A mystery building in Redlynch

on Friday, 01 September 2017. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

Redlynch is a very interesting example of a former forested area that has only been populated to any great extent over the last two centuries. The earlier buildings are in local brick, including this interesting example in Slab Lane, next to The Old Thatched Cottage, now known as The Hollies, a remodelled house of the 17th century. The subject of the study, an early-19th century brick and stone outbuilding, is approximately 5 metres to the east of The Hollies.

The outbuilding is of two bays and set at right-angles to The Hollies. It is constructed of local rubblestone and flint dressed with local brick. It is unusual in that the north-west elevation facing The Hollies is entirely fenestrated with 6 large windows, indicating a need for light on both ground and first floor. At this time Redlynch had smithies and a foundry while broom making was a traditional local trade that continued until the Second World War. It is possible that the outbuilding was used in such a way, but with many of these small ancillary buildings we just can’t tell exactly. I suspect that the uses changed over time according to the needs of the person who lived there. A wide original double doorway suggests workshop use.

Mapping of 1822 shows that an outbuilding existed on the present site which belonged then, as now, to the Mitchell family. The later tithe mapping of 1840 is unfortunately torn at that point, but does not show an outbuilding existing on the present footprint. The first real evidence of the outbuilding is shown on the 1901 edition of the Ordnance Survey.

Conservation: How to... Identify and Handle a Moth Problem

on Tuesday, 29 August 2017. Posted in Conservation

Why do infestations occur?

Various species of moth will eat materials around the home, such as wool, silk, fur and feathers including furnishings, carpets, clothes and natural history items.

Moth larvae hatch from eggs and eat any organic material around them to increase in strength and size. Once large enough they will form a cocoon and metamorphose into the adult moths. As an adult, a moth may stay put if there is enough food and potential mates – worsening an existing infestation. Alternatively they will fly to find a new location (typically during the warmer summer months) possibly starting a new infestation.

Moths like dark, undisturbed places to breed and eat; they are often to be found in wardrobes, drawers, cupboards and lofts. They can also prefer warm, damp environments.

How do you know if you have a moth problem… what are the tell-tale signs?

It is most likely that you will identify an infestation by the damage that has been caused rather than by seeing the pests themselves. It is therefore important to recognise the signs.

With most pests finding holes in items where the pests have been feeding are the most obvious clue. Frass - the name for insect poo and which looks like clumps of small grains – will often be found near the holes in an item or on the surface beneath where it is stored.

Additionally with moth infestations cocoons and webbing (silk woven over the area the lava is feeding) are sometimes left behind. The cocoons may be hard to see as they are often made from the material of the item which is infested.

Moths will often feed in the creases, folds and seams of clothing and curtains, preferring to hide away from light, remember to check items thoroughly!

How do you fix a moth problem?

Heritage Open Days – exploring hidden heritage at Chippenham Museum and beyond!

on Tuesday, 22 August 2017. Posted in Museums

One of the main motivators for me wanting to work in museums was to satisfy my curiosity. What’s beyond that rope or behind that locked door? How are the collections looked after when they aren’t on display? What’s going on going on behind the scenes? Basically I’m just really nosy!

Taking a peek behind the scenes at Chippenham Museum

One of the best bits of my job is getting to visit museums across Wiltshire and find out about all the exciting developments that are going on.

Last week I managed to get a peek behind one of those locked doors at Chippenham Museum where they are creating a new exhibition space to hold a programme of changing temporary exhibitions. The project is funded by the Arts Council England through the South West Museum Development Programme and work is being carried out to upgrade the space to meet national security standards. Once this has been completed they will have a fabulous, flexible space that will be able to hold bigger and better exhibitions. Crucially it will enable the Museum to borrow objects from the Nationals, such as the British Museum and the V&A, for the first time, meaning that important collections that tell the story of town can be brought back to Chippenham.

Before – the galleries contained objects relating to the Victorian history of Chippenham. Many of these items have been re-displayed in other parts of the Museum, while those that are a little more delicate will be ‘rested’ to protect them from light and ensure their preservation for the future.

During – the old displays have been removed, revealing features of the original 18th century town house.

The new gallery’s inaugural exhibition ‘Creative Chippenham’ will open on 20th November 2017 and continue into March 2018. This will be a ‘celebration of local creativity’, showcasing the talents of artists and craftspeople that have lived in and around Chippenham, including Howards Hodgkin and Robin Tanner. Many of items have been acquired for the Museum by the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Creative Wiltshire’ project.

Plans for 2018 also include an exploration of Chippenham’s Georgian history, with a ‘Little Bath’ exhibition featuring loans from other museums.

Some of the exciting objects that will be shown in the new space’s first exhibition later in the year, purchased as part of the Creative Wiltshire project.

