The Mysterious John Hillier

on Tuesday, 07 May 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

While working on the SEEME Wiltshire Black History Project I was checking through some leads to an early black presence in the county, when a couple of lines about the death of a black cook sent me on a journey through the archives to find out about him and his family. The Salisbury and Wiltshire Journal reported on 22nd January 1848:

The new arrivals that have it all plan'd out...

on Friday, 03 May 2013. Posted in Archives

We have recently received the first part of series of deeds from the Salisbury diocesan registrar which will be an important source for local historians. In the early 19th century, two enabling Acts of parliament permitted the exchange of land and property in order to improve the estates which supported parish clergy, known as glebe. Each incumbent was tenant for his term of office, without power to buy or sell. Now it was possible to rationalise scattered glebe lands and to acquire new parsonages or vicarage houses. The deeds have detailed maps, often the earliest for the land being exchanged. Highlights among the first batch include a deed of 1817 for Long Newnton (now in Gloucestershire) with a plan of the entire glebe, surveyed by John Hayward, Rowde in 1811.

But the star of the group is an 1826 deed of houses in St Mary Street Chippenham. The plan offers a detailed ground plan of both houses with less detailed one of the church. The then present vicarage house, on the east side of the churchyard was exchanged for one on the other side of the street opposite the church. It has the date stone GL 1717, which refers to Gilbert Lake, vicar from 1716. The new vicarage, now a care home, is called The Old Vicarage. The other property now called St Mary House, should perhaps be named ‘The Even Older Vicarage House’.

'An Election's A Fair'... Bribery & Corruption at Wiltshire's Parliamentary Elections

on Tuesday, 30 April 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

Bribery, corruption, intrigue, rotten boroughs and riots …oh dear, that will be Wiltshire’s parliamentary elections in eighteenth and nineteenth century! Present events always give us an opportunity to take the long-view and here at the History Centre we have a range of resources on the political history of the county and borough, from excellent accounts published in the Victoria County History for Wiltshire to election squibs, poll books and original documents.

Wiltshire’s early claim to political fame was the impressive size of its parliamentary representation. Until 1832 it elected two Knights of the Shire (representing the whole county), two MPs for Salisbury, and two burgesses for each of its 15 boroughs, a grand total of 34 seats. Only Cornwall had higher. This was especially impressive given that many of the boroughs were the size of a village, and few of their residents could vote.  The most notable, of course, was Old Sarum, which retuned two MPs and in 1768, it is claimed, had an electorate of, er…one, though usually could count on seven. Other small boroughs included Great Bedwyn, Cricklade, Downton, Heytesbury, Hindon, Ludgershall and Wootton Bassett. Yet other towns like Bradford on Avon, Corsham, Trowbridge, and Warminster could not send representatives to parliament.

The remaining boroughs electing two MP’s were Calne, Chippenham, Devizes, Marlborough, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Westbury and Wilton. But don’t think for one minute that the larger towns necessarily had a bigger electorate. Malmesbury weighed in with a total electorate of 13, and if this was not enough it was notable for being one of the most corrupt boroughs in England. Cricklade, on the other hand, through the Act of 1782, had its franchise extended to all freeholders in the surrounding area, numbering 1,200. This made bribery and corruption more difficult, but unfortunately fewer than fifty voters actually lived in the borough itself.

Corprolites can be beautiful...

on Thursday, 25 April 2013. Posted in Conservation

Back in 2010 one of our Conservators began work on the Buckland Fossil Table, housed at the Lyme Regis Museum. The table was owned by William Buckland one of the leading geologists of the 19th Century. Buckland was a highly regarded character who, whilst Professor of Geology at Oxford University, carried out pioneering work not only in the study of dinosaurs, but also the analysis of coprolites or fossilised faeces. The large inlay panel of the Buckland fossil table is set with coprolites which have been cut in half and polished to a high sheen. The table is highly unusual and an extremely popular exhibit at Lyme Regis Museum.

The table was stable, but fragile when it arrived at the History Centre. The table top was original, but the base of the table was a simple modern replacement. The veneer over much of the table top had lifted from the table surface, probably due to the age of the adhesive and fluctuations in the humidity of its display environment. In many areas the veneer had been lost completely.

On This Day...

on Thursday, 18 April 2013. Posted in Museums

One of my favourite aspects of working with the museums of Wiltshire is the fantastic variety of stories, events, people and places represented in the many thousands of items in their collections. Mostly these are used in a very structured way. You go to the museum to see an exhibition on a particular subject or the museum is contacted about the history of a specific village. The volunteers and staff at Wiltshire’s museums spend many hundreds of hours cataloguing the items in their collections so that they are able to know which items are relevant when they come to mount their exhibitions or answer enquires.

Why is a vegetarian looking at Bowyers meat sausages?

on Saturday, 13 April 2013. Posted in Archives

I am always pleased when several aspects of our activities come together at once.  Those of you who follow us on Twitter will have seen our tweet on a great landmark for our service that was the 100,000th record or set of records produced by our wonderful colleagues in the document production team since we opened in October 2007 (that represents over 59 million walking steps by the team to produce your records and put them back again!).

Actually, it was more than 100,000 as this figure was just for general archives, we count the production of parish registers and wills separately and so we can add a further 30,000 or more documents produced!  And the grateful recipient of the “100,000th” record was...er...ourselves. Let me explain.

 

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