Voices of Lacock: Recording History
A fundamental part of the Lacock Community Archive project has been recording the memories of local residents through oral history interviews. Oral history is a fantastic method of discovering stories that have remained hidden or missed from traditional historical methods. These memories have ranged from hiding American soldiers from the Military Police in the basement of the Red Lion to Mrs Murray (local schoolteacher) who opened her front window curtains so the local children could watch their favourite television programmes. These vibrant and wonderful memories encapsulate a village community that is often overlooked by the vast number of tourists that flock to the Abbey.
Performing an oral history interview for the first time can be a daunting prospect but it is an extremely rewarding task that anybody can do. The recorder we use looks like an intimidating piece of equipment but in reality it only requires the use of a couple of buttons to begin a recording. You could even use your phone to record an interview! Even more intimidating can be the prospect of arriving at a stranger’s house and asking them questions about their life. However, all the interviewees have been extremely welcoming and eager to reminisce and share their memories. On many occasions it has been a bigger challenge to end the interview due to their willingness to talk.
I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful team of volunteers assisting me with this part of the project. In fact many of my volunteers have interviewed more residents than me. Due to this I thought it was more appropriate for my volunteers to share some of their experiences about the project.
“Looking back on the interviews I have undertaken, a couple of things really stand out for me and presumably they would also for the history record:
Three of the residents I interviewed had the most amazingly strong Wiltshire accents - well, you could probably hone that down to Lacock accents - as they had all lived within a couple of miles or so of Lacock village virtually all their lives - so to have these people recorded in their amazing accents is just brilliant and is a really important oral record to keep at the History Centre. This is an area of great interest to me, as generally our accents are becoming watered down and in some cases disappearing. I think of my husband’s strong Lacock/Chippenham accent, but one of my sons has no accent at all and the other son only has an accent on a couple of words (graaass, Baaath) – and this is the case with just about all the children they were with at Lacock primary school. We all know the reasons for this, but I think it’s quite sad.
The other stand-out point is interviewing Winston Churchill’s grandson – David McDowell - David’s father was the illegitimate son of Winston Churchill. He totally wrong- footed me at the beginning of the interview, when I asked him to confirm his name – he said “which name do you want, my legal name or biological name”! … and then went on to explain what he meant, quite a shock!
I found hearing about the number of shops in Lacock in their early lives amazing – it just goes to show how Lacock must have been fairly isolated to be able to support that number of shops – for example, more than one grocers, blacksmith, coal merchant, tailor, cobbler, sweet shop, baker, butchers, hurdle makers, haberdashery and watch-maker.
In terms of the experience, it was so interesting hearing about the village, their amazing memories, really funny stories and snippets of what village life was and is like. They were all absolute stars!”
“I have found the whole experience of conducting interviews for the oral history project really fascinating! Somewhat daunting initially, a little stilted at times, and very difficult not to join in the conversation especially if something is mentioned that triggers my own memories! I have been fortunate to interview several members of the same family and that has been very interesting listening to sometimes the same scenario described differently!
The interviews have always over run so more time than planned has been important. It has always taken longer than expected to set up the interview which I have found a little frustrating, at times!
Would I do it again? Yes I would! The project has been well set up and I have felt supported throughout.”
In co-ordination with the interviews David Sage and Bob Bray, from the Lacock Positive Photography Club, have been photographing residents who have participated in the project. These wonderful photographs offer a visual companion to the voices that have been recorded and a comparison to the village life of World War Two photographed by Harold White.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this project has been seeing the dramatic improvements the volunteers have made. From the first tentative and nervous questions to the now self-assured almost professional quality of the recordings that have been returned to me. I wish to thank all the volunteers and participants since without their assistance this project would not have been possible.