On a recent History Centre village interpretation day course Claire Skinner and Mike Marshman led a party around the village of Box. Besides the Roman villa site, medieval church and many 17th and 18th century buildings they noted, near the bottom of Quarry Hill, an industrial site. In the first half of the 19th century there was a tallow chandler that made candles here. When Brunel’s Box Tunnel was being excavated and built for the Great Western Railway line between London and Bristol the Vezey family at the factory were providing one ton of candles every week for 2½ years to lighten the darkness for the workmen underground. The factory continued to make candles and soap until 1930.
Nowadays the factory sign reads, ‘J. Price (Bath) Ltd’, with no indication as to what is made. From the 1930s the business became Box Rubber Mills until the 1950s and were retreading the motor car tyres that some of us remember from our early car driving days. One of the other products of this family firm was tennis balls and they are now the only manufacturer of these in Europe; you can get them in various colours and with your name printed on them if you wish. Also made is a wide range of other products including squash balls, skittles balls, handballs and Eton fives balls, besides rubber parts for trailers, equipment for the navy, and rubber mouldings for industry.
Every year the History Centre hosts work experience students from Year 10 to Higher Education. Alex, a year 10 student from Malmesbury School describes what he got up to during his week:
Recently I have had work experience at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. On my first day I got shown around the strongrooms which they have lots of original documents, records and certificate etc. I actually saw King Henry VIII’s marriage deed with Jane Seymour. After that I saw Archives Conservation and got told how they restore letters, papers and maps, I also saw a small piece of Napoleon’s hair, and a really nice photo album. I also had a look at a newspaper by Swindon Advertiser in 1918 and 1919 which was really interesting to look at all the different stories they had at that moment in time.
On the second day for the morning I was copying and pasting wills onto a disc for a researcher. Then I got an original document from the strongroom and I had to find the names and occupations of people, where they lived and the year, but it was sometimes really hard to find some people because the writing was really hard to read and some documents did not give names. After lunch I went into the object conservation lab and saw a sole from a roman shoe in the wet room with a freeze dryer, also I went into an x-ray room. After that I saw a very old ceramic pot that had been damaged by a badger when it was digging, the people in the lab were trying to put it back together. After that I did community history and I had an introduction to the Wiltshire Community History website and was able to look at all the different parishes that they have written information about.
This year we are celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, that bane of school children everywhere or one of the world’s greatest poets and playwrights, depending on your viewpoint! As an English graduate who greatly enjoyed studying King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth I am firmly in the latter camp, but as a mother of a teenager forced to wrestle with Romeo and Juliet, (a situation wittily portrayed by Ben Elton in his new BBC sitcom ‘Upstart Crow’ last week) I can certainly also understand the former.
Shakespeare is one of those creative geniuses about whom we know very little outside of their work. What we do know of his life, as is common for most individuals from the Tudor era, comes from archives – the written evidence of our ancestors’ lives. One example is the parish register recording his baptism at Stratford upon Avon on 26th April 1564; another his notorious will, proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in April 1616, leaving his ‘second-best bed’ to his widow, Anne Hathaway, and most of his estate to his daughter. Shakespeare is, of course, most closely associated with Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and with London, the capital where he and his company of players performed so much of his work.
So how is Shakespeare associated with Wiltshire?
The main connection comes through Wilton in the south-east of our county. William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, of Wilton House, is famously cited as the ‘Mr W.H.’ to whom Shakespeare dedicated many of his sonnets. The first folio of his works published posthumously in 1623 is dedicated to both William and his brother, Philip, the fourth Earl. Patronage of the arts was important to both Herbert and his wife, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney (himself a famous poet who wrote ‘Arcadia’ while staying at Wilton in 1580.) In the first folio the 3rd Earl is thanked for his ‘many favours’ to Shakespeare and his company; in other words, considerable financial support.
Dr Siobhan Keenan of De Montfort University states that one of Shakespeare’s plays was performed at Wilton House on 2 December 1603, when the plague shut down theatres in London, and caused Shakespeare’s company of players, the King’s Men, to go on tour. It is not known for certain which play was performed, but historians have long suggested As You Like It. The play was performed in front of the newly crowned King James I, as well as the 3rd Earl, and it is believed the play’s ‘juxtaposition of bawdy wit and more serious reflections on what makes for a good ruler’ might have appealed to the King. It is also very likely that Shakespeare himself performed as one of the actors that night, which is an exciting thought. If only one had a time machine to be able to see that performance!
In the archaeology service most new archaeological discoveries tend to be through our advice on planning applications. If a proposed development has the potential to impact heritage assets and in particular those with archaeological interest (as referred to in the National Planning Policy Framework), then we advise planning officers that a programme of archaeological investigation needs to be carried out in order to determine the significance of heritage assets affected by the proposals. Since I joined the archaeology service in August 2012 there have been some really exciting discoveries through development management, an overwhelming amount dating to the Romano British period. To name some of the top sites over the last few years that date to this period, we've had a Roman villa in Devizes, a roadside settlement near Beanacre, a high status farmstead outside Chippenham, two farmsteads on the outskirts of Trowbridge...the list goes on. In fact I have been surprised at just the amount of activity going on during this period in our county. Maybe it's not surprising considering we have some major Roman roads running through (see map below) including the main routes from London to Bath; from Silchester to Dorchester (Port Way); from Lincoln to Exeter (Fosse Way) and from Winchester to Charterhouse (Mendips). The two towns of Cunetio (Mildenhall) and Sorviodunum (Salisbury) lay at important junctions of the strategic road network and other towns of Durocornovium (Wanborough) and Verlucio (Calne) are also known to lie along the road network.
