branch of the ‘Society of Friends’ began to meet originally at Shaw Hill, in the home of Robert and Hester Marshman at some time before 1669, in which year eighty members were recorded as having met there. At two miles from Melksham, their house was evidently considered to be sufficiently safe from any authorities who might disapprove of, and choose to interfere with, their activities.

'An Election's A Fair'... Bribery & Corruption at Wiltshire's Parliamentary Elections

on Tuesday, 30 April 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

Bribery, corruption, intrigue, rotten boroughs and riots …oh dear, that will be Wiltshire’s parliamentary elections in eighteenth and nineteenth century! Present events always give us an opportunity to take the long-view and here at the History Centre we have a range of resources on the political history of the county and borough, from excellent accounts published in the Victoria County History for Wiltshire to election squibs, poll books and original documents.

Wiltshire’s early claim to political fame was the impressive size of its parliamentary representation. Until 1832 it elected two Knights of the Shire (representing the whole county), two MPs for Salisbury, and two burgesses for each of its 15 boroughs, a grand total of 34 seats. Only Cornwall had higher. This was especially impressive given that many of the boroughs were the size of a village, and few of their residents could vote.  The most notable, of course, was Old Sarum, which retuned two MPs and in 1768, it is claimed, had an electorate of, er…one, though usually could count on seven. Other small boroughs included Great Bedwyn, Cricklade, Downton, Heytesbury, Hindon, Ludgershall and Wootton Bassett. Yet other towns like Bradford on Avon, Corsham, Trowbridge, and Warminster could not send representatives to parliament.

The remaining boroughs electing two MP’s were Calne, Chippenham, Devizes, Marlborough, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Westbury and Wilton. But don’t think for one minute that the larger towns necessarily had a bigger electorate. Malmesbury weighed in with a total electorate of 13, and if this was not enough it was notable for being one of the most corrupt boroughs in England. Cricklade, on the other hand, through the Act of 1782, had its franchise extended to all freeholders in the surrounding area, numbering 1,200. This made bribery and corruption more difficult, but unfortunately fewer than fifty voters actually lived in the borough itself.

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.

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.

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