Wiltshire Buildings Record held its 40th AGM in Bratton on the 22nd June. The weather was beautiful and a miraculous interlude in a succession of grey, stuffy days that had come before. After the business meeting Mike Manson of the Bratton History Association gave us a Powerpoint presentation on the origins and development of Bratton, which was apparently once three separate settlements. The wealth of fine houses hidden down picturesque lanes were derived from the woollen industry in the 17th and 18th centuries. West Wiltshire was dominated by a small group of entrepreneurs who controlled the woollen industry as landholders, buyers and employers. The most prominent family in Bratton and Westbury was the Whitakers; wool merchants whose impressive home was the Courthouse in Court Lane, dating from the medieval period and onwards. Iron replaced wool in the 19th century, as Dennis Gardner, another BHA member explained in a separate presentation. Reeves ironworks produced agricultural machinery and was the largest employer in Bratton until the early 20th century. We went out, fuelled by much cake and tea, down a positive rabbit-warren of unexpected leafy lanes, guided by Mike. Owners of houses were moved to come out and investigate at the sight of a large bunch of strangers all staring steadily in their direction. All were friendly though, and a mine of information. Much of the timber-framing we saw appeared to be 17th century, or 17th century improvements of earlier buildings which in at least two cases included a chute at the front, possibly to load fleeces directly into a wool loft at the top of a house (as found in a WBR recording of Court Lane farmhouse a few years back). There was much speculation over this, with the conclusion that many villages had their own peculiarity in building which was influenced by the prevailing economic activity, in Bratton’s case, its woollen industry in the 17th century and possibly later. As usual though, more research is needed to prove this link.
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record
Some of the later buildings we investigated in Kingston Deverill may well have replaced the earlier timber-framed houses that were on the same site. Stone started to be used for vernacular, that is traditional, building from around 1550, possibly because decent timber that was usually preferred was getting scarce, and the local greensand rubble was plentiful. Humphrey’s Orchard seems to have started as a rubblestone farmhouse dating from the late 16th or early 17th century. The slightly peculiar name comes from a former owner. It had a heated hall, or living room/kitchen at the west end, and an unheated parlour for storage to the east. In C1700 the house was further extended to the west, doubling its size and providing further service rooms. When the rear range was added the whole house was ‘gentrified’ – a term meaning that the humble farmhouse was updated with some smart new architectural features inside.
This roughly square feature, with further squares on the corners, was first seen in the geophysical results when this housing site was first considered for development. At that point, no-one was quite sure what it was. Although a Civil War date was considered, it was also possible that this feature was associated with the WW2 features that surrounded it.
We had a look at it in the trenched evaluation, but didn’t get much more information, and so an excavation was required as part of the planning permission. This took place in 2015 and the initial post-excavation works are well under way. The excavation demonstrated that the structure was indeed large and square with square ‘turrets’ on the corner. Its outline was made up of a ditch cut into the chalk.
There were also the remains of a small building with flint footings, which can be seen in the photo above in the centre of the group of archaeologists.
My previous blog looked at herbal lore with reference to wise women putting Wiltshire’s natural resources to good use. Even so, there was always the possibility, especially during the 17th century when even educated people believed in the dark arts, that they could be accused of witchcraft, and so I thought it would be timely to delve into Wiltshire’s past yet again; this time in hunt of witches.
Europe had fallen under the spell of what R. S. Holland calls ’witch mania’ in the 17th century, partly as a consequence of the reoccurrence of bubonic plague and also due to the rise of religious zeal in the Renaissance period. Men and women could be accused for many reasons: jealousy and spite, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being the victim to money or property grabbing friends or relatives, or trying to help a patient who unfortunately died of their illness when little was known about the true causes of disease.
Wiltshire’s Churchwarden’s Presentments offer a glimpse into the psyche of local communities at this time, although cases of suspected witchcraft had been presented as early as 1565 (D5/28/1) if not before. Those accused in the 17th and early 18th centuries included Margaret Pilton, 1613; ‘Goodwife’ Barlowe, 1630; William Starr, 1652; Joan Baker, Elizabeth Beeman, Anne Bodenham, Joan Price, 1653; Elizabeth Loudon, Christina Weekes, 1654; Margaret Gyngell, 1655; ‘Widow Orchard’, 1658; Jane Mereweather, 1655; Elizabeth Peacock and Jane Townsend, 1670; Elizabeth Mills, Ann Tilling, the appropriately named Judith Witchell, 1672; Elizabeth Peacock, Ann Tilling and Judith Witchell, 1685 (for the second time); M Parle, 1687; Christiana Dunne and Margaret Young, 1689; Ruth Young, 1698; Joanna Tanner, 1702.
