This Week in Wiltshire... 100 Years Ago

on Monday, 02 March 2015. Posted in Archives

As part of our new Facebook page we have been running a weekly feature using local newspapers from 100 years ago, “The Times This Week”. This has provided a unique perspective on Wiltshire’s history, charting the development of events 100 years ago in real time, and revealing otherwise forgotten stories of Wiltshire’s past.

Lovely incidental stories have emerged such as the two Bradford workmen engaged in painting the Gasometer who neglected to note the vessel was charging and so increasing in height, and upon finishing the job found themselves stranded with their ladder some distance below them! Eventually their plight was noticed and they were rescued through the provision of a longer ladder.

Unsurprisingly, the primary focus for much of the newspaper was the War and the paper has revealed insights into lives on the front line and on the home front.

Letters to Home

In a letter to his aunt, Percy Howell gave a detailed account of Christmas in the trenches and the famous Christmas truce. The two lines of trenches only being 200 yards apart, Howell describes hearing the German band singing on Christmas Eve, of joining in with the singing and starting a conversation. He stated ‘they did not fire a round, and of course, we were not allowed to fire either.’ After continuing the conversation throughout the night, the Germans began to come out of the trenches. He describes how, ‘on the guarantee that neither side fired’ they met half-way, shook hands, and shared cigars. He states how they Germans are ‘as fed up as we are’ and that they were ‘as friendly on Christmas Day as if they belonged to the British Army’.

Howell ends with a sobering:

“I can tell you it seems good not to hear the roar of big guns. Anyone joining us today would hardly know there was a war on, but by this time tomorrow I expect we shall have to keep our heads under, or we may stop a bullet.”

Other letters home have a rather different tone, such as a slightly cheeky letter from Private W.P. Bright of the R.A.M.C., British Expeditionary Force to his former employer Mr. J.H. Buckle of the High Street in Chippenham.

Obviously on good terms, and taken in the right spirit, a football was duly dispatched by Mr Buckle.

Reports from Returned Soldiers: A Remarkable Story of Daring Escape

On Saturday December 12th 1914 The Wiltshire Times published a report from Sergeant-Major Burke stationed at Corsham with the 3rd Battalion, Scots Guards. It is a remarkable story and extremely vividly recounted and is worth describing in detail here. It tells of his escape through enemy lines, thanks to the kindness and bravery of strangers…  

Lacock: The Community behind the Abbey

on Monday, 23 February 2015. Posted in Archives

Lacock is known for its famous Abbey, photography and the movies filmed there but just as important are the people who actually live, and have lived, in this wonderful village.  Lacock is not just a tourist destination but a living, thriving community which is often overlooked by visitors.  The Lacock Community Archive will provide an outlet for villagers to share their stories and memories through oral history, photographs and documents.  We will be providing a series of free events for the residents of Lacock over the forthcoming months as part of this project.    

As part of our first event we will be displaying copies of photographs of Lacock taken by Harold White from his English Villager’s collection (published 1945).  The picture below is of Reverend Jeeves (taken by Harold White), vicar of Lacock at the time.  There are, in fact, several photographs of the Rev. Jeeves which raised our interest and encouraged us to discover more about his life and how he came to be in Lacock.  Kym Wild, a postgraduate student from Bath Spa University, began researching his life.

Rev.Jeeves

Using Manorial Records for Local and Family History

on Friday, 20 February 2015. Posted in Archives

Have you ever wondered what role manors played in Medieval local government? For many centuries the lives of our ancestors were controlled by the Lord of the manor on which they lived. This was because the system of parishes covering England was not in place until c. 1300. The manor was the basic unit of local government until the parish took over this role in Tudor times. Even then, manors remained important.

The Lord’s manor courts collected income in fines and rents and recorded the names of his tenants. They appointed officers such as constables and haywards, and controlled the quality of local bread and ale. The chief tenants used the manor courts to organise collective farming on the open fields, before these were enclosed into farms in the 1700s and 1800s. After enclosure, manor courts still had the power to transfer copyhold, or leasehold, property.

The Lydiard School Mystery

on Monday, 16 February 2015. Posted in Archives, Schools

I was editing some articles on Lydiard Tregoze for Wiltshire Community History(http://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getcom.php?id=147) and after reading a good piece on the school, with interesting material from the log books, it struck me that it didn’t seem quite right. The school was Lydiard Park Junior and Infants but investigation showed that the logs books were for Bassett Down School; had there been two schools in this small parish? Wiltshire & Swindon Archives hold the log books for one, but nothing else, while the original deeds and two admission registers are held for Lydiard Park.

