The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has been inviting people to visit and tell their stories of their connection with the RAF as part of this national event, run by the RAF Museum.
We were a little late with what became our ‘day’; the national event took place at the beginning of November over one weekend, clashing with our Open Day, but we weren’t deterred. Wiltshire has such a longstanding connection to the RAF, Salisbury Plain being the centre of pioneering aviation from its early beginnings; we felt we really wanted to take part. Luckily the RAF Museum at Hendon agreed, and our RAF Big Stories ‘Day’ took place on Saturday 30 November.
Joining us were two brilliant and specially recruited volunteers who quickly learnt how to use the RAF Museum’s oral history app to record 16 stories from 11 willing participants! The stories were varied and all interesting in their own way, some from the RAF staff themselves; others from living relatives. Those from RAF Lyneham included a navigator’s experience of the Berlin Airlift during 1948-9 when he got covered in coal dust from the goods being despatched, to the return of hostage Jackie Mann in 1993, and working in the maintenance crew during WWII and getting caught out in the blackout cycling from Chippenham to the airfield. Stories from overseas included intelligence training in India and the tortoise who became the mascot of the 20th Squadron in Singapore in 1964, who travelled on the plane with them and became a valued member of the team!
It was a real privilege to hear the stories and enjoy the company of our RAF Big Stories participants, and they told us they enjoyed having some interested people to hear them tell their tales. All the stories will be added to the RAF’s Stories website https://www.rafstories.org The app for recording a story is also available on the site for anyone to download and use. We hope to receive a copy of the recordings to store at the History Centre too, and some of the items the participants brought with them we were able to copy and will add to our collections.
The accompanying display of local studies books, photographs and prints plus archive material drew in over 20 people who enjoyed chatting to each other whilst enjoying looking at the items on show. These included plans of Wiltshire aerodromes, a Christmas menu card with signatures plus programme of entertainments dated 1943, letters regarding problems with mud on the roads and road closures during the building of airfields in WWII and ‘Sparks’ the newsletter of RAF Yatesbury. Books included the recent ‘RAF Wroughton and Wroughton at Work in Pictures’ by the Wroughton History Group and ‘46 Miles: a Journey of Repatriation and Humbling Respect’ about the RAF Lyneham repatriations through the town, alongside the classic text on Wiltshire airfields, Rod Priddle’s ‘Wings over Wiltshire’ to name just a few.
We also included one of our recent Creative Wiltshire lottery funded acquisitions, the limited-edition print ‘Cold War Warrior’ by David Bent. A Swindon based artist, David specialises in aviation art and has the enviable job of being the personal artist for the Red Arrows, joining them all over the world to record their story. He also designed the commemorative logo for the RAF’s 100 year celebration in 2018.
We always love any opportunity to show visitors the amazing breadth and variety of our collections here at the History Centre, which even amazes us at times! Please feel free to recommend us as a place to visit for people to learn more about the RAF in Wiltshire; we’d be happy to help them with their search.
In the last quarter of 2019 we received several new archives to add to our resources. From artists’ sketchbooks to property documents, all our new acquisitions further our knowledge and enjoyment of the history of our county. Here are a few recent highlights.
In November we acquired a range of documents from the Wiltshire-born artist Janet Boulton (collection reference 4469). Early in her career Janet worked at the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company in Chippenham, and during her lunchbreaks made sketches of urban landscapes and factory details. We have acquired two of Janet’s sketchbooks plus some of her monoprints and colour collages. These were inspired by her time at Westinghouse and by industrial equipment at a farm at Stanton Fitzwarren. Janet has a long association with the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, going back over 40 years, from her early exhibition Windows and Reflections in 1977 to her 2017 'A Seeming Diversity' retrospective. Janet’s work was also included in a 2019 exhibition at Salisbury Museum. Both these latter events formed part of the HLF-funded Creative Wiltshire initiative.
From Westbury we have a scrapbook donated by the Westbury Town Twinning Association, to add to their existing collection of newsletters, minutes and programmes (reference 4130). This loose volume includes items from the early years of the association in the late 1970s until its termination in 1998, such as newspaper cuttings, photographs, invitations and paper souvenirs.
