I don’t think that I’m alone with my interest in historical crime and punishment. I was interested in seeing if I could piece together a criminal history of someone picked completely at random. With this in mind, I looked through one our archives from the Wiltshire Constabulary, a ‘Divisional Criminal Photographic Album, with particulars of crime and personal details. 1900-1916’. the date range I chose ensured that I didn’t breach the 100 year closed file rule; this allows anonymity which in this case is quite a sensitive subject.
I decided to choose a female prisoner, Mary Jane Oland, born on the 1st May 1870 in Kempsford, Gloucestershire- just over the county border. Mary was the daughter of a shepherd and his wife, Thomas and Harriet Oland. It appears that she was of average education; as well as can be expected for a labourers’ child, she would have definitely attended the local village school.
It is unclear why, Mary, turned to the life of crime, but it appears to have stemmed from a mental health issue. A taboo subject, especially during this period. Marys’ first conviction was on the 28th June 1883 at the age of 14, shockingly, she was bound over by Swindon Magistrates for an attempted suicide. To investigate this devastating start to Mary’s downward spiral, I looked at the Swindon Advertiser- newspaper reports often give a lot more detail than a criminal register or calendar of prisoners. On Saturday 30th June 1883, it was reported that Mary had cut her own throat in an attempt to avoid returning to service near Bath. She had stated that she had been cruelly treated by her employer Mr C Williams, a farmer. Prior to the incident, Mary had appeared to have gone AWOL with another young employee, a boy, whom she had taken to Bristol and Box over a period of about four days. Was this just an attempt to run away? There was no criminal intent by poor Mary; it was so obvious that she was unhappy.
The following year, Mary was accused of stealing items of clothing in both Swindon and Marlborough, these offences were swiftly followed by two offences of burglary.
By the age of 16, Mary was breaking into dwelling houses and stealing jewellery. Her previous convictions of theft had seen her do hard labour, in those days this would have meant supervised physical work outside the prison walls. This new conviction gave her a custodial sentence with which hard labour was included. Mary was incarcerated in Devizes Bridewell Prison, where there was a large, multi-person treadmill installed. This treadmill was driven by the prisoners for long sessions and the wardens could tighten the screws to make the treadmill harder to turn. Hence prison wardens being dubbed ‘screws’.
This year is one of commemorations, significant anniversaries and celebrations. Many people will have celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday but last month it was the monarch who was leading the birthday celebrations for another long-lived institution – the Royal Artillery which marked its 300th anniversary on 26 May with a royal visit, parade and displays at Larkhill.
A rather more sombre commemoration this year will be the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme – a battle that dominates Britain’s collective memory of the First World War in the same way the Battle of Verdun occupies French history or Gallipoli tends to define Australian and New Zealand participation in the Great War. All these landmark events have come together as I work my way through a single archive – a treasure-trove of sketchbooks, diaries, letters and photographs that belonged to Hetman Jack Parham.
Jack Parham was born on 27 July, 1895 at Norrington near Alvediston in Wiltshire. He was raised on the family farm, educated at Sherborne School, and pursued a long and successful career in the Army. He retired a Major General and went to live in Suffolk – at Hintlesham near Ipswich – where he died in 1974. He lived the Royal Artillery’s Latin motto – Ubique – Everywhere.
I never knew the man. I was eight when he died and it would be another 22 years before I found myself living and working in Ipswich and sailing the River Orwell just as Jack, a keen sailor, had done.
But that is the beauty of archives – I have been able to get to know something of Jack’s remarkable story. This collection of drawings, photos and letters has taken me on an amazing journey through the early years of manned flight and Jack’s passion for aeroplanes; transported me to the battlefields of the First World War; and given me a brief insight into the thoughts of a senior military commander on D-Day 1944.
That journey began 13 months ago with a single sketchbook that had been identified by a researcher back in 2013/14 among a whole host of First World War resources. When I joined the History Centre in May 2015 I embarked on a number of centenary projects and was directed to the ‘Parham sketchbook’ from 1915-17 as a great resource. And what a resource.
Young people involved in the Dancing Back to 1914 project visited the History Centre to gain an understanding of Wiltshire 100 years ago. They were captivated by the detailed sketches that somehow closed the yawning chasm of the century separating them from the young men and women who experienced the Great War.
I was just as fascinated. Each sketch had been annotated at the time of drawing, while further notes were added (by Jack) at a later date to clarify a location or situation. I wanted to know more and periodically have been able to dip back into the Parham archive. Opening up each box has offered up something new and amazing.
On a recent History Centre village interpretation day course Claire Skinner and Mike Marshman led a party around the village of Box. Besides the Roman villa site, medieval church and many 17th and 18th century buildings they noted, near the bottom of Quarry Hill, an industrial site. In the first half of the 19th century there was a tallow chandler that made candles here. When Brunel’s Box Tunnel was being excavated and built for the Great Western Railway line between London and Bristol the Vezey family at the factory were providing one ton of candles every week for 2½ years to lighten the darkness for the workmen underground. The factory continued to make candles and soap until 1930.
Nowadays the factory sign reads, ‘J. Price (Bath) Ltd’, with no indication as to what is made. From the 1930s the business became Box Rubber Mills until the 1950s and were retreading the motor car tyres that some of us remember from our early car driving days. One of the other products of this family firm was tennis balls and they are now the only manufacturer of these in Europe; you can get them in various colours and with your name printed on them if you wish. Also made is a wide range of other products including squash balls, skittles balls, handballs and Eton fives balls, besides rubber parts for trailers, equipment for the navy, and rubber mouldings for industry.
