As part of my year-long ‘Transforming Archives’ traineeship I have a training (and separate travel) budget from The National Archives (with funding from HLF). This budget gives me the chance to not only scout out learning and development opportunities that I wouldn’t normally have access to, but also lets me attend them for free – which is absolutely brilliant really. Obviously there are limitations, we can’t go jetting off around the world for a lecture, or get them to pay for a Masters course. I have however been to quite a few places around the UK; I’m off to Glasgow for the Copyright and Cultural Memory Conference next month, for example.
Anyhow, on 18th March 2016, a perfect training event popped up for me to attend for a mere £35 of my training budget (plus my travel and a hotel for a night). The Eastern and London Regions of the Archives and Records Association (ARA) held some core training in, ‘Audience Engagement: Strategies and Practices’, at the central library, Cambridge. After a warm welcome from the ARA Training Officers Diane Hodgson and Anne Jensen, it was straight into six different talks from people with a wide range of experience in the field.
First up was ARA’s Head of Public Affairs, Jon Elliot, talking about the Explore Your Archive Campaign and how it can be used to project the archive profession and the value of what archives hold and do. Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign between the National Archives and ARA that encourages archives across the UK to host events and projects that highlight their service. Using marketing materials to create a cohesive campaign, the focus is on a week-long celebration of archives in November (though events can also be held throughout the year). Jon believes the campaign has been a success so far, but that improvements do need to be made, which they are aiming to implement over the next 3 year phase.
Next was a thorough and very informative talk from National Archives Outreach Officer, Sandra Shakespeare. Sandra pointed out the importance of actually evaluating your evaluations. There’s no point collecting lots of data on visitors if you don’t actually review that data and make use of it to shape your engagement plans. Sandra explained the many benefits of creative approaches to audience engagement, including working in partnerships to deliver projects, which can give you an opportunity to navigate around boundaries and take risks. One point that really stuck with me was that you need to empower people, start conversations and really build relationships, and then people will respond if they feel that they are valued and their opinions matter.
This year we are celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, that bane of school children everywhere or one of the world’s greatest poets and playwrights, depending on your viewpoint! As an English graduate who greatly enjoyed studying King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth I am firmly in the latter camp, but as a mother of a teenager forced to wrestle with Romeo and Juliet, (a situation wittily portrayed by Ben Elton in his new BBC sitcom ‘Upstart Crow’ last week) I can certainly also understand the former.
Shakespeare is one of those creative geniuses about whom we know very little outside of their work. What we do know of his life, as is common for most individuals from the Tudor era, comes from archives – the written evidence of our ancestors’ lives. One example is the parish register recording his baptism at Stratford upon Avon on 26th April 1564; another his notorious will, proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in April 1616, leaving his ‘second-best bed’ to his widow, Anne Hathaway, and most of his estate to his daughter. Shakespeare is, of course, most closely associated with Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and with London, the capital where he and his company of players performed so much of his work.
So how is Shakespeare associated with Wiltshire?
The main connection comes through Wilton in the south-east of our county. William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, of Wilton House, is famously cited as the ‘Mr W.H.’ to whom Shakespeare dedicated many of his sonnets. The first folio of his works published posthumously in 1623 is dedicated to both William and his brother, Philip, the fourth Earl. Patronage of the arts was important to both Herbert and his wife, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney (himself a famous poet who wrote ‘Arcadia’ while staying at Wilton in 1580.) In the first folio the 3rd Earl is thanked for his ‘many favours’ to Shakespeare and his company; in other words, considerable financial support.
Dr Siobhan Keenan of De Montfort University states that one of Shakespeare’s plays was performed at Wilton House on 2 December 1603, when the plague shut down theatres in London, and caused Shakespeare’s company of players, the King’s Men, to go on tour. It is not known for certain which play was performed, but historians have long suggested As You Like It. The play was performed in front of the newly crowned King James I, as well as the 3rd Earl, and it is believed the play’s ‘juxtaposition of bawdy wit and more serious reflections on what makes for a good ruler’ might have appealed to the King. It is also very likely that Shakespeare himself performed as one of the actors that night, which is an exciting thought. If only one had a time machine to be able to see that performance!
In the archaeology service most new archaeological discoveries tend to be through our advice on planning applications. If a proposed development has the potential to impact heritage assets and in particular those with archaeological interest (as referred to in the National Planning Policy Framework), then we advise planning officers that a programme of archaeological investigation needs to be carried out in order to determine the significance of heritage assets affected by the proposals. Since I joined the archaeology service in August 2012 there have been some really exciting discoveries through development management, an overwhelming amount dating to the Romano British period. To name some of the top sites over the last few years that date to this period, we've had a Roman villa in Devizes, a roadside settlement near Beanacre, a high status farmstead outside Chippenham, two farmsteads on the outskirts of Trowbridge...the list goes on. In fact I have been surprised at just the amount of activity going on during this period in our county. Maybe it's not surprising considering we have some major Roman roads running through (see map below) including the main routes from London to Bath; from Silchester to Dorchester (Port Way); from Lincoln to Exeter (Fosse Way) and from Winchester to Charterhouse (Mendips). The two towns of Cunetio (Mildenhall) and Sorviodunum (Salisbury) lay at important junctions of the strategic road network and other towns of Durocornovium (Wanborough) and Verlucio (Calne) are also known to lie along the road network.
