The main background task of an archivist, when not assisting researchers in person or by email, involves the sorting and cataloguing of archives in order that they are made accessible and available. In a well established service such as Wiltshire and Swindon’s, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, much of this consists of additions to existing collections, usually of more recent material, reflecting our commitment to the continuing process of preserving the past for the future. In this way our service is very much an organic one.
However, new sources do present themselves, and bring with them the excitement of serendipity. One such case is the archives of a Marlborough solicitors’ firm, that we collected in 1983 and which I have been working on over the last couple of years. Far from reflecting tardiness or inactivity on our part, it should be understood that archives have been collected in vast quantities often without much warning, to the extent that they occupy eight miles of shelving, and a cataloguing backlog is unavoidable. Furthermore this collection presented particular challenges in terms of its size and level of disorder that led to it slipping down the priority list.
When colleagues came to collect the material they were directed to a house stuffed full of papers and books, to the extent that just entering the building presented something of a challenge. However, they were gathered up, the volumes shelved and the documents decanted into 350 boxes our old Record Office in Trowbridge: the first aim of our service, preservation, having been achieved.
My first task was to produce a rough list of the contents of each box and then sort them accordingly. The volumes all were the firms’ own records and consist of ledgers, registers of deeds and letter books. The boxes contain the archives of former clients, ranging from landed families like the Pophams of Littlecote, covering its extensive estates and several manors, to an individual whose only business was the administration of their personal estate at the ends of his or her life. Each in its way fascinating and informative, providing insight into the lives of our predecessors. Having identified the records of the major clients in about 120 boxes, I faced the remaining boxes with some trepidation. However, while it sat unassumingly on our shelves the technological revolution had brought new tools, in the shape of computers and software, which enabled this mass of material to be sorted far more easily and efficiently than the traditional methods of pencil and paper, and to become available far more speedily than ever before.
Preshute Parochial School was founded in 1845 in the Main Street of the village of Manton near Marlborough. It was a small building comprising of one main school room and outside privies.
The school was built to provide all children within the sprawling parish, basic elementary education. This included youngsters from the outlying areas at Preshute Down (way up by the Ridgeway), Rockley and Clatford. Some pupils were as young as four and the trek into school would have been an epic one.
The school at Preshute was governed by a group of school managers. The members of the committee were made up of local gentry, landowners and businessmen. They held meetings to discuss everything from the school building, funds, staff and general day to day running of the establishment. It was this group of managers that decided to appoint a very capable new head teacher in December 1881.
Miss Emma Louisa Thorp accepted the post of head mistress after 59 written applications had been received. The post had been advertised in the ‘Schoolmasters’ publication and Miss Thorp’s application had already caught the eye of the Managers, despite the high volume of other potentials.
She preceded the previous mistress who had been dismissed along with two others before her. Miss Thorp agreed to a wage of £30 a year and a partly furnished house, despite her predecessors being paid £50 annually and having a fully furnished school house. She only agreed to become mistress on the proviso that she be given a pay increase at the end of the year and that her sister, Miss Florence Thorp, be given a position at the school as an assistant teacher. Her wage was to 2/ per week.
These conditions were agreed and the two sisters began very long and interesting careers at Preshute School.