I do so like dried eggs and Spam – Wiltshire food memories

on Wednesday, 23 May 2018.

Our recent Food Festival was a great success, with more than 220 people visiting the History Centre to celebrate Wiltshire’s food and drink heritage. Visitors heard talks on food through the ages, tasted Wiltshire Loaf (actually a cheese!) and had the chance to make gingerbread according to a medieval recipe.

Making gingerbread at WSHC Food Festival

As part of the event we asked our guests to let us know some of their favourite memories of food in Wiltshire. Here are a few of our favourites – a fascinating snapshot of our changing tastes over the last few decades.  

The 1940s & 1950s

As you might expect, austerity and rationing dominated the food memories from the 1940s & 1950s:

“I grew up during rationing. My favourite food was a very slim slice of Spam fried in lard. Breakfast was often dried eggs on toast (very tasteless). My mum didn’t go in for gravy or custard so everything was very dry. Believe it or not I used to sneak a teaspoonful of Cod Liver Oil and malt. Yes, I really enjoyed it”

handwritten food memories

The 1960s

A mixture of home cooking and modern artificial food characterised the 1960s:

“Warm memories of helping my mum making Welsh cakes on the griddle. I had my own small rolling pin and cutter. Whilst I was too little to use the griddle for fear of burning my hands, I certainly enjoyed the fresh bakes! C.1960s”

“Does anyone else remember Creamola Foam, crystals from a tin added to water to make a foaming, exhilarating (and highly unhealthy) drink, long before the days of Red Bull (1960s)? Three flavours – lemon, orange and (my favourite) raspberry”

Apparently Creamola Foam has made a comeback – this time as Krakatoa Foam

Krakatoa foam wikicommons

The 1970s

Strangely, most of our 1970s memories revolved around school dinners – not all of them positive memories!

“I have very fond memories of school dinners for the early 70s. I was in infant school and we would have top infants playing mum & dad & serving up lunch to the rest of the table of younger pupils. Food was good and wholesome. Great puddings – sponges & custard. Yummy! At junior school I even liked the Pilchard salad!”

“Early 1970s. I can remember visiting a corner sweetshop with my grandad and being able to choose one sweetie from numerous containers of different types and ending up with a lovely selection in a white paper bag. Favourites were: Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, sherbet dips, flying saucers”

Fruit salad sweets wikicommons

“1970 sweets – being sent to the shop to get a quarter of crystallized rock for mum, Merryman’s toffees for dad (still not sure how his dentures coped) and half of marzipan tea cakes for my brother and I. Treat – toast done on the coal fire with dripping and Instant Whip (for reasons I have still not fathomed I had to give my brother 2 spoons of mine!). Finally – anyone remember Rice Creamula? A ground rice/custard dessert – a bit like custard powder – am I the only person who remembers this?”

One thing that seemed to stand out for almost everyone who was at school in the 1970s was how much they disliked tapioca and semolina:

“I was in primary school in the 1970s & we were lucky enough to have our meals cooked on the premises; they were lovely! Braised chicken & rice was my favourite & there was always a queue for second helpings. The only things I remember not liking we cheese pie, semolina & tapioca – yeurgh!”

“School dinners in 1970s – best things were roast dinners with fantastic roast potatoes & lots of gravy. Worst things were tapioca (frogspawn!) and mashed swede or liver casserole! We always had to clear our plates, and couldn’t leave the dining hall till the plate was clean!”

But not everyone hated it:

“Love it or hate it! I loved it! That ‘pink’ school pudding…otherwise known as semolina and strawberry jam, stirred to create a fabulous creamy pink delight. C1970s”


1980s & 1990s

The 80s and 90s were all about the convenience food:

“I grew up in the 1980s – a Golden Age for convenience food – Angel Delight, Crispy Pancakes & Cup-a-Soup. My parents were too busy for cooking, but my gran was on hand to bake. Every birthday I got my favourite cake – chocolate sponge, buttercream icing and my age written in chocolate buttons”

“Mint Viennetta frozen dessert – the height of sophistication in the 1980s!”

Vienetta wikicommons

“Viennetta for birthday teas! Camping food – Mr Mash & Bean Feast. Buying my dad Werther’s Originals every birthday because he once said he liked them”

“The 1990s were filled with a mixture of convenience foods for school lunches like ‘Lunchables’, baby bell, mixtures of super sour sweets that made your teeth fall out, as well as home cooked foods like the classic roast dinner by nanna. I remember a big staple of my diet being ‘smiley faces’ (potatoes in a J shape) with baked beans and sausages. (Also marmite or chocolate spread went on whatever food it could both to make something yummy or questionable.)”

2000s & 2010s

School dinners return in the Twenty-First century, a little different from those in the 1970s…

“School dinners of the 21st century are awesome! I really like sausages and mash”

“In maybe 2015 or 2016 I was round about 4½ . We were at lunch and I was waiting for my lunch when I noticed a new pudding! It had bright white icing. It looked very creamy. When I got my lunch I asked ‘what’s that?’ pointing at the strange cake. The girl next to me said ‘it’s lemon cheese cake’. When I took a bite…YUM! I LOVE IT!!!”

“Hi. I do not like school dinners except the pizza and puddings!! My fav food is pizza!!! I also love sweets and chocolate. From max aged 10”

FavFoods memory

If you have any memories of Wiltshire foods you’d like to share, let us know in the comments.

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


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