Get your walking boots on to travel through history...

on Tuesday, 16 June 2015. Posted in Archaeology, Events

Join the Wiltshire Council Archaeologists for two free guided archaeology walks. This year we are celebrating the annual Festival of British Archaeology by organising walks in two archaeologically rich and exciting locations.

In the morning of Saturday 11th July Rachel Foster, Assistant County Archaeologist will be leading a guided archaeological walk up to the fabulous Iron Age hillfort at Oldbury near Cherhill and across the Cherhill Downs. You get a chance to see the multiple and well preserved ramparts, the location of the Iron Age settlement, the Cherhill White Horse and Lansdowne Monument. From the top of the hill you will experience the fantastic panoramic landscape views and Rachel will point out and discuss key archaeological features such as Roman roads, the Wansdyke and Silbury Hill.

Wiltshire and the Magna Carta

on Monday, 15 June 2015. Posted in Archives

2015 is a year for historical anniversaries such as the anniversary of Gallipolli, the Battle of Waterloo and the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. Through its assertion of justice and the rule of law over the power of the monarchy, Magna Carta (which is Latin for ‘Great Charter’) has become a powerful symbol of human rights, referenced by the Founding Fathers of the United States in the 19th century and by Nelson Mandela in his defence at his trial in 1964.

So what was the Magna Carta? “Magna Carta, issued in June 1215, was an attempt to prevent an immediate civil war. It was the result of negotiations between the king’s party and a group of rebellious barons, negotiations facilitated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. These took place on ‘neutral’ territory at Runnymede, near the royal castle at Windsor. By this agreement the king guaranteed many rights which he or his officials had disputed, and these included such things as the freedom of the Church, the rights of towns, and that justice could not be bought or sold. The proof of these royally granted or acknowledged rights was the great charter, copies of which were sent around the country. In an age before mass communication, documents bearing the king’s great seal were the evidence of royal policy.” (Source: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/magna-carta/why-was-it-written)  

It is of course important to remember that Magna Carta was a product of its time – many of its clauses were only applicable to free men or women, a minority in 1215. (About 2/3 of the population were villeins or bondsmen, who had to perform services laid down by custom for their local lord of the manor, such as working on the lord’s land free of charge.) It also contains two clauses relating to Jewish money-lending which appear anti-semitic to modern sensibilities, sadly reflecting English society of the time. However, despite this, the overall effect of the charter has been to promote human rights. The 39th clause (which gives all free men the right to justice and a fair trial) inspired the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which in turn helped to create the UK Human Rights Act, 1998.

The Magna Carta is of particular interest to us in Wiltshire because we have several local connections to this famous document.

Forget Bath Spa… Taking the waters at Melksham

on Monday, 08 June 2015. Posted in Wiltshire Places

Some of the country’s towns and cities are renowned for their waters; Bath Spa, Cheltenham Spa and Leamington Spa to name but a few, but you may be surprised to know that Wiltshire had its own fair share of mineral springs and wells. Thirty one places in the county had water which contained minerals thought to contain curative properties: Biddestone, Box, Braydon, Broughton Gifford, Chippenham, Christian Malford, Clyffe Pypard, Cricklade, Crudwell, Dauntsey, Draycot Cerne, Heywood, Highworth, Holt, Kington St. Michael, East Knoyle (Upton), Limpley Stoke, Luckington, Lydiard Tregoze, Melksham, Poulshot, Purton Stoke, Rodbourne Cheyney, Rowde, Seend, Sheldon, Somerford (probably Great Somerford), Swindon, Trowbridge, West Ashton and Wootton Basset – wow, what a list! The vast majority of these sites are found at the junction of two or more geological formations.

The craze for spas first appeared in the late 17th to mid 18th century, with a revival towards the end of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century. In Wiltshire only four sites could be considered fashionable enough to be called spas; Holt, Box, Melksham and Purton. I shall be taking a look at Melksham Spa which became established around 1813. The water was discovered to have medicinal properties after a bore had been sunk in c. 1770 by individuals looking to find coal. Its properties were examined by Dr Gibbes of Bath and were described as ‘chalybeate’. Melksham Spa had hot and cold private baths specially created for those who wished to take the water. Advertisements claimed the waters could cure many ailments with the top cures being for skin diseases, running sores, and scrofulous ailments. In 1815 another bore was dug to search for an additional saline source, a valued medicinal property of spa water. The contents were also found to contain lime and magnesia.

