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.
At the end of August 2016 Michael Marshman retired from his post as County Local Studies Librarian, marking an amazing 50 years working for Wiltshire Council.
Mike originally wanted to be an archaeologist but changed direction after visiting the county library whilst still at school in Trowbridge, his home town. He joined Wiltshire County Council on 1st August 1966 as an eighteen year old library assistant, at Trowbridge Library HQ, which at that time was in Prospect Place. In 1967 Mike was appointed a trainee librarian and undertook training at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He returned to Wiltshire to work and became Marlborough Mobile Librarian from 1970-1 followed by Melksham Town Librarian from 1971-1975. Mike has always prioritised working with the local community and while in Melksham he ran two Puffin Clubs for children, hosted or mounted monthly exhibitions and began giving talks on local history – something he has continued to this day! From 1975-1979 Mike became Town Librarian of Trowbridge, where he was one of the founders of Trowbridge Civic Society. Mike, a keen amateur photographer, carried out much important photography of Trowbridge. In 1979 the first of his eight books, Wiltshire Landscape, was published by Countryside Books. From 1979-1981 Mike became Trowbridge Area Librarian which expanded to include Warminster Area in 1981. From 1981-1988 Mike was Town Librarian of Warminster, setting up its new library, working with the local community and setting up, with Nicola Harris, Senior Assistant, a very successful programme of children’s activities. In Warminster Mike also began working with a certain Helen Taylor who will be well known to History Centre visitors! In 1988 Mike became Wiltshire County Local Studies Librarian, and immediately set to work promoting local history county-wide. He organised local history weeks including over 70 events in one year! He inaugurated ‘Wiltshire History Road Shows’ taking archivists and the Wiltshire Buildings Record staff out to communities. He established fiendish cryptic Wiltshire local history quizzes with sponsored prizes. Building on the work of his predecessor, John Chandler, he extended the Wiltshire Collection into the largest collection of published Wiltshire material in the world. Mike also established the Ephemera and Creative Wiltshire collections as sub-sets of the Wiltshire Collection. In 1998 Mike was one of only a hundred librarians nationwide to be awarded the Library Association Centenary Medal for ‘outstanding contribution to and achievement in library work’, presented by Princess Anne, no less, and in 2001 he won the national Dorothy McCulla Memorial Prize awarded by CILIP for his outstanding contribution to local studies work.
In our on-going investigations into the Deverill parishes south of Warminster for the Victoria County History we visited Hedge Cottage. This looks like just another charming little early 18th century rubblestone and thatched rural idyll, gable end to the road, with a rear service outshut under a catslide roof. Once inside, we had a pleasant surprise: the interior told a very different tale of a one-and-a-half storeyed timber framed house of the earlier 16th century. The 16th century structure is of four uneven bays, that is, widths between the structural cross-frames that divide it. It was entered through something called a cross-passage, a medieval plan where a passage with doors at each end divided the house in half. It was too narrow for stairs, which had no prominence at that time, and tended to be stuck into a recess between the chimney breast and outer wall. This design lingered on in some rural parts such as the Deverill Valley until the 16th century.
To the right of the passage is an originally unheated parlour with panelled ceiling of 13cm chamfered beams. The widest chamfers seem to occur in 16th century beams, and they get progressively narrower and less conspicuous down the centuries as the craft of timber-framing diminishes and is replaced by brick and stonework with plainer finishes. To the left is the living room/hall with a later fireplace set in a deep smoke bay, just like the one at Manor Farm up the road mentioned in an earlier blog.
Is this the old manor house of Longbridge Deverill?
During our investigations of houses in the Deverills for the on-going Victoria County History study we visited Longbridge Deverill House nursing home. This was described in the listed building description as an 18th century house rebuilt in the 19th century and given as a rectory by the Longleat Estate in around 1840. The house presents as a gabled, L-plan Tudor-style mansion in Flemish bond diaper brickwork attractively picked out in burnt headers. In addition it has typically 19th century fish-scale tiled roofs and impressive ornamental diagonally-set brick stacks.
It looks fairly complete and has the Thynne motto over the doorway ‘J’ai Bonne Cause’, ‘I have good cause’ encircled by the Order of the Garter. Nobody would have thought that hidden away in what is now the kitchen and service wing to the north was evidence of a high-status dwelling of at least early 16th century date. The photograph shows an early type of partition known as plank and muntin, once with an arched door head. In the hierarchical society of the 16th century, the lord of the manor would have sat on a chair or bench backing onto this screen, which is finely carpentered in oak. Other similar surviving examples have been found in Wiltshire including at the King and Queen Inn, Highworth dating to the late 15th century, and at Bolehyde Manor near Chippenham.
I hope you will forgive a touch of self-indulgence but this blog ties in with a theme of ‘#archiveselfie’ promoted by the national ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign, so I’ve taken the opportunity to describe three of my favourite archives held at Wiltshire and Swindon archives. It is very difficult to make such a selection – as any parent will appreciate, there is something very uncomfortable about the notion of choosing ‘favourites’ amongst your children! Nevertheless this is the result, which I must stress is a purely personal selection – why don’t you visit Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in the coming months, and see if you can compile your own list?
In no particular order then:
Photograph album of Mary Petre Bruce, record-breaker on land, sea and in the air, early-mid 20th cent, reference 1700/58.
Mildred Mary Bruce, nee Petre, is a personal heroine of mine – in the 1920s and 30s she was world-famous for breaking motor racing, speedboat and aviation records, including a solo round the world flight in 1930. She overcame personal setbacks, including being an unmarried mother in 1920 and a divorcee in 1941, to become a millionaire by the time she died in 1990.
Her links with Wiltshire centre on Bradford on Avon, where she had a home from 1950 to 1990, and Warminster, where she was at one time owner of a glove factory. I admire her confidence, courage and ‘go-getting’ spirit. If you want to learn more about Mary (also known as the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce) a good starting point is a 2012 biography of her by Nancy Wilson called ‘Queen of Speed’ but we are also privileged to hold her archives at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, in collection 1700. These are just a couple of the many photographs in that collection – I think Mary’s strength of spirit really shines out in them:
In the second part of my blog on the marvellous discoveries in the Deverills I explored what timber-framed buildings were like in the Deverill valley in the period between1500-1600, looking in particular at Timber Cottage, Crockerton. Timber Cottage was a very obviously timber-framed building, but during our investigations we found that there was much more timber-framing hiding inside later stone encasing. One of the more spectacular finds was Manor Farmhouse in Kingston Deverill, which I will discuss in my next blog.
The wonderful mixed-truss construction aisled barn belonging to Manor farm is well-known about and recently dated by dendrochronology funded by Wiltshire Buildings Record to 1407-10. It has a fairly unique layout of structural trusses inside where base crucks (the very curved supports) alternate with straight posts. Base crucks are an early form of construction anywhere in England, and not generally found in Wiltshire after about 1350.
This dating was an improvement on the ‘probably 16th century’ date attributed by the DoE list description. It also extended what was previously thought to be the end of base-cruck construction – a very early type in the general chronology of crucks - in Wiltshire by around 60 years.