Goodies and Baddies: Crime and Punishment in the Archives

on Tuesday, 05 May 2015. Posted in Archives, Crime

Crime and punishment is always a popular topic for research in the archives, and can reveal some interesting insights into life in the past. For more detail about the kinds of sources available and what they can tell you, see our guidance: http://www.wshc.eu/next-steps-in-family-history.html#prisoners

Murder and felony:

‘Wiltshire Murders’ by Nicola Sly (AAA.343) in our local studies collection describes an unpleasant case of the murder of Judith Pearce. It tells of Edward Buckland, a gypsy who had been begging and odd-jobbing around the area of Seagry for many years. Judith Pearce had been known to give him the odd crust, but one evening, refused his request to come into her cottage to warm himself by the fire. Later that evening the thatched roof of Judith’s cottage caught fire. The fire was extinguished without too much damage, but it was widely believed to have been deliberately started by Buckland, who swiftly left the area.

Later in the year, Judith and her grand-daughter Elizabeth were woken by the sounds of someone trying to enter the cottage. They barred the kitchen door, but the intruder attempted to break through with a hatchet. Judith and Elizabeth succeeded in breaking through the lathe wall of the cottage into the garden, but were pursued by the assailant. Elizabeth managed to escape and ran to relatives for help. Sadly by the time they returned Judith Pearce was dead. Nothing from the house was stolen, suggesting it was likely to be a personal grudge.

Edward Buckland, having recently returned to the area, was apprehended close to the scene the following morning, tried at the Lent Assizes in Salisbury, 1821 where he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

‘I am damned if I killed the old woman’

Records of Assize trials are held at the National Archives in Kew, and Buckland does not appear in the calendar of prisoner. However, the fact of his trial is recorded in the criminal register, viewable on Ancestry, along with the guilty verdict.

The Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette March 22nd 1821 provides a detailed account of the trial and account of the murder.

Arctic Convoy Veteran Stories Feature in New Slide Shows

on Monday, 27 April 2015. Posted in Military

Arctic convoy veterans living in Wiltshire and Swindon have allowed us to record and keep their accounts of life on board convoy ships in the Second World War.

Their accounts include dramatic moments, like receiving the order for PQ17 to scatter; reflective thoughts on the point of the convoys and memories of those who lost their lives; humorous anecdotes like the time when a man on watch realised the fin cutting through the water wasn’t a deadly torpedo ‘just a shark’.

Local 6th form students were given the opportunity to listen to some of these accounts and select from them those which they found of interest to create audio slide shows to publish on our website. One group were interested in the account of the battle to sink the German ship Scharnhorst, which became known as the battle of North Cape. A dramatic account of direct action against the enemy ship, to reduce the threat against the merchant ships on the convoy route. The second group chose a reflective piece about the 1944 convoy that repatriated 1,000s of Russian prisoners of war who were destined for the gulags.

The last group was fascinated by the accounts of life on board, the camaraderie, cockroach races, deck hockey games and other ways that the sailors passed the time when not on duty. The research helped one of the students understand more about the experiences of her relative who had served on the convoys.

All the slide shows produced by the students can now be seen on this website at http://www.wshc.eu/education/arctic-convoy-project.html

Tales from the Lacock Archives: A Dispute Concerning Trees on Bewley Common

on Wednesday, 15 April 2015. Posted in Archives

In the autumn of 1706, James Montague of Lackham sent his workmen to cut down some trees on Bewley Common, an area of land that abutted both Lackham and Lacock Manors. This commonplace country activity elicited a furious reaction from his neighbour, Sir John Talbot, the Lord of Lacock. Talbot disputed Montague's right to fell the timber and retaliated by ordering his men to cut down all the remaining trees and remove the timber for his own use. Both parties insisted that they alone had the rights to the timber in accordance with established practice and ancient agreements, and the dispute rapidly escalated over the ensuing months.

In confronting Talbot, Montague had taken on a formidable opponent. Sir John Talbot was in his 77th year, had been a long-term and very active member of Parliament, championing many causes and generally featuring at the forefront of political life for most of the second half of the turbulent 17th century. He was a committed Royalist, Protestant and Soldier and had commanded a number of regiments at various times. He survived the Glorious Revolution, despite having two arrest warrants issued against him after 1689, and was never implicated in Jacobite unrest. In short, he was a fighter, survivor, and a man experienced in the ways of the world. By contrast, Montague, aged 33, had had limited military experience and had served only three years as a rather inactive MP. He had trained as a lawyer and was a local Justice of the Peace.

