Back to the Middle Ages Family Fun Day!

on Tuesday, 15 October 2019.

Our annual free family fun day is just around the corner, Saturday 2nd November, at the end of half term. Head over to see us between 10am-4pm and travel back to the Middle Ages!

At this year’s family fun day on Saturday 2nd November visitors can travel back in time to join the College of Chivalry and have a go at long bow archery and watch knights in training with Swindon-based Black Cat Archery. The medieval-themed day also features Wiltshire Scrapstore providing creative craft activities for all the family.

The annual event is a chance for families to see the amazing work that goes on behind the scenes at the History Centre and meet the experts – the archivists, archaeologists and conservators – who look after the county’s historic records and archaeology.

Visitors to the conservation labs – not normally open to the public – will be able to play detective using x-ray images to identify mystery objects and discover just how destructive bugs and pests can be to medieval documents.

The packed programme also includes living history exploring the lives of medieval women and the work of a barber surgeon, plus displays of rare documents, the story of Wiltshire’s lost medieval villages, and a chance to inspect grisly coroners’ records.

Refreshments will be available at the ever popular pop-up Heritage Café.

We'd love to see you there!

New Accessions: April to June

on Thursday, 25 July 2019.

Here at the History Centre we continue to acquire new collections which reflect the activities and achievements of our county. Here is a brief overview of some of the collections we have received between April to June.

Warminster Farming Club (reference 2203A)

The latest of our 200+ Women’s Institute collections arrived in May courtesy of the Ashton Keynes group (reference 4462). The series of minute books (1988-2016) and programmes (2002-2013) demonstrate the group’s diverse interests and activities, including their events, talks and charitable work. Similar in nature are the archives of the Warminster Farming Club (reference 2203A). The club was originally formed in 1927 as the Wiltshire Association of Dairy Students. The club’s minutes cover the years 1954 and continue until the branch disbanded in 2011. There is much to discover as to the group’s activities, discussions and achievements. The records of clubs and societies will provide much in the way of local and social history interest to future generations.

Urban Vocal Group Never Had They Ever project. (1709A)

One of the most recently created collections comes from a 2018 project by the Portsmouth-based charity Urban Vocal Group (reference 1709A). The UVG is a youth music project, supporting people living in disadvantaged or challenging circumstances. The History Centre was one of a number of heritage organisations who supported their HLF-funded Never Had They Ever project. The group used archive collections to explore women’s experiences in World War 1. Groups from Salisbury and Portsmouth undertook archival research and recorded their own songs and spoken-word accounts based on their discoveries. The resulting CD and resource pack, which features lyrics and proposed school activities, makes a welcome addition to our collections.

The Western Counties Road Records Association (reference 2516A)

The Western Counties Road Records Association (reference 2516A) was formed in 1933, as one of several regional groups organising and adjudicating attempts on road cycling records. The collection details the many attempts both on place-to place-routes (such as Swindon to Bournemouth and back) or set distances such as a designated 25 mile route.  The series of minute books also documents the interaction between the various affiliated cycling across the region. In addition, there are accounts of the many successful and unsuccessful records attempts.

The Fussells Garage (reference 3678A) has been a landmark business for almost a century. The garage was originally established by Percy Fussell in Chirton in 1922 selling new and used cars. The business was subsequently run in partnership with Wadman of Market Lavington as Fussell Wadman, and relocated to Northfields, where it continues to trade. Their archive was kindly donated by Percy’s son Tom who eventually took over the business. The collection includes sales ledgers, wages books, and payment and asset books, which tells us much of the development of the car trade during this period as cars became more prevalent. Sales ledgers also provide clients’ names and addresses including many local businesses. Other ledgers outline car parts and manufacturing which will be useful to those interested in car restoration

Lansdowne House, Long Street, Devizes (3661A)

We have received various documents related to specific properties around the county. For example, collection 3661A covers 50 years in the history of the ownership of Lansdowne House, Long Street, Devizes. The earliest document dates from 1829 and refers to the house being on almshouse land. The property still survives, and through this collection of leases, conveyances and mortgages we can chart the owners or occupiers of this property.

Legal papers and property documents pertaining to various properties north and east of Swindon (2296A)

Similarly, 2296A is a collection of legal papers and property documents pertaining to various properties north and east of Swindon. These include a house in Beast Market, Highworth, and parcels of land called Okeys and Berrycroft in Wanborough. The collection also includes a 1704 marriage settlement between John Hawkins of Stanton Fitzwarren and Joane Lightfoot of Highworth, plus the probate for several wills of the parish of Highworth from between 1729 and 1850.

