Former RAF Lyneham gives up its ancient secrets

on Saturday, 21 November 2015. Posted in Archaeology

Earlier this year archaeologists discovered an extensive Roman settlement in the northern part of the airfield of the former RAF base. This all happened because a few months earlier, planning permission had been granted for the development of this area into a solar farm. Following an archaeological evaluation in which 60 machines dug trenches in January where about the third of them had evidence of Roman features, full scale excavation was undertaken in February and March.  

Two large areas, totalling just over a hectare, were opened up for excavation and because of the tight timescale for the building of the solar farm, two teams were employed British Solar Renewables to excavate: Wessex Archaeology and Pre-Construct Archaeology. Between them the teams excavated hundreds of features indicating extensive occupation through the Roman period and a hint at earlier Iron Age occupation too.

The most exciting features were two round house dwellings. They were both around 12 metre in diameter and had well preserved internal features. The earlier one was Late Iron Age and was superseded and partially overlapped by a slightly larger Roman one. This hints at continuous occupation on this site for a few hundred years.

Transforming Archives 2015

on Saturday, 21 November 2015.

Hello there!


Firstly let me introduce myself, and then I’ll tell you about what I’ve been up to over the last couple of weeks. My name is Jessica Smith and I've just started a year-long 'Transforming Archives' traineeship (part of the Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future programme), through the National Archives (TNA), but based here at the History Centre. I’ve taken over from the previous trainee Matt, who I know did great work, and wrote quite a few blogs while he was here! The focus of my traineeship is Outreach and Engagement, and Collection Development. Large parts of my year will involve training (unsurprisingly), in a lot of aspects of archives management, both in-house training and some offsite courses. I'll also be undertaking an undergraduate module in Archives Outreach and Engagement through the University of Dundee, as well working here at the History Centre on whatever tasks they give me to do, so there’s a lot to keep me busy! The two projects I’ll be mainly working on are Lacock Unlocked (continuing where Matt left off) and the Wiltshire at War project; both of which are incredibly interesting and I look forward to getting stuck into them. If you don't know what the projects are, I highly recommend you follow the links and find out, you won't be disappointed! 

My First Day
My first day at the History Centre was Friday 6th November, and as I walked in for the first time since my interview I was incredibly nervous, but I received a lovely welcome from Jan on reception, and then Claire, my trainer and Principle Archivist here. Claire gave me a great tour of the building, and I was struck by the number of different departments: archives, local studies, archaeology, museum advisory, conservation, Buildings Record, and business support, amazing. I was very impressed with the building itself, purpose built and state of the art, nothing like my previous (albeit limited) experience of archive strong rooms. I was particularly happy to discover that if there is a fire, although the strong rooms will lock, the powder released to put out the fire (so as not to damage the records) is not harmful to humans (phew)! As I was taken around I was introduced to many of the different people who work here, all of which I remember the faces of, but am struggling a bit with the amount of names. I'm sure I'll pick them up quickly enough though, and each person I was introduced to was incredibly welcoming and put me at ease immediately, which always helps.

My tour ended in what seems like the unofficial hub of the history Centre, the staffroom, and I was introduced to the complex system of the tea, coffee, sugar and milk supply, which means that everyone pays their share (quite right too), though I'm still not quite sure how the milk one works! Claire then spent time explaining some of what I'll be doing over the next year and going through a few workplace policies etc.; later I had a meeting with Terry, the Archives and Local Studies Manager, who explained the staffing structure at the History Centre, and spoke some more about my year to come. I finished off the day browsing the websites for Lacock Unlocked and Wiltshire at War, to try and help familiarise myself the projects.

 To The National Archives!


‘A few of my favourite things…’

on Friday, 13 November 2015. Posted in Archives

I hope you will forgive a touch of self-indulgence but this blog ties in with a theme of ‘#archiveselfie’ promoted by the national ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign, so I’ve taken the opportunity to describe three of my favourite archives held at Wiltshire and Swindon archives. It is very difficult to make such a selection – as any parent will appreciate, there is something very uncomfortable about the notion of choosing ‘favourites’ amongst your children! Nevertheless this is the result, which I must stress is a purely personal selection – why don’t you visit Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in the coming months, and see if you can compile your own list?

In no particular order then:

  • Photograph album of Mary Petre Bruce, record-breaker on land, sea and in the air, early-mid 20th cent, reference 1700/58.

Mildred Mary Bruce, nee Petre, is a personal heroine of mine – in the 1920s and 30s she was world-famous for breaking motor racing, speedboat and aviation records, including a solo round the world flight in 1930. She overcame personal setbacks, including being an unmarried mother in 1920 and a divorcee in 1941, to become a millionaire by the time she died in 1990.

