Here at the History Centre, we’re no stranger to Morris Dancers. We’ve had dancers on the staff, while each May Bank Holiday Chippenham hosts its popular Folk Festival. It’s great fun watching the street theatrics, but there was once a darker side to Morris Dancing that led to the following stories being recorded by the Wiltshire Magistrates (and now appear in Records of Wiltshire).
What happened at Woodborough in May 1652 caused official concern, but how was it that Morris Dancing threatened the pillars of the state?
Capers against the Commonwealth On the evening of Sunday, May 16th 1652, Edward Smyth and Edward Hawking left their homes in Woodborough and went to All Cannings, where they met and conspired with about a dozen people. That same Sunday, Robert Golfe went from Woodborough into Marlborough “to get a drummer”, while Thomas Beasant went to Ram Alley in Easton and “there invited and procured a fiddler”.
The following day, their plans were revealed when a crowd gathered from the surrounding countryside; according to the records, “three hundred persons, or thereabouts … gathered together in a Riotous, Routous, Warlike and very disorderly manner’.” If anyone thought about stopping them, they were armed “with muskets, pistols, bills, swords drawn and other unlawful weapons”.
The musicians led the crowd from Woodborough to Pewsey where they “very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”, and committed other misdemeanours, including “drinking and tippling in the inn and Alehouse”. While the prevalence of weapons may, happily, be less, it’s reassuring to see that the drinking still continues in and around Morris circles to this day (and sometimes, people still disapprove).
Public nuisance, party, or Sedition? In 1652, England was a republic, following the execution of Charles I. The Commonwealth kept a close eye on signs of dissent, looking for evidence of Royalist insurgency: traditional sports and pastimes were suspect. Ales, Morris and other customs had been the target of religious reformers since before the Civil War. The opposition from these authorities meant that Morris and other customs now symbolised the old order prior to the Civil War, when license and liberty were, supposedly, more freely allowed; as such, Morris dancing and the open drinking of ale was as much an open challenge to the authorities as the bearing of arms. Although the weapons offered a challenge to the authorities, the Morris spoke of tradition, culture, custom and a perceived stability before the upheavals of the 1640s. The new rulers of England were right to view the emotional power of such demonstrations with suspicion.
While the Morris at Pewsey may not be as famous as folksinger Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in Cold War America, or Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed during the 1973 coup, the Wiltshire boys used their folk art and their rootedness in the traditions of their place to show dissent toward the Authorities. Were the ringleaders seeking to incite rebellion, or just standing up for traditional fun? No doubt motives were mixed and shifting, including a mass of local and national grievances, as well as people being there for the fun, the beer and the free entertainment. What also seems remarkably modern was the casting of The Commonwealth as an alien, faceless Authority that stopped fun and meddled in the lives of “ordinary folk” (“Bonkers Conkers” anyone?).
However, as our next story shows, the dancers in Pewsey were evoking an idealised past in an “imagined village” …1
The unfortunate sudden death of widow , Ruth Pierce of Potterne, in Devizes Market Place on 26th January 1753.
This is the original inquisition document as carried out by John Clare, coroner in Devizes on 26th January 1753. It details the circumstances leading to Ruth Pierces’ death and his conclusion to the cause.
‘..a Great Quarrel arose between four women in the Market place in the Bourrough of Devizes. Aforsaid whose names was Elizabeth Slade, Sarah Slade, Mary Parker and the aforesaid Ruth Pierce who joined together and bought one sack of wheat of one ffarmer Nathanial Alexander of the price of seventeen shillings......
After the collection of the money by one of the women gathered, it was noted that Ruth Pierce had not handed over her share of the payment which was four shillings. She was openly accused of withholding the money and the following account of what happened was documented in the inquisition, Ruth Pierce then;
‘called upon the Almighty for witness and wished she might drop down dead that minute if she had not paid it the Rash wish was repeated a second time and immediately from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God was struck down upon the lane and as no marks of Violence appeared upon View of the Body the aforesaid jurors do propose that the aforesaid Ruth Peirce died asforsaid and not otherwise...’