The Victoria County History for Wiltshire mentions Lydiard Park but has nothing to say about Bassett Down, where even the big house was demolished in 1958. Further research showed me that were indeed two schools in this parish for 100 years and this may have been brought about by the two main landowners founding and supporting their own schools. The original Lydiard Park School was attached to the Gate House on Lord Bolingbroke’s Lydiard Park estate and in 1860 he gave land for the building of a new school, a little further away, and continued to support it. In the south of the parish, on the edge of the grounds of Basset Down House a school was built in 1864; perhaps the Storey-Maskelyne family there felt, quite rightly, that their local children would not be able to walk the four miles each way to the Lydiard Park School.

Winston Churchill and Wiltshire

on Monday, 09 February 2015. Posted in Archives

Among the numerous national anniversaries we are commemorating in 2015 (which includes those for World War 1, World War 2 and, of course, Magna Carta) is one that perhaps will get less attention, which is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill who died on the 24th January 1965. The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre has received a few enquiries on possible Churchill connections with Wiltshire and so I thought I would dig a little deeper by doing what all good Archives & Local Studies Managers do … ask my colleagues if they knew of any! So here is what they have come up with so far.

Clearly as a man with connections Churchill no doubt visited numerous notable friends and families in the county that we do not yet know of, perhaps including those whose archives we hold. However, the earliest reference appears to be in 1914 with a more unexpected connection. Churchill was a keen early aviator and despite his family’s fears of the danger of airplanes at that time, he was one of small group of people to learn to fly these machines and certainly the first politician. There is an image held by the Science Museum of Winston Churchill preparing to fly at Upavon, home to the Army Flying Corps. You can find out more about his love of flying and view the image at:

http://blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/insight/2015/01/09/winston-churchill-science-and-flying/

During and following the First World War Churchill was a prominent politician. He had become an MP in 1900 and having first attached himself to the Conservative Party he crossed the floor of Parliament to join the Liberal Party in 1904. He served at various times as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, President of the Board of Trade and First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1915 he resigned from government to serve on the Western Front, but returned to government in 1917 as Minister of Munitions, then Secretary of State for War in 1919 and Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921 in the coalition government.

We have several letters within our archives at the History Centre to and from Churchill that can be found in the political papers of Viscount Long of Wraxall, who was an MP and, like Churchill, held several prominent positions during a long political career.

Lacock’s Great Hall Commemoration

on Monday, 02 February 2015. Posted in Archives

For my blog on Lacock this time I want to look at a bundle of documents only recently discovered in the Lacock archive, during my listing of some final boxes. The documents concern the 200th anniversary of the commemoration of the Great Hall in Lacock, which was rebuilt by John Ivory Talbot, the owner of Lacock at that time.

Talbot and the architect Sanderson Miller designed the Great Hall in a Gothic style and anyone who has been to Lacock will vividly remember the prowess of the room, with its great high ceilings, coats of arms decorating the ceiling, and breathtaking sculptures adorning the walls. Outside, Talbot built some grand steps.

In 1755, Talbot invited the friends whose coats of arms he had had put on the new ceiling to a commemoration event at Lacock Abbey to celebrate the completion of the work. Talbot invited 40 of his friends and neighbours to the event. An article in the Wiltshire Times 200 years later said that the emblazoning of the coats of arms “was most original, and a graceful compliment to his neighbours”. Whilst many sceptics would say that it was a way of really getting in with the local nobility, it is clear that Talbot himself was a high-standing member of the community and I’d like to think that his neighbours were pleased to be represented on that ceiling. The party brought together the local nobility and must have been a very grand event – if it happened. Unfortunately only a letter suggesting the possibility of an event was found, not any documents confirming that it had taken place.

200 years later, the final owner of Lacock Abbey before its presentation to the National Trust, Matilda Talbot, decided to host an anniversary event to commemorate the commemoration, and her intention was to recreate the event of 200 years earlier, by inviting representatives of those friends and neighbours of Matilda’s ancestor to the party. Although Matilda no longer owned the abbey, she continued to live there from 1944 until her death in 1956. Members of her family, the Burnett-Brown family who were descendants of her brother William, were living at the abbey as well and they also attended the event. The family and some acquaintances did some tireless research to find representatives of the 1755 party. Peter Summers of the Kingswood School did most of the research, which involved firstly trying to work out who some of the coats of arms on the ceiling were for anyway, and then painstakingly tracing their descendants down to the family member who appeared to be their most ideal representative. Those representatives were then invited to the commemoration event.

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