Finding out about a missing past: Adoption

on Tuesday, 06 August 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

As an archivist I am well used to helping people trace their family back into the past. The further back the better satisfied people usually are! I shall never forget the customer who told me they had been able to trace their ancestry back to the Stone Age. They believed that their surname sounded like the kind of noise a prehistoric person would make when banging two rocks together (No, I’m not making this up – I only wish I were!) The mind boggles at how they would go about tracing a family tree for a time when no records exist, but never mind…


However, what I get asked to do on occasion, less frequently, is to help someone come forward in time rather than going backwards. This type of research is what you might call a ‘missing person enquiry’. This type of enquiry is quite challenging and potentially sensitive. If you are trying to find information about a missing person you might like to look at: http://www.look4them.org.uk/ This website is a collaboration between various official organisations who are experienced in helping find missing persons. However as this is a very broad topic, I’ve decided to focus on one type of enquiry in particular, namely research into the childhood of children who were formerly in a children’s home or fostered. This is because recently I’ve been helping a couple of people find out more about their childhood, and it has made me appreciate how important our archives can be. They really can be life-changing! People can find missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle put into place – things which happened when they were very young, and not fully aware of what was happening, start to become clear in adulthood after consulting the records. This can help bring peace of mind after years of confusion. Obviously not all the answers people find will be comforting – there are many instances of painful facts, such as evidence of childhood habits such as bed-wetting, which people need to be prepared for. But overall some may feel the benefits of knowing more about their past can outweigh the difficulties.

Arts and Archives

on Tuesday, 30 July 2013. Posted in Art

The National Archives has recognised the unique nature of the work that has been happening at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre to engage artists and develop new creative ways of working. On the 30th of September the History Centre will host Artists in the Archives, a regional conference to draw together best practice from across the south west and provide an opportunity for artists to learn more about what opportunities there are to explore the creative potential of archives.

History on the ground in Atworth

on Thursday, 18 July 2013. Posted in Wiltshire Places

Last March I wrote about planning an interpretive day course for the village of Atworth and made it an excuse to talk about Great Chalfield Manor and the Tropenell family, as Chalfield is now in Atworth civil parish. We held the day course last month, and very successful it was too. Course members, mainly Atworth villagers, spent an enthralling morning looking at books, maps and documents in the History Centre to discover the development of the village of Atworth over several centuries. It was a little complicated as there were three manors, the sites of which were fairly confidently identified, and the village itself was often referred to as being in three parts.

There’s a tithe barn, contemporary with that at Bradford on Avon, though only half its length; both were built by Shaftesbury Abbey, whose manor house or grange would have been here. Near the church is a triangular area, formerly a rectangle, which is called the market place. Folk memory and some evidence for penning indicated that sheep were sold here and it was thought likely that sheep fairs were held here as no market charter seems to have been granted.

The Suffragist Pilgrimage: Their March, Our Rights

on Friday, 12 July 2013. Posted in Events

1913 was a significant year in the campaign for women’s suffrage and is widely remembered for the increasingly militant acts of the suffragettes and in particular the death of Emily Wilding Davison at the Epsom Derby. However, a less well known protest also marks its centenary, the nationwide march of suffrage pilgrims from all parts of the country converging in London in July 1913. Thousands of women marched through towns across England spreading their message of women’s right to vote in a peaceful and law abiding way. In some towns they met a warm response with parades, teas and flowers in others their voices were drowned out and they were threatened with violence and had to be protected by the police. As the march which began at Land’s End on 19th June arrived in Wiltshire this mixed response to the pilgrims was evident. The march took six weeks.

Learn more about Wiltshire's past and people online

on Friday, 05 July 2013. Posted in Museums

Market Lavington Museum is one of Wiltshire’s smallest museums, situated just off St Mary’s churchyard and based at the former Old Schoolmasters House which was built in 1846. The museum collection covers all aspects of village life - Market Lavington industries included brick and basket making as well as market gardening, brewing and agriculture. The large village has always been thriving and has had its own professional photographers since 1880 who recorded everyday events and people.


Rog Frost, Curator of the museum, is one of the most prolific bloggers I’ve come across, and his almost daily blogs cover the varieties of objects that the museum holds, from photographs to books, medical instruments to sheep bells, costume to military badges.
This is a fantastic way of letting people gain an insight into the individual objects that a museum holds, often ordinary but with a tale to be told and part of the identity of an ever changing community.

Here are some examples of Rog’s blogs...

The Civil War in Chippenham

on Friday, 05 July 2013. Posted in Military

A re-enactment of events is being staged in Monkton Park on the first weekend in July. With this in mind, I have delved into the Local Studies Library to arm you with further information regarding exactly what occurred in Chippenham during the Civil War period.

Tony MacLachlan has written an excellent account in his book ‘The Civil War in Wiltshire’, which is well worth looking at, and is the basis for the information provided here.

I will give a run down of the events for Chippenham as they occurred:

Sir Edward Bayntun and Sir Edward Hungerford sided with Parliament…

Beginning of 1643
The war had not touched Chippenham as yet…

20th March, 1643
The Parliamentarian Sir William Waller heard that a small number of Royalist forces were attacking Rowden House, the home of Sir Edward Hungerford. He intercepted them at Sherston. At the same time, the small Royalist army camped out in Chippenham was driven out.

8th July, 1643
Royalists headed towards Chippenham as ‘fugitives’, pushing east through Wraxall and Guideahall. Outside Chippenham, scouts reported that Waller’s cavalry were threatening their rear from Pickwick. The Royalist commanders halted the Cornish regiments and sent messengers to Waller, ‘offering to contest the issue afresh’ between Biddestone and Chippenham. Waller declined and each force spent the night within talking distance of each other! Cannon could be heard in the countryside surrounding the town.

9th July, 1643 (early hours)
Detachments of Parliamentary Cavalry raced through Chippenham. There were dog fights between the cavalry and infantry of both sides. A ‘ferocious’ cavalry charge took place near the northern edge of Pewsham Forest. A withdrawal was made southward towards Bromham.

17th July, 1643
Having been defeated at Roundway Down a few days before, a large number of Roundheads took refuge in Chippenham, ‘cruelly killing a townsman, William Isles, who unwisely crossed their path’…

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