Her links with Wiltshire centre on Bradford on Avon, where she had a home from 1950 to 1990, and Warminster, where she was at one time owner of a glove factory. I admire her confidence, courage and ‘go-getting’ spirit. If you want to learn more about Mary (also known as the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce) a good starting point is a 2012 biography of her by Nancy Wilson called ‘Queen of Speed’ but we are also privileged to hold her archives at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, in collection 1700. These are just a couple of the many photographs in that collection – I think Mary’s strength of spirit really shines out in them:

Herbal Lore

on Monday, 09 November 2015. Posted in Traditions and Folklore

In times gone by, the Rev. W. Zapprell Allan of Broad Chalke claimed that there was no wise woman better than Old Dame Zargett with her knowledge of herbs and simples.

The most highly regarded of all the herbs were hellebore, rosemary, lavender, sage, comfrey, rue, wormwood, marjoram and vervain, with verbena, mint and chamomile following close on their heels. Kathleen Wiltshire, long-term resident of All Cannings, lists almost 60 in her book ‘Wiltshire Folklore’, available at WSHC, and I have listed just a few for you here.

Betony was the one herb not to be without. It is a woodland plant with purple-red flowers that bloom from June to September and, excepting the roots, the whole plant is of good use. ‘Sell your coat and buy betony’ is an old Wiltshire saying. It was said to have still surpassed modern drugs during WWII being especially helpful for the burns of RAF pilots.

I don’t know about you, but I usually try to avoid brambles, especially when picking blackberries, but they were very good at easing scalds. Just dip nine leaves in water and apply to the wound whilst repeating a chant three times to each leaf:

‘Three ladies came from the east,

One brought fire, and two brought frost,

Out with the fire, and in with the frost,

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy ghost,


The bramble was considered to be a sacred plant, in the same vein as the rowan and oak. Brambles could also be used as a cure for whooping-cough if they were forming an arch with the tip of the arch sending down a new root. Initially the treatment was just to crawl under the arch, but it was later modified, usually by repeating the process nine times on nine consecutive days.

Fleabane does what it says on the tin! It was burnt to drive out fleas and other insects from the straw used on floors in rooms.

The conservation team turn detective! Part 2

on Thursday, 29 October 2015. Posted in Conservation

Curing the salt contamination in a pair of Imari vases. A serial conservation mystery, episode 2

In May we discovered that the Imari vases which had been brought to the lab from Wilton House were suffering from a case of salt contamination The salt had caused large cracks up the side of the vases reducing their structural stability and causing loss of some fragments and areas of glaze.

Developing a treatment

Removing salt from an object is best completed by dissolving the salts into water and removing the contaminated water from the vase taking the salt with it. If not all the contaminated water is removed during the treatment some salt will remain and the process of crystallisation will begin again, causing further deterioration.

To try out our treatment options we needed to create some test patients with similar symptoms to the Imari vases.

Undertaking clinical trials

The test patients were contaminated with salts from the base up to simulate the issue with the Imari vases.

Due to the size, weight and fragile nature of the vases treating only the affected area would be the ideal solution. We tested using a poultice made from blotting paper, cartridge paper and distilled water.

To use a poultice you apply a thin layer to the affected area and allow to dry. As the water evaporates from the surface of the poultice the salty water in the centre of the pot is drawn out and the salts are deposited in the poultice. The dried poultice can then be removed taking the salt with it.

The clinical trial turned out to prove the treatment was not effective, instead of evaporating from the poultice some of the water was drawn into the test pot and evaporated from the exposed rim leaving the salts behind.

It was clear that a plan B would have to be developed....

Discoveries from the Deverills Part 3 – a spectacular barn with a hidden date revealed

on Thursday, 22 October 2015. Posted in Architecture

In the second part of my blog on the marvellous discoveries in the Deverills I explored what timber-framed buildings were like in the Deverill valley in the period between1500-1600, looking in particular at Timber Cottage, Crockerton. Timber Cottage was a very obviously timber-framed building, but during our investigations we found that there was much more timber-framing hiding inside later stone encasing. One of the more spectacular finds was Manor Farmhouse in Kingston Deverill, which I will discuss in my next blog.

The wonderful mixed-truss construction aisled barn belonging to Manor
farm is well-known about and recently dated by dendrochronology funded by
Wiltshire Buildings Record to 1407-10. It has a fairly unique layout of
structural trusses inside where base crucks (the very curved supports)
alternate with straight posts. Base crucks are an early form of construction
anywhere in England, and not generally found in Wiltshire after about 1350.

This dating was an improvement on the ‘probably 16th century’
date attributed by the DoE list description. It also extended what was previously thought to be the end of base-cruck construction – a very early type in the general chronology of crucks - in Wiltshire by around 60 years.

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