‘Taken at the Burrough of Devizes on Fryday the 26th day of January Upon View of the Body of Ruth Peirce late of potterne Verdict from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God in a Great Quarrell was struck dead with a lye in her mouth’
Museum and archive collections are, in their very nature, eclectic. They often have roots in one person’s fascination with the past and they develop and grow much like a tree putting out roots. They are often dependent on donations, and collecting policies within museums are developed to provide some structure to this form of collecting, making sure that very valuable storage space is used to advantage and the best are represented. It is not that often that choices can be made by museum and archive staff about what to purchase, what gaps to fill and who to represent.
The Heritage Lottery Funded Creative Wiltshire project has aimed to facilitate just that. With a carefully prepared bid back in 2014 we were successful in achieving funding to add to some of our Wiltshire collections and with careful consideration we have purchased items that aim to fill gaps, often representing a new creator with a strong Wiltshire connection. We are now reaching the end of this project and our final exhibition at Salisbury Museum will show off some of our recent purchases.
This project is not just about the purchases, it is also about offering training and development to volunteers and staff associated with museums within the county, as well as education workshops, a tool kit for teachers and other events in the wider community. The exhibition at Salisbury Museum has provided a perfect opportunity to put an ‘Exhibitions Assistant Trainee’ in place, to plan, oversee and install the final exhibition with the support of the Salisbury Museum Director, Adrian Green and his team. Thank you to Emily Smith, our successful applicant, who has been able to gain great ‘hands on’ experience of all aspects of exhibition work within a museum context. We gave her a tough brief; expecting planning, curation, exhibition design, mounting of work, co-ordinating staff, borrowing and transferring of objects required from around the county and she has had a busy four months putting this in place. We thank you for your enthusiasm and we are thrilled with the results. The exhibition at Salisbury Museum has now been extended to 29th September 2019; why not pop in and see what you think? You will find work by Rex and Laurence Whistler, Howard Phipps, Nancy Nicholson, Nick Andrew, Jonathan Wylder and Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn, amongst others.
During the course of the project other exhibitions have been held at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and Chippenham Museum and both have focused on recent acquisitions to their collections. Sophie Cummings of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery says the project has exceeded her expectations and allowed them to purchase pieces by Ken White, previously un-represented in their collection, as well as fine art by Joe Tilson, Harold Dearden, David Bent and Janet Boulton and ceramics by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, Patricia Volk and Sasha Wardell.
The current exhibitions at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery are well worth a visit.
An Art of the People – Ramsbury & Cricklade Potteries features work by Ivan and Kay Martin of Cricklade, and Peter Holdsworth of Ramsbury.
Out of the Box: An exhibition of paintings by David Bent
An exhibition of work by David Bent which includes geometric landscapes, intricate photographic collages and paintings as well as his aviation art and “Movement 2000” series. Stunning and inspiring work by this Swindon based artist.
Henry Goddard, a pluralist clergyman, was imprisoned in the debtors’ prison of King’s Bench in 1817 (he was admitted 7 March).
At the time he was rector of Castle Eaton (from 1797), vicar of Longbridge Deverill with Monkton Deverill (from 1805) and curate of Maiden Bradley (from 1797), livings which he held until his death in 1829. His petition to the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors is filed in the diocesan archives together with the various sequestration bonds and writs, which allowed for the income of the benefices to be diverted in for the benefit of the creditors of the incumbent.