Every year the History Centre hosts work experience students from Year 10 to Higher Education. Alex, a year 10 student from Malmesbury School describes what he got up to during his week:
Recently I have had work experience at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. On my first day I got shown around the strongrooms which they have lots of original documents, records and certificate etc. I actually saw King Henry VIII’s marriage deed with Jane Seymour. After that I saw Archives Conservation and got told how they restore letters, papers and maps, I also saw a small piece of Napoleon’s hair, and a really nice photo album. I also had a look at a newspaper by Swindon Advertiser in 1918 and 1919 which was really interesting to look at all the different stories they had at that moment in time.
On the second day for the morning I was copying and pasting wills onto a disc for a researcher. Then I got an original document from the strongroom and I had to find the names and occupations of people, where they lived and the year, but it was sometimes really hard to find some people because the writing was really hard to read and some documents did not give names. After lunch I went into the object conservation lab and saw a sole from a roman shoe in the wet room with a freeze dryer, also I went into an x-ray room. After that I saw a very old ceramic pot that had been damaged by a badger when it was digging, the people in the lab were trying to put it back together. After that I did community history and I had an introduction to the Wiltshire Community History website and was able to look at all the different parishes that they have written information about.
As part of my year-long ‘Transforming Archives’ traineeship I have a training (and separate travel) budget from The National Archives (with funding from HLF). This budget gives me the chance to not only scout out learning and development opportunities that I wouldn’t normally have access to, but also lets me attend them for free – which is absolutely brilliant really. Obviously there are limitations, we can’t go jetting off around the world for a lecture, or get them to pay for a Masters course. I have however been to quite a few places around the UK; I’m off to Glasgow for the Copyright and Cultural Memory Conference next month, for example.
Anyhow, on 18th March 2016, a perfect training event popped up for me to attend for a mere £35 of my training budget (plus my travel and a hotel for a night). The Eastern and London Regions of the Archives and Records Association (ARA) held some core training in, ‘Audience Engagement: Strategies and Practices’, at the central library, Cambridge. After a warm welcome from the ARA Training Officers Diane Hodgson and Anne Jensen, it was straight into six different talks from people with a wide range of experience in the field.
First up was ARA’s Head of Public Affairs, Jon Elliot, talking about the Explore Your Archive Campaign and how it can be used to project the archive profession and the value of what archives hold and do. Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign between the National Archives and ARA that encourages archives across the UK to host events and projects that highlight their service. Using marketing materials to create a cohesive campaign, the focus is on a week-long celebration of archives in November (though events can also be held throughout the year). Jon believes the campaign has been a success so far, but that improvements do need to be made, which they are aiming to implement over the next 3 year phase.
Next was a thorough and very informative talk from National Archives Outreach Officer, Sandra Shakespeare. Sandra pointed out the importance of actually evaluating your evaluations. There’s no point collecting lots of data on visitors if you don’t actually review that data and make use of it to shape your engagement plans. Sandra explained the many benefits of creative approaches to audience engagement, including working in partnerships to deliver projects, which can give you an opportunity to navigate around boundaries and take risks. One point that really stuck with me was that you need to empower people, start conversations and really build relationships, and then people will respond if they feel that they are valued and their opinions matter.
This year we are celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, that bane of school children everywhere or one of the world’s greatest poets and playwrights, depending on your viewpoint! As an English graduate who greatly enjoyed studying King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth I am firmly in the latter camp, but as a mother of a teenager forced to wrestle with Romeo and Juliet, (a situation wittily portrayed by Ben Elton in his new BBC sitcom ‘Upstart Crow’ last week) I can certainly also understand the former.
Shakespeare is one of those creative geniuses about whom we know very little outside of their work. What we do know of his life, as is common for most individuals from the Tudor era, comes from archives – the written evidence of our ancestors’ lives. One example is the parish register recording his baptism at Stratford upon Avon on 26th April 1564; another his notorious will, proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in April 1616, leaving his ‘second-best bed’ to his widow, Anne Hathaway, and most of his estate to his daughter. Shakespeare is, of course, most closely associated with Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and with London, the capital where he and his company of players performed so much of his work.
So how is Shakespeare associated with Wiltshire?
The main connection comes through Wilton in the south-east of our county. William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, of Wilton House, is famously cited as the ‘Mr W.H.’ to whom Shakespeare dedicated many of his sonnets. The first folio of his works published posthumously in 1623 is dedicated to both William and his brother, Philip, the fourth Earl. Patronage of the arts was important to both Herbert and his wife, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney (himself a famous poet who wrote ‘Arcadia’ while staying at Wilton in 1580.) In the first folio the 3rd Earl is thanked for his ‘many favours’ to Shakespeare and his company; in other words, considerable financial support.
Dr Siobhan Keenan of De Montfort University states that one of Shakespeare’s plays was performed at Wilton House on 2 December 1603, when the plague shut down theatres in London, and caused Shakespeare’s company of players, the King’s Men, to go on tour. It is not known for certain which play was performed, but historians have long suggested As You Like It. The play was performed in front of the newly crowned King James I, as well as the 3rd Earl, and it is believed the play’s ‘juxtaposition of bawdy wit and more serious reflections on what makes for a good ruler’ might have appealed to the King. It is also very likely that Shakespeare himself performed as one of the actors that night, which is an exciting thought. If only one had a time machine to be able to see that performance!