It was 50 years ago . . . .
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.
Many groups and societies met in the library; I became a member of the West Wiltshire Industrial Archaeologists (I still am) and spent much of the 70s involved in industrial history. Although Melksham had a history society, with the brashness of youth, I decided that more research should be encouraged and formed a local history research group with members interested in a variety of subjects on which they eventually published monographs and journal articles. I also started giving talks and guided walks on local history although looking back I’m amazed at my confidence when I actually knew so little!
I was fortunate in that the first County Archivist, Maurice Rathbone, lived in the town and was a regular library user, and that I later got to know the second County Archivist, Ken Rogers very well. I started a collection of old postcards of Wiltshire – it’s now part of the Historic Photograph Collection at the History Centre – so perhaps my feet were firmly set on the local history which has led to the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.
It was good to return to a place where my interest in local history had started, although archaeological interest had been much earlier, and also to meet old friends. Two colleagues, Carol Cockerell and Jennifer Harding, from those days were there as were some readers. Fortunately I remembered readers’ names as one of the problems with having worked in several towns in Wiltshire is that library users remember you from long ago but you can rarely recall their names!
County Local Studies Librarian