Wiltshire at War: Community Stories is a five year Heritage Lottery Funded project, aiming to discover, explore and share stories about Wiltshire’s response to the First World War. Since 2014 we’ve travelled the county collecting stories of the amazing men and women who were affected in some way by the war a hundred years ago, such as ‘Fiesty Aunty Olive and the Women’s RAF’, ‘Young Freddy Butler – from the farm to the Royal Flying Corps’ and the ‘Soldiers and Sailors Free and Easy Club’.
While we’ve written about the project before, it’s worth taking another look as we’ve just launched the fascinating fourth exhibition – ‘Keeping the Home Fires Burning’. This explores how the war affected everyday life in Wiltshire, including the new roles taken on by women, rationing, daylight saving and the refugees who fled to England from Belgium.
The new exhibition was launched on Friday 3rd March at Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury. A large crowd gathered for the event and following the official opening of the exhibition, musician and singer Louise Jordan took to the stage. Louise spent a year researching and writing songs about the remarkable women involved in World War One, who are often overlooked in conventional histories.
The title of Louise’s show ‘No Petticoats Here’ is inspired by Sir Arthur Sloggett’s words to Dr Elsie Inglis. Elsie graduated from the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1892 and started working with the poor in Edinburgh. Through this work she became aware of the needs of greater rights for women and was an active suffragette. When war broke out, Elsie offered her medical knowledge and expertise, coming up with the idea of treating wounded soldiers from mobile hospital units, run entirely by women. When she presented the idea she was told by Sir Arthur:
‘My good lady, go home and sit still. We don’t want any petticoats here’.
Not to be discouraged, she set about raising the funds to set up hospitals and field units across Europe, staffed by over 1000 women, often in dangerous situations. A truly inspirational woman whose contribution deserves to be remembered.
Louise weaved beautiful melodies through the fascinating tales of these women, with plenty of audience participation along the way! We learnt about many incredible women including engineer Hertha Ayrton who amongst other achievements invented a fan to clear poison gas from the trenches, Louise de Bettignes a French spy employed by the British army and Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, keen motorcyclists who joined Dr Munro’s Flying Ambulance Corps on the front line.
Also celebrated was one brave woman who is already familiar to Wiltshire at War – Dorothy Lawrence. In 1915 Dorothy was a teenager living in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, with ambitions of becoming a war correspondent for the newspapers. Determined to report on the fighting in Europe she set out from England by bicycle, heading for the Somme. With a uniform borrowed from soldiers she met along the way she posed as Sapper Denis Smith, spending 10 nights on the frontline before giving herself up.
I recently finished cataloguing the archive of the Godolphin School, a girls’ only boarding and day school in Salisbury. I took the project on with glee, because I have been very interested in school archives for years and it was wonderful to get the chance to work on the archive. The archive came to the History Centre at two different times. The first accession of material was listed many years ago, but the much more recent second accession had not, although much of it had been indexed. It was my job to take the first accession, 2954, and the second accession, 4265, and amalgamate them into one new collection, 4312.
My first job was to do my own rough box lists of all the material from the different accessions so that I properly understood the material that we had from the school. This also allowed me to check that the 2954 listing was correct and there were no mistakes. Sometimes I think it’s lovely to have a blank canvas with archive collections and it’s great to have no work done on an archive before, so that you come to it with a fresh mind, but for Godolphin it was certainly useful for me to use the previous listings, although I tried to do my own description of the documents before referring to the lists.
Once I had got an idea of what we held, it was time to try and virtually amalgamate the two accessions. I drew up my proposed structure and put each document or bundle of documents from the two accessions into an Excel spreadsheet, which over time probably found itself multicoloured in every shade Excel allowed me to use. Once I had finished, thankfully every number and description was either a satisfying shade of green, to show they’d been put on the system and numbered, or an equally satisfying red to show they were being returned to the school. These returns were all duplicate items. It was then time to put the structure onto our database and begin the more detailed descriptions, which was a lot of fun as I began to know and understand the school history, location, structure and quirks. I loved the school before I even began the project, but I love it more afterwards.
