The Importance of Archives

on Tuesday, 22 April 2014. Posted in Archives

As an archivist I’m often so bogged down in the nitty-gritty of day to day work that I forget just how important archives are for society as a whole. A recent news item has brought home to me the importance of archives and the vital role that an archivist can play. I am sharing this, not to boost my own ego, or those of my colleagues, but just to make others think about how archives can be taken for granted in our society, and recognize their immense value for all of us.


The news item which made me wax philosophical was the announcement of the opening of an inquest into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. This has only been made possible because of the work of three archivists who were employed in 2009 to catalogue and make available over 450,000 documents relating to that tragic incident. As we now know, their work, alongside that of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, uncovered terrible truths which have been covered up for decades. The panel report is available using the link at the bottom of this article.

Journey to Pewsey

on Wednesday, 09 April 2014. Posted in Museums

As Museum Documentation Assistant, I am currently spending a great deal of my time working with our chosen collections management database, MODES.


Recently the History Centre and some of our Wiltshire museums have upgraded their software to the new and innovative Modes Complete system and I have been helping them in this process. One of the nicest things about the upgrade is the chance for me to go and visit the various museums and their committed volunteers.


As a non driver living in Corsham, I have explored the various transport opportunities to get me into the Wiltshire countryside and as the county is so big and our museums spaced so widely, this has been challenging!

A tale of two hoards...

on Saturday, 05 April 2014. Posted in Conservation

The conservation lab has been overtaken by the Bronze Age recently with two hoards totalling over 200 objects requiring x-ray, cleaning and stabilisation. Both the Hindon and Wardour hoards were found by a metal detectorist near Salisbury and have been declared as treasure. The hoards were excavated by archaeologists and information about how they were buried is being collected and analysed in the hope of gaining some clue as to why the objects were buried. Both hoards have been acquired by the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and once the objects have been conserved they will be put on display in the renovated Wessex Gallery at the museum.

In January of this year the conservation team took microscopes, cleaning tools and brushes and a few objects from the Wardour hoard to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum as part of the ‘Watch This Space Exhibition’ giving visitors and local school groups a chance to see behind-the-scenes conservation in action. In the public gallery, conservators were on hand to answer questions about the hoard and demonstrate the cleaning techniques we use. Using the microscopes, the conservators were able to see the objects under magnification and could carry out mechanical cleaning.

A roof full of hammers

on Tuesday, 25 March 2014. Posted in Architecture

We were recently called to look at another old pub near Swindon which had closed down. Although it is always sad to hear about yet another community asset disappearing, it will hopefully go on in another guise as a family home.


This particular pub had a very innocent rendered face with mid-19th century windows which gave away nothing about the centuries of history inside. For me an old building is much like an onion. You can peel back the layers, the accretions of history, to the innermost core, or in this case the remains of a once-spectacular medieval hammer beam roof! What a surprise in a building hitherto thought to be 17th century date!

 

Fire!

on Tuesday, 25 March 2014. Posted in Events, Wiltshire Places

I feel I can safely say that almost no town, village or hamlet in the county has been untouched by fire at some point during its history. It must have been an ever-present fear for every community – all that was needed was one little spark. Barns and hayricks were often to be found in the proximity of dwellings, and fire could quickly spread…

All houses were constructed of flammable materials, with thatch roofs being particularly vulnerable. When added to this the presence of naked flames, it presented a high degree of risk to person, property and livelihood.

Ramsbury, June 1648
The Ramsbury Fire of June 14th, 1648 destroyed the houses and belongings of 130 people. The county committee authorized collections throughout Wiltshire, but eleven weeks after the fire those affected had still not received much aid (the Civil War and many other needy appeals were occurring at the same time).  Shockingly, the Ramsbury inhabitants had also found that a forged ‘brief’ was being used to raise money for the cause which they would never receive. They had to act quickly, placing a notice of the circumstances in the London newsbooks of the day, telling of the validity of the fire and the illegality of the first brief. In fact none of the newsbooks had mentioned the fire at the time as they were too concerned with war movements.

Churches often included ‘briefs’ in their sermons, asking for donations for help with the church roof, but also for events such as this. After initial local assistance, further assistance could be raised on a regional or even national scale by raising a charitable brief, ‘a licence to collect relief which was issued by the Lord Chancellor’.

‘Now in Then’ – getting creative with archives!

on Thursday, 20 March 2014. Posted in Archives, Art

In 2014 a new project called ‘Now in Then’, funded by the Arts Council England, has been launched, which includes a series of Saturday workshops involving creative writers using archives here at WSHC. I have been involved from the outset in helping to choose the themes for the workshops, alongside the tutor Angela Street, and I have had free rein to choose the archives to help demonstrate those themes. Not being a creative person myself, I am greatly enjoying working with others who are, who can help me see the archives in a new light.


The theme for this term is ‘Lives in the Landscape’ and the first session (on 1 March) looked at the ownership of land. Most of the records I chose for this came from manor courts. The history of manors is worthy of a detailed blog in its own right but in the meantime if anyone is particularly interested they can read up on it on the University of Nottingham website (link at end of this article).

Put simply, a manor is a landed estate with the right to hold its own manor court, which, prior to the Tudor introduction of Quarter and Petty Sessions, was the main local court of law for minor offences. The concept of manors dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and central to the operation of the manor court is its monitoring of communal behaviour, known as the ‘View of Frankpledge.’ This basically was a system of mutual responsibility meaning that a tithing (a group of about 10 households) agreed to work together to keep law and order within their grouping.

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