Many of you no doubt have read recently in the newspapers or heard on the radio that there has been a major new Roman discovery in the Deverills. We got a call from Luke Irwin who explained that whilst constructing an electricity cable to one of his outbuildings his workmen stumbled upon some kind of tiled floor surface and the tiles appeared to be quite small and colourful. He ordered the workmen to stop digging and that is when he contacted us. Of course my initial reaction was that of incredible excitement tempered by the realism, "what are the chances", people often tend to over exaggerate the significance of archaeological discoveries in their gardens. Despite my cynicism I quickly arranged to visit the site the following day with the County Archaeologist, Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger. Upon our arrival Luke explained that one of his workmen was interested in archaeology so had meticulously cleaned the floor. When we peered down the cable trench both our mouths must have dropped open and I think we both said at the same time "I don't believe it, you have got a Roman mosaic!!!” There was no arguing with the clearly distinctive Roman mosaic pattern, a common geometric border pattern known as guilloche.
The Lacock archive is as full of references to cats as there are currently cats living in and around the abbey. Although these are mostly photographs, there are also text references to cats. The earliest reference I’ve found is from the 19th century. Charles Henry Talbot, who owned Lacock from 1877, kept most of the letters written to him (although sadly didn’t make copies of the ones he sent) and from there we can find several interesting references to his home life and relationships with his family and friends – and animals! We know from correspondence that Charles had at least two cats in the last part of the 19th century, called Stripy and Bunny. It appears that he was very fond of them. Matilda Talbot, who inherited Lacock from her uncle Charles, was equally fond of them and many photographs of cats have appeared from amongst her papers.
In a letter to his uncle of 1893, William Gilchrist-Clark advises Charles regarding the mange that his pet is suffering from: “On my way from Brighton I heard of your cat’s illness. I said to Auntie Monie [Rosamond Talbot] that I thought it must be mange, and she asks me by letter this morning to write to you about it. I thought the cat was not in a healthy state when I saw it in Jan – the hair was too matted and it didn’t look right. The regular vet is laid up, but I am sure the best thing you could do would be to have the matted hair cut off as much as possible and the skin dressed with sulphur and hair oil – the cat would be in an unpleasant state for a bit and would hardly do for the house – but if it was kept in a stable for a bit it would soon feel right again – you could get the dressing from any local vet, and at the same time find out if it was the best thing to use – I always use it for dogs myself.” Personally, I think the first thing I’d do is visit the vet, and find out if it was suitable before I even considered buying the dressing. But it is interesting to see how people dealt with animals’ illnesses. Charles must have been very worried about his cat, and William likewise as he wrote to him so quickly. Let’s hope the strange concoction for the cat’s skin worked, and 1893’s “Grumpy Cat” (I would be if I was kept in a stable and dressed with sulphur) got over his mange and his health improved!
A letter from Rosamond Talbot to Charles of 1898 suggests that Charles has had to find a new home for one of his cats due to it possibly hunting his chickens, and she is helping: “We think that a good home has offered for poor old Bunny, in Somersetshire – people who want a grown up tame cat, so I must see about it when I get home. I cannot think that she has been interfering with the chickens again, now that they are grown so much older – besides she has been so constantly and carefully kept indoors during the middle of the day when the chickens are free, but still it is best to be on the safe side, if we can, for the future. Do you think the fox has put in an appearance again?” The phrase “poor old Bunny” is very apt here. It appears that the poor cat was rehomed as a scapegoat for the fox, although we cannot rule out the possibility of Bunny being a natural hunter and deciding that actually, grown-up chickens were also quite appealing. It is not known if Bunny was eventually rehomed. Maybe Charles decided to just be a bit more careful about where she was kept in relation to the chickens.
In our on-going investigations into the Deverill parishes south of Warminster for the Victoria County History we visited Hedge Cottage. This looks like just another charming little early 18th century rubblestone and thatched rural idyll, gable end to the road, with a rear service outshut under a catslide roof. Once inside, we had a pleasant surprise: the interior told a very different tale of a one-and-a-half storeyed timber framed house of the earlier 16th century. The 16th century structure is of four uneven bays, that is, widths between the structural cross-frames that divide it. It was entered through something called a cross-passage, a medieval plan where a passage with doors at each end divided the house in half. It was too narrow for stairs, which had no prominence at that time, and tended to be stuck into a recess between the chimney breast and outer wall. This design lingered on in some rural parts such as the Deverill Valley until the 16th century.
To the right of the passage is an originally unheated parlour with panelled ceiling of 13cm chamfered beams. The widest chamfers seem to occur in 16th century beams, and they get progressively narrower and less conspicuous down the centuries as the craft of timber-framing diminishes and is replaced by brick and stonework with plainer finishes. To the left is the living room/hall with a later fireplace set in a deep smoke bay, just like the one at Manor Farm up the road mentioned in an earlier blog.
You may remember the image of a group of ceramic sherds from one of our previous blog posts. Following reconstruction of the vessel we now have true understanding of the magnificence of the objects found. Watch a time-lapse video showing elements of the reconstruction of the vessel.
Conservation treatment involved a task like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. The size, shape and colours of the sherds were used to determine their original location within the urn. Due to the uneven firing of the vessel and areas of burning caused by hot ashes being placed inside the vessel some areas were easier to piece together than others.
When the collared urn was originally manufactured ceramic technology was in its infancy with the kilns used never reaching the temperature required to permanently set the clay in position. During the time the vessel was in the ground, moisture from the surrounding earth also weakened the under-fired structure. This effect, on top of the unconventional excavation method, has meant that the overall shape of the vessel has become distorted.
Before reconstruction the edges of each fragment were strengthened by allowing a weak adhesive to be drawn into the rough surface to hold the loose and sometimes crumbling structure together. The adhesive is well used in conservation and has been developed and tested to ensure that it is long-term stable meaning it will not degrade causing damage to the original fragments of the vessel.
A stronger concentration of the same adhesive was used to adhere the fragments in position, small strips weak masking tape were used to hold the fragments in position as they dried. As the vessel was so large the reconstruction had to be undertaken in stages to ensure each level of fragments were securely in position and ready to support those placed on top.