It appears that as the dispute grew, Montague had resorted to the law to resolve the respective rights of the Manors of Lacock and Lackham to Bewley Common, to recover damages for the timber he claimed to have been stolen from him, and to bring those involved in 'his' timber's removal to justice. Court hearing were held in late 1706 but proved inconclusive and a further hearing was scheduled for January 1707. In the intervening period, apart from a verbal altercation in Lacock church, Montague and Talbot addressed the problem in a series of increasingly acerbic letters, despite both declaring to not like conducting "paper disputes".

Archaeology in Wiltshire Conference

on Monday, 13 April 2015. Posted in Archaeology

The third archaeology conference looks to be an exciting day showcasing some of the new discoveries and research over the last year in Wiltshire which is to be held on 18 April at the Corn Exchange in Devizes. It coincides with the International Day for Monuments and Sites, the theme of which is The Heritage of Commemoration. Some members of our team will be there on the day with displays so come say hello and find out about ways of getting involved such as volunteering opportunities in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

Easter in the Parish Registers

on Saturday, 04 April 2015. Posted in Archives

In 2013 my colleague used the blog to explore the pagan roots of Easter and the customs associated with it in Wiltshire, but I thought this year I would focus on our churches’ customs and traditions for this season, since Easter is also an important Christian festival, celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some of these customs have fallen into disuse but recall a time when the parish church was at the centre of village or town life in Wiltshire, and church customs and traditions formed an important part of everyday life. I am indebted to my colleague Steve Hobbs’s book: ‘Gleanings from Wiltshire Parish Registers’, Wiltshire Record Society Volume 63, for the examples in this blog.

Most of us will be familiar with the tradition of giving up treats (such as chocolate or alcohol) for Lent. However, I wonder how many people know that it used to be necessary to have a licence to eat meat during Lent? The Roman Catholic Church had a long tradition of abstaining from meat during Lent and on Fridays, but after the Reformation this practice was zealously promoted, in an attempt to boost the fishing industry. In 1562/3 an Act of Parliament (5 Elizabeth 1 c.5) ruled that meat could not be eaten during Lent, and on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Ember Days. Anyone caught eating meat was subject to a penalty of £3 or three months’ imprisonment, but it was possible to obtain a licence or dispensation from the Bishop or local clergy.

Wiltshire’s parish registers contain numerous references to licences granted by the clergy, to parishioners who were deemed to need meat as well as fish, usually because of age or poor health. For example, one of Alderbury’s parish registers (1966/1) states: “1 Mar 1619 licence granted to Mr Richard Goulstone and Mrs Jane Tooker to eat flesh during Lent, because of their… great age.” The Salisbury St Edmund register for 1559-1653 is more eloquent: “William Fawconer the elder … and Katherine his wife are now both sick and diseased, upon their instance and request for the better preservation of their strength and recovery of their health, [I, Peter Thacher] do … license them to eat such kind of flesh as the laws of this realm do allow, during the time of their sickness and no longer…” (1901/1 - 1633)

A Model Schoolmistress - Preshute's Finest

on Tuesday, 31 March 2015. Posted in Schools

Preshute Parochial School was founded in 1845 in the Main Street of the village of Manton near Marlborough. It was a small building comprising of one main school room and outside privies.

The school was built to provide all children within the sprawling parish, basic elementary education. This included youngsters from the outlying areas at Preshute Down (way up by the Ridgeway), Rockley and Clatford. Some pupils were as young as four and the trek into school would have been an epic one.

The school at Preshute was governed by a group of school managers. The members of the committee were made up of local gentry, landowners and businessmen. They held meetings to discuss everything from the school building, funds, staff and general day to day running of the establishment. It was this group of managers that decided to appoint a very capable new head teacher in December 1881.

Miss Emma Louisa Thorp accepted the post of head mistress after 59 written applications had been received. The post had been advertised in the ‘Schoolmasters’ publication and Miss Thorp’s application had already caught the eye of the Managers, despite the high volume of other potentials.

She preceded the previous mistress who had been dismissed along with two others before her. Miss Thorp agreed to a wage of £30 a year and a partly furnished house, despite her predecessors being paid £50 annually and having a fully furnished school house. She only agreed to become mistress on the proviso that she be given a pay increase at the end of the year and that her sister, Miss Florence Thorp, be given a position at the school as an assistant teacher. Her wage was to 2/ per week.

These conditions were agreed and the two sisters began very long and interesting careers at Preshute School.

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