Over three hundred Wiltshire parish registers, dating back to 1538, have now been digitised by Ancestry working in partnership with Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, a service funded by Wiltshire Council and Swindon Borough Council. This will open up access to over 6 million names of ancestors who were baptised, married or buried in the county of Wiltshire. Ancestry.co.uk is a subscription based genealogical website which is available free of charge at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, and in libraries in Wiltshire and Swindon.
Wiltshire has had its fair share of famous inhabitants over the years. Among the people born in the county are talents as diverse as musician James Blunt, born in Tidworth; the actresses Billie Piper and Diana Dors, both daughters of Swindon; comedian David Mitchell, born in Salisbury; and even the Youtube vlogger Zoella, born in Lacock!
Famous people were not just born here, but have lived and died here too. War poet Siegfried Sassoon lived in Heytesbury; the creator of ‘James Bond’, Ian Fleming, is buried at Sevenhampton; and Prime Minister Edward Heath had his ashes interred in Salisbury Cathedral, among many others.
A small selection of the famous Wiltshire inhabitants you can uncover in the Wiltshire parish registers are:
Sir Christopher Wren - the architect who designed St Paul’s Cathedral, was born and baptised in the village of East Knoyle, in Wiltshire. Son of the rector of East Knoyle, also called Christopher, Sir Christopher was not the first child with that name. The first Christopher was baptised 22 November 1630.
Sadly but fairly typically of this era, the first Christopher did not survive, although his burial is not recorded in the registers.
The second Christopher, who went on to become the famous architect, was baptised the following year, 10 November 1631:
“Christopher 2d sonne of Christopher Wren D[oc]t[o]r in Divinitie & Rector”
I found this particularly interesting as according to the Dictionary of National Biography Christopher was born 20 October 1632 – so the last year is incorrect in the latter. I did double check the baptism register for 1632 and 1633 and there is definitely no further baptism of a Christopher Wren in that period.
Wren spent the first eight years of his life at East Knoyle, where he was educated by a local clergyman. His family moved to Windsor when his father became Dean there, and Wren completed his education at the University of Oxford. A distinguished scientist as well as a gifted architect, he and his colleagues were responsible for rebuilding at least fifty two churches in London, after the devastation caused by the Great Fire of 1666. His masterpiece was St Paul’s Cathedral, still a key feature of the London skyline today despite modern development. Other major projects he worked on are the Royal Naval College, Greenwich and the south front of Hampton Court Palace. He was buried on the 17th March 1723 in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
William Henry Fox Talbot is another Wiltshire inhabitant who achieved international fame.
Born in 1800 over the county border at his mother’s childhood home of Melbury, Dorset, Fox Talbot did not move to Lacock Abbey until 1828 (despite inheriting the estate at a very young age) as the property was leased to a tenant before this. While at Lacock William began to work on the project which has made him still famous today as one of the pioneers of modern photography – he developed the ‘calotype’ method of photography between 1837 and 1841. In 1842 he was rewarded with a medal from the Royal Society for his work, which facilitated the generation of any number of photographic prints from a single negative. Something of a renaissance man, Fox Talbot published various works on photography, botany, mathematics, astronomy and physics, as well as being a keen amateur archaeologist. He served as MP for Chippenham from 1832-1835, and was High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1840. Fox Talbot died on 17 September 1877 and is buried in the churchyard of Lacock parish church. His burial is recorded in the parish registers of Lacock for 21 September 1877 thus:
Last but not least, I thought I would finish this survey of Wiltshire inhabitants with someone you may not have heard of but who perhaps deserves to be more well-known. Her name is Hannah Twynney (or Twynnoy) and she has the rare distinction of being the first person in Britain to be killed by a tiger! Hannah’s extraordinary death is recorded in both her tombstone in Malmesbury Abbey graveyard and in the parish register of burials, thus:
“October…24th Hannah Twynney Kild by a Tygre at the white lyon”
Her tombstone reads:
“In memory of Hannah Twynnoy Who died October 23rd 1703 Aged 33 years In bloom of life She’s snatched from hence She had not room to make defence; For Tyger fierce Took life away And here she lies In a bed of clay Until the Resurrection Day”
According to Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury there used to be a memorial to Hannah in Hullavington church which stated: “To the memory of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a servant of the White Lion Inn where there was an exhibition of wild beasts, and amongst the rest a very fierce tiger which she imprudently took pleasure in teasing, not withstanding the repeated remonstrance of its keeper. One day whilst amusing herself with this dangerous diversion the enraged animal by an extraordinary effort drew out the staple, sprang towards the unhappy girl, caught hold of her gown and tore her to pieces.”