Many of you no doubt have read recently in the newspapers or heard on the radio that there has been a major new Roman discovery in the Deverills. We got a call from Luke Irwin who explained that whilst constructing an electricity cable to one of his outbuildings his workmen stumbled upon some kind of tiled floor surface and the tiles appeared to be quite small and colourful. He ordered the workmen to stop digging and that is when he contacted us. Of course my initial reaction was that of incredible excitement tempered by the realism, "what are the chances", people often tend to over exaggerate the significance of archaeological discoveries in their gardens. Despite my cynicism I quickly arranged to visit the site the following day with the County Archaeologist, Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger. Upon our arrival Luke explained that one of his workmen was interested in archaeology so had meticulously cleaned the floor. When we peered down the cable trench both our mouths must have dropped open and I think we both said at the same time "I don't believe it, you have got a Roman mosaic!!!” There was no arguing with the clearly distinctive Roman mosaic pattern, a common geometric border pattern known as guilloche.
The Lacock archive is as full of references to cats as there are currently cats living in and around the abbey. Although these are mostly photographs, there are also text references to cats. The earliest reference I’ve found is from the 19th century. Charles Henry Talbot, who owned Lacock from 1877, kept most of the letters written to him (although sadly didn’t make copies of the ones he sent) and from there we can find several interesting references to his home life and relationships with his family and friends – and animals! We know from correspondence that Charles had at least two cats in the last part of the 19th century, called Stripy and Bunny. It appears that he was very fond of them. Matilda Talbot, who inherited Lacock from her uncle Charles, was equally fond of them and many photographs of cats have appeared from amongst her papers.
In a letter to his uncle of 1893, William Gilchrist-Clark advises Charles regarding the mange that his pet is suffering from: “On my way from Brighton I heard of your cat’s illness. I said to Auntie Monie [Rosamond Talbot] that I thought it must be mange, and she asks me by letter this morning to write to you about it. I thought the cat was not in a healthy state when I saw it in Jan – the hair was too matted and it didn’t look right. The regular vet is laid up, but I am sure the best thing you could do would be to have the matted hair cut off as much as possible and the skin dressed with sulphur and hair oil – the cat would be in an unpleasant state for a bit and would hardly do for the house – but if it was kept in a stable for a bit it would soon feel right again – you could get the dressing from any local vet, and at the same time find out if it was the best thing to use – I always use it for dogs myself.” Personally, I think the first thing I’d do is visit the vet, and find out if it was suitable before I even considered buying the dressing. But it is interesting to see how people dealt with animals’ illnesses. Charles must have been very worried about his cat, and William likewise as he wrote to him so quickly. Let’s hope the strange concoction for the cat’s skin worked, and 1893’s “Grumpy Cat” (I would be if I was kept in a stable and dressed with sulphur) got over his mange and his health improved!
A letter from Rosamond Talbot to Charles of 1898 suggests that Charles has had to find a new home for one of his cats due to it possibly hunting his chickens, and she is helping: “We think that a good home has offered for poor old Bunny, in Somersetshire – people who want a grown up tame cat, so I must see about it when I get home. I cannot think that she has been interfering with the chickens again, now that they are grown so much older – besides she has been so constantly and carefully kept indoors during the middle of the day when the chickens are free, but still it is best to be on the safe side, if we can, for the future. Do you think the fox has put in an appearance again?” The phrase “poor old Bunny” is very apt here. It appears that the poor cat was rehomed as a scapegoat for the fox, although we cannot rule out the possibility of Bunny being a natural hunter and deciding that actually, grown-up chickens were also quite appealing. It is not known if Bunny was eventually rehomed. Maybe Charles decided to just be a bit more careful about where she was kept in relation to the chickens.
You may remember the image of a group of ceramic sherds from one of our previous blog posts. Following reconstruction of the vessel we now have true understanding of the magnificence of the objects found. Watch a time-lapse video showing elements of the reconstruction of the vessel.
Conservation treatment involved a task like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. The size, shape and colours of the sherds were used to determine their original location within the urn. Due to the uneven firing of the vessel and areas of burning caused by hot ashes being placed inside the vessel some areas were easier to piece together than others.
When the collared urn was originally manufactured ceramic technology was in its infancy with the kilns used never reaching the temperature required to permanently set the clay in position. During the time the vessel was in the ground, moisture from the surrounding earth also weakened the under-fired structure. This effect, on top of the unconventional excavation method, has meant that the overall shape of the vessel has become distorted.
Before reconstruction the edges of each fragment were strengthened by allowing a weak adhesive to be drawn into the rough surface to hold the loose and sometimes crumbling structure together. The adhesive is well used in conservation and has been developed and tested to ensure that it is long-term stable meaning it will not degrade causing damage to the original fragments of the vessel.
A stronger concentration of the same adhesive was used to adhere the fragments in position, small strips weak masking tape were used to hold the fragments in position as they dried. As the vessel was so large the reconstruction had to be undertaken in stages to ensure each level of fragments were securely in position and ready to support those placed on top.