The Wiltshire Local History Forum was formed in 1985. It’s aims were to assist the work of local history societies in Wiltshire, to represent the interests of Wiltshire historians, and to work with the British Association for Local History in fostering historical studies in Wiltshire. This collection (reference 2903A) includes their minutes and accounts, plus details of the many oral history schools, open days and other events and working-partnerships to which the Trust was committed. The collection shows the breadth of their work and interests and concludes by documenting the dissolving of the trust earlier this year.

In addition to acquiring these new collections, we have also received additional documents to existing archives. Our records of the Swindon and Marlborough Methodist Circuit have been supplemented by documents for the Queen’s Drive chapter (reference 4045/2/10). These include records of donations (1995-2016), journals (1995-2016) plus a drawing for a proposed new church (1958). The collection also includes documents relating to the Young Wives Club, which was established by nine “young wives” of the Park South estate in 1957. Their documents include committee minute book (1957-1987), plus service programmes which document the many talks and discussion evenings arranged by the club.

Our Council’s Education Department files have been further enhanced by a selection of papers of the Swindon School’ Athletic Association (reference F8/960); specifically, a series of minute books from the Association’s cricket club. These 3 volumes begin with their inaugural meeting in May 1931 and continue until 2006. The meetings discuss a wide range of issues including events, venues, match reports, threats to facilities and interaction with many organisations.

Royal Wootton Bassett Academy (F8/700/28/1/22/5)

Also new to our Education Department is an accrual of records from Royal Wootton Bassett Academy (reference F8/700/28/1/22/3-5). These photograph albums and scrapbooks were compiled by members of the school’s Despenser House between 1981 and 1990, and contain both formal and informal photographs, newsletters and evidence of the various fund-raising activities the pupils undertook in aid of Comic Relief and Guide Dogs for the Blind. These volumes are now join the school’s collection of governors' minutes, admissions registers and school newsletters here at the History Centre.

Our collection of records of the Trustees of the Duchess of Somerset's Hospital at Froxfield (3637) now include a booklet to commemorate the tricentenary of the hospital in 1986 (3637/73), a 2013 resident’s handbook (3637/74) and invitations to a Founder’s Day service and Open Day, both in 2018 (3637/76). Similarly, the Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust collection (2850) has been enhanced by recent annual reports and minutes covering 2008-2014, which now means our collection for the Trust covers some sixty years from its inaugural meeting in 1954 onwards.

We are grateful to all our donors for contributing their collections which further the historic study of Wiltshire. Details of all our holdings are available via our online catalogue. The collections themselves are available to browse in our reading room in Chippenham.

David Plant, Archivist

How to care for your works of art at home

on Thursday, 25 July 2019.

Works of art are lovely to display at home, but are very susceptible to damage by light, heat, humidity and dust. Colours tend to fade in direct light, temperature fluctuations cause paper to move, becoming distorted, or very dry and brittle. Here, I will be sharing some tips for the long term storage and display of your watercolours or other works of art at home.

Ideally, priceless heirlooms or antique paintings and prints are best stored long term in acid free packaging away from light and heat. However, you probably want to be able to display these so that you can view and enjoy them.

Displaying in a Frame:

It is best to remove artwork from old frames and mounts to prevent further damage, if there are any nice or valuable frames, these can be re-used providing the mount and backboard are changed, or kept separate to the item. Display your framed artwork in a place away from direct light and heat sources (not above a radiator) to protect sensitive media, such as watercolours and inks, all of which are susceptible to irreversible light damage.

Colourful inks can be susceptible to light damage

To display your artwork, choose a framer who does conservation standard framing, most reputable framers will do this. To find an accredited framer, the Fine Art Trade Guild  is a good resource; you can search for a Guild certified framer in your area by postcode.

Conservation framing uses high quality acid and lignin free, alkaline buffered mounts and reversible hinging to frame works of art, so unlike with standard or shop bought frames there will be no damage from the board, mount and wood that is often used. Ordinary paper, cardboard and wood backboards contain high quantities of acid which will break down paper fibres and cause discoloration in the form of brown stains, and adhesive tape can cause staining to paper and become loose as it ages.