Elsewhere in Westbury comes an accrual to the archives of the Westbury and District Hospital League of Friends. This new addition (references J2/163/25 and J2/163/26)) comprises pages from a scrapbook packed with newspaper cuttings and event invitations, plus a printed history of the Friends organisation. The group was established in 1954 by George and Phyllis Cundrick, and over the years raised around half a million pounds for the hospital. The collection also documents the Friends’ protests against the threatened closure of the hospital. Sadly the hospital finally closed in 2012 after over 100 years of service to the town, after which the Friends continued to raise money to support healthcare provision in the community.
Our friends at Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury have transferred to us a series of property documents from the nineteenth century concerning properties in the Market Cross and Oxford Street area of the town (collection reference 3678D). These leases, conveyances and other legal documents make reference to various parties from the town and beyond, including the Reverend George Rushout Bowles of Burford House, Shropshire, who by the 1860s was Lord of the Manor of Malmesbury and Westport. These properties changed hands at various points during the nineteenth century, so the collection provides useful information on the buildings and their ownership.
Our archive of the Great Western Railway already includes over 18,000 plans and drawings depicting railway buildings, engineering structures and tracks from all over the British Isles. To this massive collection has been added a modest but welcome accrual of three track diagrams dating from between 1952 and 1968. Specifically, these depict the Amesbury Ground Frame (catalogue reference 2515/410/2205MS), the Salisbury Tunnel Junction (2515/410/2206MS) and the Westbury South signal box (2515/410/2207MS). Another piece of the huge GWR jigsaw has fallen into place.
The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey have donated a collection of their minutes, newsletters and correspondence (reference 4310). This includes correspondence regarding alterations to the Abbey’s fittings such as the provision of a new organ and the refurbishment of the Parvise exhibition area. In addition, we now have a plan and section of the abbey made by the architect Harold Brakspeare in the 1920s, which outlines proposed repairs to the pulpit, lectern and misericords. The collection also sheds light on a design competition for a new sculpture for the East Wall, held between 1967 and 1969. As well as correspondence, this file (4310/4/2) contains photographs, cuttings, minutes and reports on the submitted designs. The winning sculptor TB Huxley-Jones died the day after winning and a second design, by Walter Ritchie was selected in its place. Ritchie's scheme was approved by numerous official organisations but rejected by the Cathedrals Advisory Committee Inspectors in 1969 and subsequently no commission was undertaken. The space remains unfilled to this day.
And finally we have received a fascinating 1947 sale catalogue concerning the sale of large portions of the Longleat estate (reference 4472/1). The sale was necessary to pay death duties, presumably following the death of the fifth Marquess of Bath the previous year. The sale comprises over 200 lots including many houses, farms and plots of agricultural land, as well as the George Inn at Longbridge Deverill. This is a valuable social history document for its evidence of field sizes and uses, and its descriptions of identifiable properties in parishes including Corsley, Chapmanslade, Crockerton, Sutton Veny and Warminster.
As always, we are grateful to all our donors for contributing their collections to the History Centre. Further details of these and the rest of our holdings can be found on our archive catalogue. The collections themselves can be made available for research in our reading room.
Do you enjoy history and listening to stories? Join us for a brand new reading group: The Memory Box. Our group is meeting on the first and third Monday afternoon of every month, beginning 7th January 2019, 2-3.30pm.
We'll meet and listen to an extract from one of the amazing collection of books in our Local Studies Library. We will take time to share memories and thoughts, and also have a chat over refreshments! If you would enjoy some friendly company in a relaxed environment, this is for you. All welcome!
Free entry, parking right outside and refreshments, supported by Hob Nob Press.
A cutting edge display is coming to Chippenham as the final stop on a tour of 12 venues across the West of England.
It features images from archives, museums and heritage collections from across the West (including us at the History Centre) and gives a unique insight into the history of the places where we live, work and visit.
It will be on display in the Yelde Hall, Chippenham from 6th March – 28th April alongside objects that explore the long history of Chippenham’s medieval Yelde Hall.
The exhibition is part of ‘Know Your Place – West of England’ digital mapping project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
We’ll be posting about some of the stories from the exhibition on our social media channels throughout the period of the exhibition, so keep an eye on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more.
We’re also hosting a FREE maps workshop on Saturday 10 June called ‘Know Your Place: Putting Wiltshire on the Map’. Claire Skinner will help you find out more about using maps for local history and also demonstrate how you can contribute their knowledge of local heritage to the Know Your Place West of England website. Book your place now on 01249 705500.