Records for the school date back to 1709, in a letter from Sidney Godolphin, who died in 1712. The school itself was founded by the will of Elizabeth Godolphin, who had married Sidney’s brother Charles. Between them the couple founded many charities, including the school “for the better education and maintenance of eight young gentlewomen to be brought up at Sarum or some other town in the County of Wilts under the care and direction of some wise and prudent Governess or Schoolmistress”. Elizabeth made her will in 1726, but the school did not open until 1784 in the Cathedral Close. Now, the school’s site is in Milford Hill and teaches well over 400 children. The copy made of Elizabeth’s will is the second oldest document in the archive – although the copy itself is much more modern than the will. The most recent documents are from 2014, so the archive really does span the whole history of the school. The most common ones are from the turn of the 20th century: the school itself still holds most of the more modern records.
The most extensive part of the collection (in terms of number of records) is the five boxes we have of photographs, and it was these that I started cataloguing first. The hope was that having the visual impression of the school would help when I was cataloguing other material, and I think it worked. The part I loved most was looking at the turn of the century photographs, which include whole school photographs, staff, house and form photographs, and lovely images of sports. The earliest photograph in the Godolphin collection is one of Miss Polhill, who was headmistress from 1854-1857.
I was very lucky to be able to attend the British Records Association’s annual conference held at Swedenborg House on 26th November this year. The theme was sports in archives, the title “In a League of Their Own” and there was a variety of topics covered by the speakers throughout the day.
We started the morning with a very interesting talk from Eleanor Hoare, the archivist at Eton College, who gave us the history of sports at Eton from the first mention of recreational activities in the 15th century (only 10 years after the foundation of the school) to the present day. It was fascinating to find out the trends in sport at a high profile public school, what has remained popular throughout the centuries and what an importance sport still has at Eton. It is always lovely to hear about schools’ own little traditions in the physical activity world, Eton’s cases being the two very different forms of football (including “Wall Football” where a goal has not been scored since 1909!). It was also interesting to discover how little time boys were given for recreational activities, until the 18th century. Following Eleanor’s talk, we moved to Magdalen College Oxford and the boat club, hearing a history of the club from the senior treasurer, Mark Blandford-Baker, and also learning about how useful it has been for him having the extensive archives of the club held at the Magdalen College archives. He raised the point that in these times it is often more difficult to capture the sort of information that we did before the days of computers and internet access. The old records (paper records and books) of the boat club will increasingly be replaced by digital newsletters and records, which are not necessarily treated with the same respect as the old minute books and race reports.
There was then a talk from Karen Davies, archivist at the Bedford Physical Education and Levick Boyd archives at the University of Bedfordshire. It focused on the Bedford Physical Training College, which started in the early 20th century teaching women how to be physical education instructors using a Swedish method which was very prescriptive and strict. As with the previous talks, the history of the college was told through the various archives including photographs and written material. It was lovely to be able to get a glimpse of women learning this type of work which until relatively recently was very much a female profession. It was especially interesting for me as I am cataloguing the archives of the Godolphin School in Salisbury at the moment, and many of the photographs showed women training to be teachers from a similar time to the Godolphin’s mass of photographs of sports, showing the high regard they had for their games mistresses. I wonder of any of them ended up at Godolphin!
Education records in Wiltshire and Swindon Archives
At this time of year, I can’t help but think of all the children doing exams at school and college, and who are now awaiting results. I thought it might be timely to write about the range of school records held in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives that shed light on how our ancestors coped with the demands of education. I was also amused to read on an external website that Elvis Presley managed only to get a ‘C’ for music in his exams – it just goes to show that formal education is not the be all and end all!
What I’ll do is run through the main types of educational establishments which have existed in Wiltshire down the centuries, and discuss what records may be found for them, and how they may be used. A quick caveat before I begin - survival of education records is patchy, unfortunately. Also, it is worth remembering they may still be kept by the establishment itself rather than a county record office.
The Blitz, rationing, evacuees, home guard, women’s land army are all such familiar parts of the story of the Second World War. The home front is well documented, the setting for popular television programmes, taught in primary schools and part of our collective narrative for the Second World War, but most people know very little about the home front during the First World War. Prompted by this year’s centenary and the production of a resource pack for schools, volunteers and staff have been looking into the archives for documents about the Great War. At the request of teachers, we looked into the role of children in the war researching the school log books to find out how the war affected their lives.