Collecting Cultures – Creative Wiltshire and Swindon

on Friday, 21 November 2014. Posted in Archives, Art, Museums

We are used to looking at a wonderfully rich source of materials in our Local Studies Libraries, Archives and Museums, but how many of you have ever wondered  how those books, photographs, newspapers, archive collections and museum objects got there? Some material of course has been collected over many years, some of it gifted and others purchased; while for Archive services material is often deposited but still owned by the depositor. When material comes up for sale, usually at auction, a decision whether to attempt to buy an object or an archive collection is made on case by case basis (with the help of grants from various bodies raised at short notice). Now this can work well, but as you might imagine this is a reactive process rather than proactive; consequently gaps in our collections can emerge. This means that the heritage for future generations is incomplete and does not tell the full story of our communities past and present.


In Wiltshire and Swindon we have been thinking about this problem and looking at how libraries, archives , museums and art galleries can work together to identify and fill significant gaps in our collections; thinking about what we should collect, what do local  communities think is important to their heritage, what would we leave for future generations? In particular we have been looking at the heritage of our local creative industries, something that is part of our everyday lives now and has been for past generations, but not always given the full attention it deserves. Now, with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are able to take a strategic approach to collecting materials for our creative industry and, importantly, we have a significant fund to purchase items.

Discovering Photography with Wiltshire People First

on Tuesday, 18 November 2014. Posted in Archives, Photography

October saw a wonderful new project associated with Lacock Unlocked, and the chance for some of our staff and volunteers to work with Wiltshire People First, a group for adults with learning disabilities, and a professional photographer Jamie, to understand about photography; how to use a high-quality digital SLR camera and take good quality photographs. The three workshops followed different patterns and allowed the members to learn about different aspects of photography, experiment with picture taking and be creative. The project will finish with an exhibition of three images taken and chosen by each member; those which they feel are the most successful photographs they took. The exhibition will take place on Friday 28th November in the Manger Barn at Lacock, and I would recommend anyone who is able to go and see what brilliant pictures have been taken and the improvements made throughout the three weeks of the workshops.

The project fitted with Lacock Unlocked perfectly as it allowed us to work with a wider community of people and having Lacock as the venue was great as we could all imagine ourselves in the shoes of William Henry Fox Talbot, a pioneer in photography who owned Lacock Abbey in the 19th century and developed the first negative image actually inside the abbey itself.

The first day of the project, held on a chilly autumnal day in early October, started with a “welcome” session where the group members got a chance to meet Rachael, the National Trust staff member helping lead the project, Terry and Ally from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, David and Ronnie, our two volunteers, and Jamie McDine, the photographer. We also were able to meet Julie and Angie from Wiltshire People First. After some introductions, we went to the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, where Roger Watson, the curator, spent some time with the group explaining all about William Henry Fox Talbot and his early developments with photography. He showed us a replica of the camera obscura which Fox Talbot had invented, and explained how Fox Talbot’s hard work eventually led him to produce the negative image which became so important in the success of photography.

Roman Structures in South Wiltshire

on Tuesday, 11 November 2014. Posted in Archaeology

Recent works in the south of the county have revealed lots of interesting remains, but I particularly like these two features. The reports are in the process of being produced, so are not yet in the public domain, so I’m not going to say exactly where they are right now. However, I thought it would be nice to share them, if only to show that even below ground archaeology can still be pretty exciting. These are just snaps, so they don’t have all the scales and north arrows that are in the proper site photos.


In the Romano-British period, grain driers (which have also been interpreted as malting floors) are usually relatively small and domestic in nature. We have seen quite a few of these smaller structures in Wiltshire recently, but the ones I’m about to talk about are more substantial. The domestic sized ones typically have a fire pit, a flue and a T-shaped top where the superstructure would have sat over the top with the heat coming up through the floor.


When we found the first of these structures, we were pretty impressed. None of us had ever seen such a big grain dryer before.

Useful Tips for Reading Old Handwriting

on Tuesday, 04 November 2014. Posted in Archives

The study of palaeography is something which is one of the most enjoyable aspects of an archivist’s training, but it is not something which is the exclusive preserve of the professional. Anyone can learn to read old handwriting – all it takes is patience, determination, and lots of practice!

Handwriting styles
Over the centuries there have been several major styles of handwriting and handwriting from the medieval period to the 18th century will (generally speaking) fall into one of those styles, going from Anglicana (medieval period) to bastard Secretary (15th century) to Secretary (16th-17th cent) and italic (overlapping with Secretary) to mixed hands (late 17th cent – 19th cent). From 19th century onwards we’ve seen the rise of personal handwriting which doesn’t conform to a set, taught style, and ironically 20th and 21st century writing can be more difficult to read than Tudor, depending on the writer! In addition there are specialist hands used only in certain central law courts. A comprehensive survey of both handwriting styles and the tools used for writing from medieval times to the 18th century can be found at: http://scriptorium.english.cam.ac.uk/handwriting/history/

Abbreviations
Regardless of era there have also been well-established conventions for abbreviating words – think for example of ‘Mr’ for ‘Master’ or the ampersand & for ‘and’. These abbreviations need to be learnt off by heart if you are going to become confident at transcription.
See: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/where_to_start.htm#abbreviations

The Quiet Nomansland

on Tuesday, 28 October 2014. Posted in Wiltshire Places

We are busy marking the centenary of WWI, looking at the war, its consequences and repercussions, and what life was like on the Home Front. With this in mind, some publications in our Local Studies Library on the Wiltshire village of Nomansland, a name with WWI connotations, caught my eye. What was it like during the early 20th century, this quiet village with what would later become a notorious name?...

Wiltshire’s Nomansland can be found right at the edge of the parish of Redlynch, next to the border with Hampshire and the New Forest, a position which was to have a huge bearing on the establishment of the village and its name. The site was probably part of the ‘Franchises’, an area of mixed woodland and open heath to be found south east of Redlynch.

Wiltshire at War: Community Stories

on Tuesday, 21 October 2014. Posted in Events, Military

Our Heritage Lottery Funded project to uncover and share stories of the First World War Home Front in Wiltshire http://wiltshireatwar.org.uk/ is now moving into its second phase. Over the summer we have been out and about meeting people, making contacts and starting to identify some of the stories that we will be sharing and preserving. This month, we will be showing volunteers from across the county how to do this work so that they can find out and record more stories from their communities.

Places are filling up fast, but if you are interested in coming along to one of these workshops they are taking place at:

Malmesbury Town Hall, 15 Oct 2pm
The Rifles Museum, Salisbury 21 Oct 2pm
Trowbridge Town Hall, 27 Oct 2pm

Full details and how to book a place can be found in the attached Wiltshire at War Training Invite.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes museum education officers are planning the schools element of the project, which will be starting next year and we are looking at the best options for how we present all the stories. This will be done through exhibitions in libraries, museums, village halls, churches etc as well as on a dedicated website.

If you have a story to share, would like to know more about the project or would be interested in hosting an exhibition please contact Emma Golby-Kirk at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 02380 262629. You can also visit the project website at www.wiltshireatwar.org.uk

Tim Burge, Museums Officer, October 2014

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