The case of Widow ‘Goody’ Orchard of Malmesbury is described in R.S. Holland’s book ‘Legends & Folklore’, of which ‘extraordinary tales’ were told. Goody was fond of begging for scraps from door to door but had a reputation for threatening those who would not be charitable. Widow Goody came upon one such girl and was seen to pace out a circle around the cottage where the girl was residing. She sat in the middle of the circle and appeared to ‘mumble an incantation’. The procedure was repeated twice over. Not long after the girl’s hands seized up and Goody was detained. She maintained that bad water must have caused the disablement, and unfortunately offered to cure the girl by bathing her fingers whilst casting another spell! She was found guilty and hanged at Salisbury after the girl was cured.
Jane Townsend of Latton was accused of using a ’poppet’ (an English version of a voodoo doll) to cause harm to others, but another notorious case was that of Anne Bodenham who was accused of conjuring spirits. The original statement in the case was quoted in a book by Nicholas Crouch, published in 1688 and entitled ‘Kingdom of Darkness’.
Elder is the witch’s ‘particular tree’ and they were said to have lived in the tree at times and there was a superstition that the tree could bleed if it was cut down. Apologies would be made if cutting was attempted.‘Old gal, old gal, gi Oi yer wood, an’ when Oi be a tree, Oi’ll gi’ yer mine.’ You must never, ever fall asleep under an elder bush for fear of putting yourself under the power of a witch. Hawthorn was also a special tree to a witch but St. John’s wort was a great protector against witches, and pious people would often hang pieces of the herb over doorways on St. John’s Eve to keep witches away. The plant was also renowned for preserving you against tempest, thunderstorm and evil spirits in general. Called the ‘Rose of Sharon’ in Wiltshire, it was the ‘pleasant golden flower’ of the garden.
Cats are most well known as a witch’s accessory, but hares are also particularly noted in association with witches; did you know they too were also called ‘pusses’? (I didn’t!). Lyddie Shears from Winterslow was lucky to have been alive in the 19th century instead of the 17th, and was never tried for witchcraft, but she was reputed to have the ability to turn herself into a hare. This was supposedly discovered to be true when a local farmer shot a hare near Lyddie’s house with a silver bullet (said to destroy witches). Low and behold, Lyddie was discovered dead in her house with a silver bullet in her heart. Ravens were also said to be a witch’s favourite.
Some of the country’s towns and cities are renowned for their waters; Bath Spa, Cheltenham Spa and Leamington Spa to name but a few, but you may be surprised to know that Wiltshire had its own fair share of mineral springs and wells. Thirty one places in the county had water which contained minerals thought to contain curative properties: Biddestone, Box, Braydon, Broughton Gifford, Chippenham, Christian Malford, Clyffe Pypard, Cricklade, Crudwell, Dauntsey, Draycot Cerne, Heywood, Highworth, Holt, Kington St. Michael, East Knoyle (Upton), Limpley Stoke, Luckington, Lydiard Tregoze, Melksham, Poulshot, Purton Stoke, Rodbourne Cheyney, Rowde, Seend, Sheldon, Somerford (probably Great Somerford), Swindon, Trowbridge, West Ashton and Wootton Basset – wow, what a list! The vast majority of these sites are found at the junction of two or more geological formations.
The craze for spas first appeared in the late 17th to mid 18th century, with a revival towards the end of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century. In Wiltshire only four sites could be considered fashionable enough to be called spas; Holt, Box, Melksham and Purton. I shall be taking a look at Melksham Spa which became established around 1813. The water was discovered to have medicinal properties after a bore had been sunk in c. 1770 by individuals looking to find coal. Its properties were examined by Dr Gibbes of Bath and were described as ‘chalybeate’. Melksham Spa had hot and cold private baths specially created for those who wished to take the water. Advertisements claimed the waters could cure many ailments with the top cures being for skin diseases, running sores, and scrofulous ailments. In 1815 another bore was dug to search for an additional saline source, a valued medicinal property of spa water. The contents were also found to contain lime and magnesia.
Finding the cause of deterioration in a pair of Imari vases. A serial conservation mystery, episode 1
In the conservation lab we have two very large and impressive-looking vases. The vases from Wilton House, Salisbury have come to the conservation lab to be repaired as they are both structurally unstable. The conservation team turned detective in order to discover what was causing the instability. In the first episode of our conservation blog, you’ll find out how the conservators uncovered the symptoms and solved the case.
The vases are late 17th Century examples of the popular Japanese style ‘Imari’ identified from the distinctive decoration of cobalt blue under-glaze and gold and red over-glaze.This style of Japanese porcelain was produced as export for the Western market, indicated by the style sharing its name with the Japanese port from which it was transported: Imari, Saga.
The vases have large cracks running from the base, nearly ¾ of the way up the sides. The cracks weaken the structure and cause the significant instability. Along the edges of the cracks and round the base of the vases are missing areas of decoration and glazing. As the vases are no longer in one piece, they are not safe to display in this condition. While the cracks remain, these vases continue to be at risk of breaking apart.
Although the symptoms of deterioration could be clearly identified, their cause remained a complete mystery. The conservation team could treat the symptoms. We could fill the large cracks and repair the glazing but without discovering the cause of the damage and finding a suspect, we would be taking a big risk. Further deterioration could occur in the future and the vases become irrevocably damaged.