Charles Wyndham Barnes was born in Westbury, Wiltshire, England in 1884. His father was Frank Barnes and at the 1911 census was 53. Charles’ mother was Helena Barnes, aged 52. The census records that Charles working as a law clerk to a barrister. He had two siblings, one named Nellie Barnes, 22, and another called Constance, aged 10.
His Father was an engine fitter at a railway station and his sister’s occupation was as a shop assistant.
Charles was a dutiful son, and sent over 160 letters home from the front to his mother between 1915 and 1918 which are held here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre (Ref: 4104/1). From his letters Charles appears confident and considerate – he wrote at least once a week.
Topics he talked of were his health (he was alright), gardening, fresh fruit such as apples, and partridges. His favourite topic was the weather – snow, floods and the heat of summer. He also mentioned that he would be away from the trenches for some time in May 1917.
Information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission shows that Charles was married to Violet Blanche – known as “Blanche” who he mentioned in his many letters home.
Blanche Eyers was 24 when she married Charles on 24 December, 1914. The 1911 census shows Blanche living at home and working as a school teacher. She was born in Yarnbrook in 1891.
In the army, Charles joined the Wiltshire Regiment and served with the second battalion. Additionally, he had the rank of a Lance Corporal and his service number was 11257.
A week into the Battle of the Somme – called the Great Offensive by the public and the “big push” by the soldiers – Charles wrote a postcard giving an upbeat assessment of the battle.
The study of palaeography is something which is one of the most enjoyable aspects of an archivist’s training, but it is not something which is the exclusive preserve of the professional. Anyone can learn to read old handwriting – all it takes is patience, determination, and lots of practice!
Handwriting styles Over the centuries there have been several major styles of handwriting and handwriting from the medieval period to the 18th century will (generally speaking) fall into one of those styles, going from Anglicana (medieval period) to bastard Secretary (15th century) to Secretary (16th-17th cent) and italic (overlapping with Secretary) to mixed hands (late 17th cent – 19th cent). From 19th century onwards we’ve seen the rise of personal handwriting which doesn’t conform to a set, taught style, and ironically 20th and 21st century writing can be more difficult to read than Tudor, depending on the writer! In addition there are specialist hands used only in certain central law courts. A comprehensive survey of both handwriting styles and the tools used for writing from medieval times to the 18th century can be found at: http://scriptorium.english.cam.ac.uk/handwriting/history/
Among the papers of the Jeffrey family deposited in the Wiltshire & Swindon Archives, (Ref:1369/16) are a remarkable collection of letters to and from John Russell, a man probably best described as an 18th century equivalent to Samuel Pepys.
Working in the first half of that century, Russell became Clerk to the Navy at Deptford from 1730, having already spent much time at sea and went on to become Consul General in Lisbon in 1749.
The letters offer a wonderful insight into naval life during this period and often refer to ‘celebrities’ of the time. Beau Brummel, for instance, gets a mention in one letter. Archivists at the History Centre believe this collection has a national importance.
Unfortunately, the ravages of time, mould and mice have taken their toll leaving the letters extremely weak and fragile and requiring conservation.
The Archive Conservation staff have an on-going programme of repair and another folder of 50 letters (they number hundreds in total), is nearing completion. Because of their precarious condition full, traditional repair has been carried out involving backing, endorsements and infilling. This will prevent further damage and at last make them accessible to researchers.
The Lacock Unlocked project is well under way now and the cataloguing and indexing side of it now has over 30 volunteers. These volunteers are either listing and indexing bundles of documents, or putting information onto our database. It means that instead of unlocking and exploring one thing per day, we are unlocking and exploring six, so to speak!
I love it when the listing volunteers show me something that I had no idea existed, or parts of a story that I didn’t know were there. We keep discovering new words for things and ways of saying them, finding information about places and families through bills, deeds and other items in the archive. I particularly enjoy finding information about people who crop up in the archive, and the example here is a letter from John Ivory Talbot to his cousin Henry Davenport in 1725, which gives anyone interested a wonderful insight into John’s family life, his way of writing, what annoys him (apparently, Henry Davenport’s not writing to him is on his mind!). Just a simple letter like this provides great information about a personality.
We are attempting to piece together many clues and it is fascinating when these jigsaws are completed but also when someone finds a new piece that leads us or them down a different route.
As an MA student from Bath Spa University, on placement here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, my first task has been to search the archive for First World War documents and photographs.
The opportunity to spend hours in the midst of archive documents is, for a history graduate like me, a complete joy. I’ve been impressed at the speed with which the production team retrieve items from the store rooms, and the helpfulness and expertise of the staff. The Centre is a wonderful facility.
Amongst many other papers, I came across a box of hundreds of letters, sent to a Miss Frances Baker, in her capacity as Honorary Secretary of the Salisbury branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, and dated from 1914 to 1919. The Guild was part of a national charity of ladies who raised money and used this to make and supply garments for the needy of their area. During the First World War, their focus shifted to service personnel of the British Army, Navy and Air Force, and in all theatres of war. Wiltshire people served in many different places, as far flung as the North Sea, France, Salonika, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and Palestine. Later in the war, the Guild also took responsibility for sending parcels to Salisbury men who were prisoners of war in Germany.
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.