Chippenham Museum will be offering the opportunity to see behind the scenes to everyone.  On Saturday 9th September, staff there are giving free tours around parts of the building that are not normally open to the public – this includes the collection stores to find out how the collections are cared for and to see items not normally on display. More information and booking can be found here.

My year in archives

on Saturday, 12 August 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre

As my Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Skills for the Future: Transforming Archives’ traineeship draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on all the new, unique and exciting experiences I’ve encountered over the past 10 months, which have made this time so memorable. My personal focus has been on learning and acquiring valuable skills to carry forward into a future career – and in this sense the traineeship has more than served its purpose. The fact that I’ve been able to undertake the journey surrounded by such kind, interesting and supportive people has been a bonus!

I still clearly remember the day I started at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Completely new to the world of archives and heritage, I was briefed by the previous trainee, Jess, who provided me with tables, spreadsheets, logs and lists that she had kindly prepared to help me manage my day to day activities. (Jess is very good at this sort of thing). Despite nodding calmly in response to her, my internal state was one of sheer anxiety – ‘There’s so much to cram in!’. In hindsight, the year has been nothing but smooth, engaging and fun… there was really nothing for me to have worried about.

If you’ve read my previous posts about coming to the traineeship and some of the interesting insights I’ve had along the way, you’ll get a sense of all I was up to in those early days. In truth, the time hasn’t become any less busy! From attending a training week at the National Archives of Scotland to visiting the City of London Police Museum, with pit-stops at various digitisation conferences, fundraising training days, and of course, the (world-famous) Museum and Heritage show at Kensington’s Olympia.

Closer to home, I’ve continued my training in traditional archive skills, looking at the typical  content and uses of education records, parish registers, manorial documents, wills and testaments, local government records, and even lunatic asylum records. Whilst learning about the latter with archivist Margaret Moles, I decided to conduct a small project, researching a name which had come up in a separate oral history interview I’d conducted. My interviewee had shared the story of his great aunt, who had suffered mental health issues in the 1920’s and was hospitalized at Roundway Mental Hospital, Devizes. Using what I’d learned, I traced the patient’s actual medical records from the time – with permission - and read about her day to day experiences at the hospital. I was able to learn about the nature of her condition, what her doctors had to say, and even glean some information about her relatives at that time. From there I sourced a book in our local studies library called ‘Down Pan’s Lane’, written by Philip Frank Steele, a historian fascinated by Roundway Hospital. This enabled me to get a sense of what life was like for patients at the time – from their food and sleep routines to gardening activities, and even the programme of entertainment laid on by medical staff! It was absolutely fascinating, and proved a valuable resource for putting this one lady’s personal story into a wider historical context.

Over the course of the year I have also had the privilege of contributing to several Heritage Lottery funded projects: Lacock Unlocked: Community Archive, Wiltshire at War: Community Stories, and Creative Wiltshire: Collecting Cultures. The latter two are ongoing and have attracted huge publicity – even drawing interest from BBC Radio Wiltshire. (Watch this space!).

Time travel with the archives

on Friday, 11 August 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Schools

Working at the History Centre a little bit like being a Timelord… with access to the archives you can be transported through time and space.

The strong-rooms are our very own Tardis (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) since despite their relatively small footprint they contain around eight miles of archives.

Over the last two months I have been joined in my “travels” by GCSE and A-level students who have been on work experience at the History Centre.

The first port of call for the youngsters as they ventured into the strong-rooms was 12th century Messina in Sicily. One of the earliest documents in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive is a letter (with Great Seal attached) from Richard I – Richard the Lionheart – confirming a gift of land to Stanley Abbey (WSA 473/34PC).

It is dated 3rd April 1191 and was sent by Richard from Sicily just days before he set sail with a fleet of ships to the Holy Land. (He had set out in 1190 to join the Third Crusade.) The letter came at a busy time for Richard who was not only on crusade but was about to be married to Berengaria of Navarre who had made her own epic journey across Europe with Richard’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine to be with her future husband.

The students’ introduction to the archives continued with a jump to the Tudor period via a grant of arms, followed by a brief stop in restoration England and a splendid portrait of Charles II on an illuminated document.

With each new group of students I set myself and the students the challenge of searching our collections for documents relevant to their particular GCSE and A-level courses. The two world wars, the Cold War, and the Tudors are well travelled historical paths but what of 19th century China and Japan or American history?

At A-level, students at the end of Year 12 are making decisions about coursework so a placement at the History Centre was an ideal opportunity to begin their research. We had students who were looking at the American civil rights movement, antisemitism in England during the 19th and 20th centuries, the opium wars in 19th century China and western influence on 19th century Japan and the demise of the Samurai tradition.