Adhesive tape has caused permanent damage the pages of this book


If you are happy to store them in archival packaging, acid free materials will prolong the life of these items, so that they may be enjoyed by future family members. There are many packaging options available to purchase: An acid free folder is ideal for individual works of art or up to 10 items. Or for large collections of artwork and other paper based material, an acid free box would create a stable inner climate for the artwork, to prevent damage from environmental fluctuations caused by central heating. If items are kept in drawers, it is useful to line drawers with a sheet of acid free paper to protect the artwork from acid and lignin damage from close proximity with wood.

Look out for old packaging, such as envelopes, cardboard boxes and yellowing glassine paper (glassine is thin tissue paper with a smooth shiny surface), as these will cause damage to paper. Sorting your collections into new, safe packaging can be a great project to do at home.

Above: an example of an archival folder for a single document or artwork

How to manage deterioration factors:

• One way to manage light exposure is by frequently changing/rotating the pictures you have on display, so that they are not on display in the same position and with the same lighting for years on end.
• You can also buy UV light filtering film to go on your windows which will help to reduce UV light exposure.
• Turning electric lights off when they are not in use and closing curtains and blinds when you are away will also help.

Environment- temperature and humidity
• Avoid attic and basement spaces as these tend to have unstable temperature and humidity- basements can be particularly damp
• Where possible try not to hang or display artworks near or directly over a radiator or heat source
• Outside walls can be prone to damp, check before hanging or displaying an artwork

CMAS conservators would be happy to advise on safe packaging or framing techniques for your artwork. If you have any preservation or conservation queries, please do not hesitate to contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or to find a conservator in your area, go to the Conservation Register where you can search for a conservator by location or specialism.

Sophie Coles, Conservator

Be inspired by Creative Wiltshire at Salisbury Museum

on Thursday, 25 July 2019.

We are delighted that the Creative Wiltshire exhibition at Salisbury Museum has been extended to 29th September 2019, so you still have a couple of months to see some of the items purchased as part of this Heritage Lottery Funded five year project, as it comes to its close this autumn. The exhibition has been curated by our exhibitions trainee, Emily Smith, who has gained valuable ‘hands on’ experience of museum work by staging the exhibition and we would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to her for doing a fantastic job. While this project has been about purchasing items and objects with strong creative Wiltshire connections, it has also been about providing training for people involved in heritage services within the county and inspiring others to be creative, by drawing attention to our rich vein of creators both past and present. Hopefully it will inspire you too!

The exhibition had a busy half term week in May and ran workshops with artist Charlie James focusing on some of the techniques used and inspired by work on display; fabric printing, making 3D robots, clay modelling, etching and watercolour painting. The results below will show you what talented youngsters we have!

We would like to thank Salisbury Museum for being involved with the project and for hosting the final exhibition, and other participating museums; Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Swindon Local Studies, Chippenham Museum, Pewsey Heritage Centre, Athelstan Museum, Bradford on Avon Museum, Trowbridge Museum and the Edwin Young Gallery. 

We have really enjoyed working with you all, so a massive ‘thank you’ to all the museum staff and volunteers who have been involved.

Joy Bloomfield, Project Officer

Creative Wiltshire: Artist Exhibition at Wells and Mendip Museum

on Tuesday, 16 July 2019.

Artist and Arteologist Julie Smith was inspired by the Aldbourne bells collected for Pewsey Heritage Centre as part of our Creative Wiltshire National Lottery Heritage Fund project. She tells us about her forthcoming exhibition at the Wells and Mendip Museum:

Cabinet 48
Rough sketch: Inspiration: Zinc ore (smithsonite) 2%



Why draw the horse bells?  Curiosity was my first thought. What an exciting find, the bells have made a long journey from an auction house in the USA, an interesting story in itself. They were made originally in a foundry in Aldbourne, Robert Wells in the 18th century. (1)

What is fascinating about these bells they were worn by the horses in the wagon teams to warn of their approach on roads where passing was difficult.  ‘It was said that craftsmen like Robert Wells could produce sets of team bells, the sounds which were unique to each set.’ (2)

For my part becoming an Arteologist, simply drawing, has been a lovely way of making discoveries and considering how we can tell stories whether based on reality or imagination through the magic of creativity. This has led me also to researching further the origins of my chosen object including the origin of the materials that create bell metal/alloy at this time.  78% copper, 20% tin, and 2% zinc. This led me to a visit to the Wells and Mendip museum to study first hand zinc ore in the Geology room. The copper and tin ore I was able to source from St Agnes museum in Cornwall. A subsequent series of paintings was produced to capture the origin of the source materials.

