Peasant’s Heritage by Ralph Whitlock, c. 1946

on Tuesday, 08 May 2018.

A narrative account, mostly of Ralph’s early childhood and young adulthood with a summary of his later life and experience gained. He began life with his mother as a pauper living outside the workhouse, with a good account of being given the workhouse loaf. There is great detail about rural living in the Victorian era, especially in terms of farming, the landscape, how everyday people utilised what was on the land, and the life that boys led: schooling, work, games and socialising, and the difference in culture, especially the way people looked at wildlife and vermin of many kinds.

Much was said about sheep; looking after them, the work sheepdogs did, shearing, sheep fairs etc. (including shady tradesmen selling wares) and how men and boys were employed at that time. Whitlock managed to gain land of his own, and he explains how this developed as well as how he spent his leisure time with his musical instrument and with the church. There are also details about recreational sporting games, the practical jokes that were played on various villagers and the fear of ghosts.

He also relayed his feelings about the change in customs and agriculture. Peasant’s Heritage is a pleasant read which gives a very different view of the county that both he, and we, love.

Ralph’s book is available to view at the History Centre and at Salisbury library, ref: XWH.630.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

Corsham High Street Project launch a resounding success!

on Tuesday, 08 May 2018.

The launch was held recently at Corsham Town Hall – from which there are excellent views of the High Street - attended by nearly 60 members of the public with numerous others having sent apologies but confirming their interest. Those attending included town councillors and officers. There were short speeches welcoming and supporting the project by representatives of the Corsham Civic Society, Wiltshire Buildings Record and the former Corsham Area Heritage group.

David Clarke, an eminent buildings historian, co-author of Burford: Buildings and People in a Cotswold Town and Secretary of The Oxfordshire Buildings Record, was the guest speaker and spoke about the highly relevant aspects of that project to the Corsham High Street Project [CHSP].

John Maloney, Project Facilitator and Corsham Civic Society representative, introduced the proceedings and began:
Honorary Chairman, Julian Orbach (editor of the forthcoming updated edition of the Wiltshire volume of the Buildings of England), sends his apologies as because of a long-standing prior engagement he cannot be here this evening. He also sends his very best wishes for the project and asked me to say the following words on his behalf:

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner said in 1963 'Corsham has no match in Wiltshire for wealth of good houses. There are in fact no bad ones, and there are a few of really high merit'. He meant in particular the High Street, as at that date Corsham had barely begun to expand. There are many assumptions about the houses, their dates, for whom they were built, and how they worked, but we still know little. Even that much-used term 'weavers' houses' is elusive. To understand in depth what makes the High Street of Corsham such a memorable sequence requires a close look at each building, and this project promises to do that, by which the history of Corsham, and Wiltshire, will be enriched.

John noted that in order for a funding application to be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) it needed to demonstrate that sufficient owners/tenants in the High Street were prepared to allow access for recording to make the project viable and he was pleased to report that there already has been a very good response from owners of High Street buildings to informal soundings about agreeing access to their properties for recording. He made a point of stating that internal recording of buildings would be undertaken and managed strictly as agreed beforehand with owners and the aim was to record only internal features of historic significance: modern alterations and additions were not of interest and would not be noted. He stressed that in every sense it is intended that such work is non-intrusive. Thomas Brakspear, a local resident and specialist in historic buildings, who kindly agreed to be a Patron of the project, spoke of his experiences moving to Corsham and made the amusing and valid point that owners shouldn’t be concerned about the tidiness of their houses as CHSP members would be mainly intent on getting into their attics!

John noted that the project committee would ensure that every owner taking part will be provided with a free illustrated copy of their building’s report and acknowledgement in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre archives and, ultimately, the published book.

He mentioned that little more than a decade ago, the Corsham Civic Society successfully completed the HLF funded project for the restoration of the late 19th century Mayo Memorial which was erected in to the memory of Charles Mayo, a notable benefactor to the town. Colleagues on the CHSP committee were involved and so the society has a good track record with HLF.  It was encouraging that on that very day work had begun on one of the oldest known buildings in the High Street which was having its roof ‘raised’ and repaired!

Speakers panel from left John Maloney standing Michael Rumsey Dorothy Treasure guest speaker David Cark Peter Tapscott and Tom Brakspear

The speakers came together as a panel and a good ‘question and answer’ session ensued and discussion continued informally over refreshments.

Dorothy Treasure

Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Feasting on Heritage

on Wednesday, 14 March 2018.

What is a Wiltshire loaf if it’s not bread? And who knew that kisses contain calories?!

You can discover the answers to these culinary questions and sample some tasty heritage recipes when we throw open our doors for its first ever Food Festival.

We are celebrating Wiltshire’s food and drink heritage on 14 April with a day of free activities, talks and displays. The Women’s Institute will also be on hand with a pop-up café, selling tea, coffee and heritage cakes throughout the day.

Food historian and author Sally McPherson and chef Deborah Loader will talk about the history of food and the herbs and spices used as flavourings down the ages. Sally has carried out extensive research at the History Centre for her books M’Lady’s Book of Household Secrets: Recipes, Remedies and Essential Etiquette and The Royal Heritage Cookbook.

For visitors wanting an actual taste of Wiltshire heritage there will be a pop-up café run by volunteers, and led by Alison Williams, from Lacock WI. Members will be recreating some of the historic recipes held in the archive and visitors will have the chance to sample the results, including possets, raspberry and ginger cheesecake, and traditional ice cream. All good cafés need cake and they will also be producing such delights as chocolate porter cake, violet cakes, Duke of York’s cake, Maids of Honour and kisses (small meringues).