Poor Hannah will be remembered for posterity for her foolishness, but who will spare a thought for the tiger, no doubt killed by its keepers soon after?!
"Gone were the buxom femininity of the Edwardian lady and the bluff machismo of the Edwardian gent. The new woman lopped off her hair, first bobbing it, then shingling it … and then cutting it all off into an Eton crop, the shortest of all. She wore cloche hats and sporty, androgynous-looking jumpers, her breasts bound beneath them. She wore scarlet lip-stick, she smoked and drank. And as the girls looked like boys, so the boys looked more like girls. They shaved their beards so that their faces were as smooth as their lacquered hair. Some wore make-up. This look of infantile androgyny both denied maturity and knowingly undermined the conventional distinction of sexual difference."
A Curious Friendship The story of a bluestocking and a bright young thing Anna Thomasson
The Fabric of Life is a Heritage Lottery Funded project which will see young people look at the history of fashion as a form of identity with particular focus on gender and sexuality. We are a partner in this Wiltshire Council’s Arts Service and Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership (WYAP) project along with local museums like Trowbridge and Chippenham.
The project began in January this year and will culminate with an event in November. We’re pleased to have already hosted a group of young people here at the History Centre while another group have enjoyed a trip to the Fashion Museum in Bath.
Since then research has also taken place at local museums and given participants a real insight into the wealth of Wiltshire’s fabric history, how fashion has changed and how identity can be formed out of what we wear.
You can follow updates on the progress of the project on the Arts in Wiltshire blog which will be updated by Project Coordinator Emily Malcolm
We need your help
We need individuals and groups to help us gather data on public art in the community such as location of the item, its condition, what is known of it and a photograph of it in situ. Workshops will be run to help prepare, organise and collate material. Data collected as part of the project will be made available in the Local Studies Library at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre with images deposited in the Historic Photograph and Print Collection. The images will then be pinned to the Know Your Place site to map their location geographically.
Churchwardens’ accounts are an important resource for historians and genealogists and we are seeking volunteers to help collect data from all surviving pre-1850 churchwardens’ accounts. This important National Database, although not yet complete, will go ‘live’ shortly and will be updated regularly. The Database will be freely available to all here.
The data we are collecting is:- • The year of each surviving account. • The total expenditure for each surviving year.
It is not necessary to have experience of churchwardens’ accounts; training will be provided together with information and guidance notes to help you.
We are (ideally) looking for people who can spare some time on a regular basis, for approximately six months, in their Local Record Office. If you already have this information for one or more parishes or you are willing to collect it from just one or two parishes that is fine. All help will be gratefully received and acknowledged.
The preservation of archives for future generations is core to the role of Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Central to preservation are appropriate security measures to prevent loss, theft or damage.
Please note that from 6 June 2017 we will be improving the security of our unique archives by the following measures:
• Each researcher may order as many documents as they need but will only be issued with ONE item (which may be a box, a volume, a printed book, a bundle or a single document depending on numbering) at a time.
• Maps accompanied by a survey book will still be produced together, on the map table.
• Researchers wishing to use more than one document at a time (eg to compare handwriting or for some other legitimate purpose) should speak to the duty archivist in advance of ordering, and will need to sit in close proximity to the help desk to use their items.
• Researchers may if they wish to, indicate the priority of documents at the time of ordering to help with allocating this e.g. if you are ordering a deed and a will, but you wish to view the deed first, put ‘Top priority’ on the order slip
• The researcher should return documents to the search room trolley. Staff retrieving these can then issue the next document to the researcher’s table.
It is recommended that elderly/infirm customers sit close to the returns trolley.
• When there is only one document production assistant working, e.g. Saturdays and lunch times, production times may increase.
We are aware that these changes may slow down the speed of accessing documents slightly but we feel confident that we can still meet our target, which is to provide customers with their first document within 20 minutes from the time of ordering. Pre-ordering of documents will assist in enabling our staff to continue to provide an excellent service to researchers.