1. Wells, Robert,, Creative Wiltshire Acquisitions
2. Horse bells by Terry Keegan, Douglas Hughes, Claude A. Brock and Ran Hawthorne, A National Horse Brass Society Publication, second edition, revised and enlarged 1988

Subsequent Proposal:

I came to see David Walker, curator, Wells and Mendips museum about the possibility of exhibiting my artwork with a focus on the zinc ore that I had used for inspiration for my painting. I also wanted to further consider the uses of bells, historically as well as in current times.  I particularly want to tell part of the story of bell-making and its ingredients within the physicality of the sounds of the cathedral bells outside. The day to day use, as well as the significance with its multitude of uses, some which have been lost to our modern world. It is interesting to consider that the horse bells were used as a means of transporting goods in the lanes of Somerset as well as Wiltshire.  I was pleased to discover that in the museum collection there is also a set of horse bells, open mouth bells made by Robert Wells, alongside some rumbler bells. It connects nicely with the cabinet within the Geology room that has an array of examples of zinc ore from the Mendips as well as well documented history, connecting to the significance of this metal to today’s society.
Further consideration was the discovery in conversation with David of the swans ringing the bell in connection with Bishop’s house. The overall premise is to create visual stories that also include pieces of information to further evoke connections to the objects shown. The work includes the drawing of the horse bells, oil paintings, etchings, prints and further small drawings displayed within the cabinet.

Artist statement:

My artwork dwells on qualities of quietness and intimacy, cherishing the extraordinary within the ordinary.
As an Arteologist enjoying discoveries from the natural world, archives and imagination, pondering, noticing and wondering is delightful. The pieces I tend to create reflect my observations and tell their own story.
The act of collecting, both physical gathering and accumulation of thoughts, inspires me. This is reflected in the materials I choose. I seek to provoke a balance between a contemplative experience and a sense of fun. Key threads explored within my practice include fragility, protection and preservation.
Julie Smith
Website: E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The motivation behind work is often based on an emotional response to a situation or place. Action and reaction are central to my practice although I have certain ideas how I want my work to look; the final image cannot be preconceived, as the unfolding process some structural and some spontaneous lead to the finished artwork. My starting point can often be in response to an environment, a gathering of information to work with visually and mentally. The concepts of fragility, protection and preservation integral.
I like to broaden the concept of what is potentially invisible or appears so and making it visible within a given space. The inspiration often being an object/viewpoint that could go unnoticed. I want to question, make discoveries on the way while looking for subtleties and finer detail and hope for the viewer to consider their response.

I would like to say thank you:

Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre – As artist in residence/arteologist whilst drawing ‘the bells’ – I enjoyed not only the regular contact with staff at the history centre but also the visitors that showed their curiosity to what I was doing. Lovely encounters, sharing of knowledge and stories.
Joy Bloomfield and Mervyn Grist, Joy from the WSHC, Creative Wiltshire project managing plus and Mervyn co facilitator of Arteology project and subsequent originator of the Arteologists.
Colin Scull – colleague from Swindon College (engineering department) for finding the tin ore for me and sending the link.
St. Agnes Museum – Mike Furness for supplier of the copper and tin ore and sending me a book on Cornwall’s mining. Also, the volunteer who took my initial inquiry for passing it on.
Stu Rowe – for production of the ‘sounds’ that I recorded from the horse bells into a meditative sound piece.
Terry Gilligan – Aldbourne Heritage Centre, for being a mine of information, a lovely afternoon spent, tour, introduction to Ethel, (98), who shared her knowledge of the Village.
David Walker, Curator, Wells and Mendips museum for allowing me to look and record the zinc ore in their geology collection and the subsequent exhibition.


Horsebells, Keegan Terry, Hughes Douglas, Brock Claude A. and Hawthorne Ran, A National Horse Brass Society Publications, Second Edition, 1988.
The Aldbourne Chronicle – Maurice A Crane, Second Edition, reprinted 1980
A History of Wiltshire, Volume 4
Bells in England, Tom Ingram, Illustrated Barbara Jones, 1954
The Aldbourne Bell Foundry, handwritten notes Allan G Keen, 1981
Marlborough Journal advertisement, 6th June 1772
Wildlife in a Southern County, 1887, Jefferies Richard
Postcard, Frith’s series, Published by T.W. Phillips, City Studio, Wells, no. 55160
Article –   Swans at Bishop’s house, Wells, Somerset

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