The document provides a detailed record of his parlous financial position. The schedule of debts, amounted to almost £8000 (including £4000 due to rev Christopher Rigby Collins, Salisbury, for an annuity granted in 1811 who had sequestered Goddard’s livings in 1816 for arrears). In the list of 79 creditors are members of the local gentry, as well as Collins, who had loaned him money. These included JD Ashley (recte Astley) of Bury cottage, Warminster (£150), the executrix of William Hinton of Bishopstrow (£230), and Richard Long MP, Rood Ashton (£20). The vast majority of creditors were tradesmen for goods and services supplied. The latter are mainly from Warminster and its vicinity and illustrate the range of trades in this town (William King coach maker, William Cox cabinet maker, William Manley perfumer and toyman (seller of toys, fancy goods), Sampson Payne Glassman, a fruiterer, pastry cook, druggist, surgeon, hairdresser, tailor, pork dealer, milliner, seedsman, wine merchant and stationer). Several of these appear in the 1830 trade Directory of the town which gives addresses. Beyond the town the trail of debt reached millers, maltsters and innkeepers, as well as John Dwall (Doel), Horningsham, butcher, and Thomas Morsfield, Longbridge D, blacksmith, John Tucker Brixton Deverill, carpenter and John Heall, Hill Deverill, miler. It also reached to Bath and London and even touched Mr Sims, landlord of The Old Down Inn, outside Wells in Somerset. A former servant also appears: Ann Churchill, now at Capt Jennings at Chitterne, owed £10 for wages to 1816.
Evidence of his son’s education can also be gleaned through debts to: rev Rowlandson, Warminster in 1815 (£30 owed); rev John Cutler, Free Grammar SEast Woodhaychool Sherborne to Midsummer 1817 (£25), and then to Winchester College in 1817 (£6.18s). Tragically the boy, Henry William, whose was baptised in 1807, died, aged 13, and was buried at Winchester college in 1818 (both events recorded in the Longbridge Deverill parish registers).
Loans of money dated as far back as 1802; goods and services as back as far as 1812, which indicate the potential difficulties of cash flow that small independent traders faced.
Spring is in the air in February according to ‘Season on Seasons’…
This is the 1750 edition of the Speculum Anni, Almanack by Henry Season, physician and astronomer, of Bromham in the collection of the Gleed family of Ashton Keynes
Henry Season was baptised on January 23rd 1692/3 son of Henry Season and Sarah (previously Lad) who married on 29 March 1692.
His baptism is a nice example of the confusion that can arise where a baptism appears to have taken place before the marriage of the parents. No illicit behaviour took place however! Before the calendar change of 1752 the year officially began on Lady Day (March 25th) and so we record the dates of years previous to this as January 23 1692/3 (i.e. 1692 in the old style dating and what we could class as 1693).
He was buried on November 13th in 1775 recorded as Henry Season MD.
A monument to him in St Nicholas Church written by the Rev John Rolte reads:
Henry Season, M.D. Who Dyed Nov. the 10th 1775 Aged 82 years. Tis not the Timb, in Marble polished high, The scuptur’d Urn, or glittering Trophies nigh, The Classic Learning tells what English blush’d to own, Can shroud the guilty from the Eye of God, Incline his Balance, or avert his Rod; That hand can raise the Cripple and the Poor Spread on the Way, or gathered at the Door, And blast the Villain, though to altars fled, Who robs us living, and insults us dead.
Incidentally the west window is another memorial of note to the poet Thomas Moore (died 1852) who lies buried in the churchyard, commemorated by a Celtic cross.
Late last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to look at Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel. Now lying empty, this was the first of two Baptist chapels to be established in Westbury Leigh, an ancient village now within the town boundaries of Westbury. As there was no Anglican church until 1880, the Baptist church was the established church in the village, having a strong nonconformist tradition encouraged by the Baptist stronghold in Southwick.
Stephen Self, a clothier, allowed the use of a barn, called ‘Self’s Barn’ near his dwelling house in Leigh as a meeting place for Baptists after 1693. According to William Doel in his book, ‘Twenty Golden Candlesticks!' they continued to worship until 1714, when Mr Self converted the barn into a chapel, fitting it up with seats, galleries & c. This barn stood on part of the site of the present chapel, the freehold of which belonged to Granville Wheeler Esq.
By 1796 the congregation had so increased as to make it necessary to build a new Chapel. A meeting was held and a resolution passed to undertake the work, which was carried out at a total cost of £1,361. The new chapel was able to accommodate five hundred people, which gives an idea of the many devout souls in Westbury Leigh alone, not counting those in the main town of Westbury!