In our pursuit of the American civil rights movement we took a detour into the history of the fledgling United States of America. The archive has a number of collections that, through letters and other documents, connect Wiltshire with the English colonies in the Americas, the war of independence and the American civil war and trade with the USA.

We were all rather excited to be handling two particular documents signed by James Madison and John Quincy Adams who served as the 4th and 6th presidents of the USA. Both documents (WSA 1498/4) were passports for Thomas Shorthouse who became an American citizen in 1797. The Shorthouse family lived at Little Clarendon, Dinton and the passports, letters from Philadelphia and citizenship document for Thomas Shorthouse are part of the family papers (WSA 1498/1-6).

Passport signed by James Madison 1805
Thomas Shorthouse citizenship papers 1797

The citizenship document was drawn up in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and instructs Thomas to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whatever and particularly the allegiance to the King of Great Britain to whom he was heretofore a subject.”

The passports show that Thomas maintained his connections with his family in Britain. The first was signed by James Madison, as Secretary of State, in Washington on 27th September, 1805. Madison, one of the founding fathers of the USA, became President in 1809 and later became known as the ‘father of the constitution’.

In 1815, Thomas Shorthouse received a second passport, this time signed by John Quincy Adams who was then the United States Envoy in London. Adams went on to be the 6th President in 1825.

Passport for Thomas Shorthouse signed by John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams signature

We could have spent all our time in North America reading letters and documents about rebellion in the colonies, American Independence, the civil war and abolition of slavery, but other countries beckoned.

Our search for documents relating to the Opium Wars yielded instant and fascinating results in the Public and State papers of Sidney Herbert (1810-1861), Baron Herbert of Lea, who from 1841 to 1860 was successively Secretary to the Admiralty, Secretary of War and then Secretary of State for War.

The opium wars in China documents from the state papers of Sidney Herbert

His papers are part of Wilton House and Estate archive and are a fascinating insight into 19th century British political and military history. The journey into this immense collection was brief but rewarding as we discovered a wonderful document that summarised the issues surrounding the opium trade (“Neglect of Government to take steps as to opium trade”, WSA 2057/F8/I/G/1), and several letters and despatches describing the taking of the Peiho Forts – a joint British and French military action in China in the 1860s (WSA 20157/F8/V/B/192ee).

From China in the 19th century we ventured into the 20th century and a world at war.

Barbury Castle: Fine Views and Fortifications

on Monday, 31 July 2017. Posted in Archaeology, Wiltshire Places

Iron Age hillforts must be one of the most visited types of archaeological sites in the country.  Recently I have been up to Barbury Castle a couple of times and have been reminded how impressive and commanding this site is, not just because of its massive ramparts, but also its good state of preservation and all of the other archaeological features you can see from here.  It is one of the most impressive of the 35 hillforts we have in the Wiltshire and Swindon area, with panoramic views that take in the Marlborough Downs and the Vale of Pewsey.

Barbury Castle from north west. Aerial photo from 1991. Wiltshire Council

Barbury is located between Wroughton and Swindon and the County boundary, as well as parish boundaries, run through the middle of the hillfort.  The hillfort was built in the Iron Age, probably around 700 BC and is likely to have been continuously used until the Roman invasion in the mid 1st century AD.  It was one of a string of hillforts built close to the line of the Ridgeway, considered to be an ancient long distance routeway.  Three other hillforts, Liddington, Uffington and Martinsell are all intervisible with Barbury.  It is the most developed and most impressive of the Ridgeway hillforts, having double ramparts on the south side and triple on the north side (possibly an unfinished circuit).  In places the banks or ramparts stand over 3 metres in height even now and in the Iron Age would have been topped with wooden palisades and defensive towers.  Located at 262 metres above sea level Barbury was built on the highest point of the local area, a beneficial defensive position with commanding views of the landscapes below.

The ramparts at Barbury enclose an area of about 5 hectares and there were two original entrances that survive today at the east and west sides.  Unfortunately there has been little modern archaeological investigation to tell us details of the lives lived at Barbury.  However, the results of a geophysical survey carried out by English Heritage in 1998 indicate that the interior is littered with hundreds of pits (probably for grain storage) and other features, some of which are the remains of huts or roundhouses.

The interior of the hillfort as well as the ramparts have suffered some damage in the 1940s from the activities of American troops and the Home Guard who were based at the nearby Wroughton Airfield during the war and used Barbury as a training ground.  The original hillfort entrances were unfortunately widened by American troops in order to get their trucks into the interior.  Fortunately, we have a measured survey drawn in 1884 by General Augustus Pitt Rivers, the first ever Inspector of Ancient Monuments, to show how they would have been.

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