It was 50 years ago . . . .

on Tuesday, 30 September 2014. Posted in Wiltshire Places

That Wiltshire opened its first purpose built library in the town of Melksham. And it was 43 years ago last month that a young Michael Marshman took over as the third town librarian. It was pretty much state of the art at that time – wooden shelves, dark wood block floor, lots of divisions and underfloor heating. When I returned to give the 50th birthday talk I found it transformed into a bright, friendly, and welcoming modern library.

Before launching into my local history talk I reflected on library life in the early 70s. Just like today there were lots of children’s activities – with the help of Children and Schools Librarian, Valerie Fea, I ran a twice weekly Puffin Club for about 70 children with lots of literary activities, competitions and games. We had top children’s authors such as Leon Garfield and Philippa Pearce visiting filling the then exhibition room with an attentive audience.

When Wiltshire beat the West Indies at Cricket!

on Tuesday, 23 September 2014. Posted in Sport

Yes, you did read the title correctly. For all you keen cricket lovers who have been following the ups and downs of the England cricket team, Alistair Cook’s batting form, Jimmy Anderson’s swing bowling and the furore over Kevin Pietersen’s omission from the team; well here at last is some cheering news. Unfortunately we do have to travel back to … 1900.

The First Match

Cricket in Wiltshire actually dates back to the mid eighteenth century. Now we like to think we are a pioneering lot in Wiltshire and one of the earliest matches involved 11 married women versus 11 single women at Upham near Aldbourne in 1768. Other early matches include the tradesmen of Marlborough playing their counterparts from Devizes in 1774 on Beckhampton Down and several matches near Stonehenge. Around 50 years later a Stonehenge Club had been formed and their ground was much admired (now we know what the stone circle was really used for!). For fans of ‘sledging’ (for the uninitiated that means trying to put your opponent off through pointed and sometimes humorous verbal interaction) in 1783 a Westbury cricket team were reprimanded for ‘conduct unworthy of true players’ in their match against Devizes.

An Intriguing Bill... 18th Century Remedies in Lacock's Box 47

on Tuesday, 16 September 2014. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

Lacock Unlocked

Cataloguing box 47 is a slow process, it is packed with lots of ‘bundles’, mostly folded and rolled receipts and invoices for the second half of the eighteenth century, intricately put together in years. They are like abstract pieces of origami which when unfolded cannot be put back together in quite the same way. But this is not the real reason for taking so long to work through the documents; I am easily diverted. On the face of it bills are rather boring, but here are people going about their business on the estate, making trips to purchase goods and undertaking repairs to buildings, the Malthouse and Red Lion seem to appear quite regularly. Local history, family history, economic history, even costume history can be discovered here. Trips to Bath conjure up images of Jane Austen, while wages being paid three years late leave you pondering how people managed to feed themselves and their families. The distractions are plentiful.

But back to the title, some of the most intriguing bills found were those for medicines. For a week in September 1740 Thomas Honey was paid for a variety of herbal medicines, along with the ‘vomit’ was ‘cordial mixture’ and ‘a decoction of ye bark a quart’. I have not found any other references to Thomas so far, but he seems well named. Doctor, apothecary, quack, how to describe someone who supplied these remedies; he charged for ‘bleeding’ so a barber perhaps, or even a grocer? Apothecaries were originally part of the grocers’ trade. In January 1745 it was a Mr Ringston and William Busby who were supplying John Talbot with similar items, a ‘cooling emulsion a quart’ and ‘the opening electuary’ and then nothing until August when ‘rhubarb tinctures’ and ‘mercurial pills’ were supplied.

Avebury’s other Avenue: A New Panel for Beckhampton

on Tuesday, 09 September 2014. Posted in Archaeology

You may have seen the dig underway beside the West Kennet Avenue if you visited the Avebury half of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site this summer. The excavation was part of the on-going Between the Monuments project led by Southampton and Leicester Universities in partnership with the National Trust.  For the second year running archaeologists returned to look for clues about how people might have been using the landscape in this area before the monument with its impressive pairs of standing stones was constructed.

Researching the Home Front of the First World War in Wiltshire

on Tuesday, 02 September 2014. Posted in Archives, Events, Military

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the First World War the first thing which comes into my mind is barbed wire and mud – and all the associated horrors of trench warfare. This is probably the result of reading the War Poets at school, and watching the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ at an impressionable age! As I have got older I’ve read more widely about the War and learned how it impacted on civilian life, as well as on the front line troops. I have been amazed by the scope of that impact, and by the way in which aspects of life on the Home Front (which I had previously assumed were introduced in the Second World War) such as rationing and evacuation, actually had their roots in the First World War. One blog cannot do justice to this topic so I’m just going to touch on a few aspects of the War’s impact on Wiltshire. We hope to uncover more stories of life on the Home Front through the Wiltshire at War: Community Stories project in collaboration with Wiltshire’s museums http://www.wshc.eu/blog/item/wiltshire-at-war-community-stories.html

A Tribute to theTin Tabernacle

on Tuesday, 26 August 2014. Posted in Architecture, Traditions and Folklore

I came across a beautiful example of a tin tabernacle whilst exploring the area of Braydon recently, and I began wondering about the history of these most temporary of religious structures. Here’s what I discovered!

Britain saw a ‘revival’ of preaching in the 19th century through to the outbreak of WWI, with mass meetings attended by huge audiences. By the late 1850s churches were becoming overcrowded and the search was on for new buildings to use as places of worship. Non-conformists were not bound by the Anglican parish system and found it much easier to expand with new builds or altering existing buildings. Smith (2004) in his book Tin Tabernacles states that over 100,000 people were converted during this time, 80% of whom were non-conformist.

Welcome, the tin tabernacle!

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