Wiltshire is of course famous for its cheese and dairy industries and we are delighted that local cheese-maker Ceri Cryer will be joining in on the day. She has revived the traditional Wiltshire Loaf, a semi-hard cheese popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, which she makes at the Brinkworth Dairy using her great grandfather’s recipe. Ceri will be talking about the cheese and there will be samples to try.

Going back even further in time, and one for the children, local historian Lucy Whitfield will be creating medieval gingerbread and a Roman olive relish.

If that is not historic enough you can discover just what the builders of Stonehenge were eating 4,500 years ago. Historians from English Heritage will be on hand with a display on food and feasting at the ancient monument, including the latest archaeological research which reveals what our ancestors were eating, how they cooked and that early man probably invented the concept of food miles.

18th century cheesecake recipe from the Lacock archive

The day would not be complete without a display of just some of the fascinating archives housed here – from sumptuous feasts enjoyed by the wealthy people to the diet of gruel endured by workhouse inmates. Wiltshire’s bacon and dairy industries will also be celebrated with displays about Bowyers, Harris’ and Nestlé.

Book Review: Middle Ridgeway

on Wednesday, 31 January 2018.

Middle Ridgeway
Eric Jones and Patrick Dillon with paintings by Anna Dillon
Salisbury: Wessex Books, 2016
144 pages, paperback
ISBN 978-1-903035-48-1
Wiltshire Local Studies Library Ref: ACR.940

Middle Ridgeway tells the story of the chalk downland of the North Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in a refreshingly new way, considering the themes of the influence of the London market for trade and agriculture, the relationship between ploughland and grassland, land use and countryside sports, all of which have contributed to make the MR what it is today.

Also taken into account are perspectives from nature conservation and the ecology of the bird population over time, using practical examples to show how environmental history can expand our view of the landscape. Historical literary references are included and add much to the text, with extracts from authors such as Richard Jefferies and Alfred Williams well chosen to vividly portray the MR over time and illustrate the changes, both in terms of wildlife and also the customs and way of life for those who resided in the area. The archaeological record is also considered, as are the difficulties of evaluating data which is often historically patchy.

The artwork by Anna Dillon beautifully complements the prose, encouraging the reader to reflect on a sense of place and giving a wonderful colour and texture to the book. Jones and Dillon have utilised a wide range of historical material from diaries to trade directories, estate records, excavation reports and ornithological reports. Middle Ridgeway showcases the use of these varied and under-used, perhaps in some cases unfamiliar sources, providing a clear understanding of how they can be of practical use when researching a landscape to enable a more comprehensive study.

Middle Ridgeway aims to look at the landscape from a new angle; to combine the ecological and historical record to weave a story; to give a sense of place to what is a beautiful and compelling landscape. Jones and Dillon have been inspired by the idea of ‘storyline’; engagement with an area which connects people, places, events and ideas across place and time. With a clear and easy to read prose, MR has the power not just to help the reader understand the Middle Ridgeway as a unique environment, but it also provides the tools and inspiration to enable everyone to look more closely at the places which matter to them.

An extremely enjoyable read, Middle Ridgeway offers a unique insight into the study of the landscape. References are described within the text and there is a bibliography at the end. It is excellently written and thoroughly researched.

This publication offers a refreshingly different approach to the study of the landscape. A highly recommended read for anyone interested in local history, social history, agricultural history and nature conservation, as well, of course, for those who love the North Wessex Downs.

Julie Davis, County Local Studies Librarian


Paid Research Service

on Wednesday, 31 January 2018.

We were recently contacted by a man whose father had served in the U.S. army during World War II and who he had recently discovered had fathered a baby in Wiltshire, whom he was considering tracing. In this instance, he had a letter which had likely been written by the mother of the baby to the family of his father in America thanking them for sending some baby clothes. This provided a date, a first name and an address. A good starting point! This enabled us to undertake some preliminary work to start off the search for the unknown sibling.

Under our paid research service we first searched electoral registers in order to find the name of the family living at that address in Swindon around the date of the letter. The name, as it later turned out was one that cropped up in one of the letters written by the U.S. serviceman – it seemed we were on the right track! Once we had established this, we were able to use records of registrations of births available on Ancestry to find some possible candidates for the birth of the baby. There were a couple of likely options, and it was also possible to find a couple of later marriages meaning that it might still be possible to try and trace the person today even though their surname may have changed through marriage. This obviously needs to be done with care – it is a sensitive situation and it is possible that the person would not want to be found or may not be aware of their history.

Electoral registers on the strongroom shelves

It becomes more of a challenge once we reach this point, but there are various options available. Some of the key sources that can be used are records of education and professional bodies, media publicity (writing a note for a local paper or magazine to find someone with local knowledge), specialist search services and nowadays a social media search can prove the most fruitful.

Have you got a question you would like us to try and solve for you? Or perhaps you would love to visit us and use the records we have available but are unable to do so for logistical reasons? If your enquiry requires more than ten minutes research, we offer a paid research service which can undertake prolonged searches for you, charged at £30 an hour.

We can, amongst other things:
• Research aspects of family history
• Investigate matters of local or community history
• Search for documents relating to the history of a house or building
• Find maps and plans relating to businesses
• Take digital images of most records within our archives

If you are interested in using the service or wish to discuss your requirements, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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