Discoveries from the Deverills Part 1- Setting the Scene

on Wednesday, 03 June 2015. Posted in Architecture

When you drive through the Deverill Valley what do you see? Villages that are strung like beads on the common thread that is the Deverill stream. Last week I gave a talk about some of the wonderful buildings discovered during the Victoria County History investigation into the Deverill Valley, south of Warminster, part of the former West Wilts area. Hitherto-unrecorded historic fabric of good-quality timber-framed houses was found dating from c1500. Prosperity at that time would have translated into lasting assets such as the farmhouses and cottages that made up the villages, as well as the churches.

The villages themselves are made up of low stone and brick cottages, some thatched, some tiled, tucked away in their plots or set in rows along the edge of the road. All have been modified by time to the appearance you now see.

When a building is more than a hundred years old you can bet that it will have undergone a major change at least once a century. By that token can you judge a book by its cover? When buildings are listed the Heritage officer concerned will look at the outside to make a judgement. If they are lucky they might be invited in to see the interior before they do that. In the Deverills there were obviously a lot of people out that day, otherwise they might have changed their minds.

The Conservation Team Turn Detective!

on Friday, 22 May 2015. Posted in Conservation

Finding the cause of deterioration in a pair of Imari vases. A serial conservation mystery, episode 1

In the conservation lab we have two very large and impressive-looking vases. The vases from Wilton House, Salisbury have come to the conservation lab to be repaired as they are both structurally unstable. The conservation team turned detective in order to discover what was causing the instability. In the first episode of our conservation blog, you’ll find out how the conservators uncovered the symptoms and solved the case.

The patients

The vases are late 17th Century examples of the popular Japanese style ‘Imari’ identified from the distinctive decoration of cobalt blue under-glaze and gold and red over-glaze. This style of Japanese porcelain was produced as export for the Western market, indicated by the style sharing its name with the Japanese port from which it was transported: Imari, Saga.

The symptoms

The vases have large cracks running from the base, nearly ¾ of the way up the sides. The cracks weaken the structure and cause the significant instability. Along the edges of the cracks and round the base of the vases are missing areas of decoration and glazing. As the vases are no longer in one piece, they are not safe to display in this condition. While the cracks remain, these vases continue to be at risk of breaking apart.

 

The suspects

Although the symptoms of deterioration could be clearly identified, their cause remained a complete mystery. The conservation team could treat the symptoms. We could fill the large cracks and repair the glazing but without discovering the cause of the damage and finding a suspect, we would be taking a big risk. Further deterioration could occur in the future and the vases become irrevocably damaged.

Early Teaching and Learning

on Tuesday, 19 May 2015. Posted in Schools

Some surprising facts emerged when I compiled a forthcoming talk at the History Centre on early education in Wiltshire. Although most Saxons were illiterate the most educated of all Saxon kings, Alfred (who had many Wiltshire associations), translated Latin books into English and from the latter years of his reign vernacular education for both laymen and clergy greatly increased. Teaching was in English until the Norman Conquest after which only Latin was used until at least 1300. During this time Oxford became a great educational centre in Western Europe but in 1238 there was a migration of students from Oxford to Salisbury and Northampton; Salisbury was an active centre of the liberal arts and theology well into the 14th century and De Vaux College (1262 – 1542) was a university college without a university.

Most educated men were trilingual – in Latin, French and English – but learning was only for the favoured few. Boys started school aged 7 and went to university at 14; children were regarded as imperfect adults and from the age of 7 were treated as adults at work, play, and by the law – as late as 1708 a 7 year old was hanged in King’s Lynn and they could also be married. Nunneries educated their own novices and many also boarded and educated other children, including small boys, in the search for additional income. For some centuries rural education was in the hands of the parish clerk while the priest had occasional gatherings of children in the church porch for religious instruction, while from 1529 boys were to be taught the alphabet, reading, singing or grammar. ABC schools had lay teachers and taught reading and spelling from a horn book or primer to girls as well as boys.

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