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.

Some Treasures from the Lacock Archive

on Saturday, 15 March 2014. Posted in Archives

Over the last few months, I have been cataloguing the Lacock archive with the help of several volunteers and just about every day I come across some interesting documents, some of which I hope to share with you over the next few months.


Recently, for example, I have been able to find out information gained from wills and other legal documents about the identity of illegitimate children of John Talbot (1717-1778), one of the owners of the Lacock estate who was married but widowed after only two years, and had no children from the marriage. He did, however, have at least four children with local women. At least two of the children were provided for in John Talbot’s will (another had died, and it is assumed that the fourth did too but no evidence has been found). However, he was clearly very concerned about the welfare of his children and tried to ensure that they would be provided for not just in a legal sense. A very touching letter has been found in the archive, dictated just before his death to his friend John Santer, which shows his concerns. This is a lovely thing to find in the archive as it shows the human side of an aristocratic family who, especially with the issue of illegitimacy and inheritance, tended to keep very discrete.

A transcription of some of the letter shows John’s troubled mind:

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