The clocks have gone forward, days are getting longer, the sun (hopefully) shining brighter and the museums in Wiltshire that have been closed over the Winter are staring to open their doors to the public.
But don’t be fooled – these museums have not been hibernating, inactive over the last few months. Hard working volunteers have been busy behind the scenes doing all the work required to look after the collections and create new, vibrant and interesting exhibitions.
Enjoying the displays as a visitor it is can be easy to overlook all the time and effort that goes into producing them and keeping the museum ship shape. This includes a wide range of activities such as keeping the building tidy, making sure historic collections are well cared for, documenting and cataloguing objects to appropriate standards, researching local history, writing labels and telling stories, selecting the most suitable items for display and talking to members of the local community – to name just a few!
Bradford on Avon Museum recently re-opened following their mid-winter closure, which was spent cleaning, tidying and repainting. Work carried out in the gallery includes new interpretation and displays of the Museum’s collection including road and shop signs from the town. Visitors now also have the opportunity to view pieces of plaster from a Roman Bath Complex, excavated in Bradford-upon-Avon in 1976. Not all of the changes at the Museum are immediately visible however. In addition to what’s been happening front of house, work has also been carried out with the collections in storage to make the most of the available space.
There has also been a hive of activity in Aldbourne and I was very pleased to attend the opening of Aldbourne Heritage Centre in the village over the Easter weekend.
The Heritage Centre tells the story of the village of Aldbourne through stories, photographs and historic collections collected from local residents. A large crowd of people gathered outside the Centre to witness the proceedings.
On the day the ribbon was cut by archaeologist, broadcaster and Time Team regular, Phil Harding. He spoke to the assembled visitors about how important the Heritage Centre is to the village and how it can help the community remember its history and discover more about its roots.
Since I started at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in November 2015, the main project I have been working on has been Wiltshire at War: Community Stories. I would like to let you know what the project has achieved so far, what we would still like to do, and how you can get involved.
What is Wiltshire at War: Community Stories? Wiltshire at War: Community Stories aims to bring people together from across Wiltshire to discover, explore and share stories about Wiltshire’s response to the First World War. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
What has been achieved so far? During 2014, enthusiastic people from museums and heritage organisations were trained to carry out oral history interviews and community engagement sessions relating to gathering stories about the First World War. Throughout 2014 and 2015 (and now into 2016) research has been carried out by museums, history societies, and individuals from all over Wiltshire who have donated the stories to the Wiltshire at War project. In January 2015 the Wiltshire at War website went live. Do visit the website and explore this growing archive of stories.
The Call to Arms, the first of the five exhibitions, launched in February 2015 and is currently on display in the Springfield Campus Library, Corsham, until 3 March 2016. The theme focuses on the soldiers called up to fight, and the preparations for war in Wiltshire. The second exhibition, Wiltshire Does Its Bit, launched in September 2015, and is currently on display at Chippenham Museum, until 27 February 2016. The theme focuses on the contributions of ordinary people to the war effort at home in Wiltshire. Both these exhibitions are currently touring Wiltshire, and are available to hire, free of charge.
There are four identical schools’ exhibitions that have launched, are touring, and can be booked free of charge. They come with a handling kit to bring the exhibition to life, and complimentary teaching resources for key stages 1-3 are available on the website. There were library talks in 2015 from the likes of Stewart Binns and Elizabeth Speller, in Corsham, Salisbury, Warminster, and Mere, and they have been accompanied by a comprehensive book display.
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.
One week in January I took in an accession from Colerne Church. The day after it arrived I was sorting through some of the documents in the final box. One bundle I had tentatively named “Correspondence, specifications and plans relating to the Lady Chapel and the building of the organ loft”. The very last document in the file was a yellow piece of paper entitled “Yeovil, Holy Trinity – The Organ”.
It was a report from a visit to Holy Trinity Church in Yeovil, Somerset, and the visit was undertaken in 1994, whilst discussions were in place to make the church redundant. The organ was therefore being assessed for its value “as a diocesan asset”.
I excitedly mentioned it to my colleague Steve Hobbs, who was sitting opposite me: we are both originally from Yeovil and I thought the randomness of the document would appeal to him as well as me. At first I thought this document had ended up in the wrong place, and I was all for sending it down to Somerset Record Office when it occurred to me that the organ taken from Yeovil might have been the one that ended up in Colerne. I checked back in some of the documents and there was indeed a reference to the dismantling of the organ in Yeovil.
The coincidence of finding these documents is even more astonishing when I tell you that Holy Trinity was my old parish church. I used to attend the church every Sunday with my mother. When it was closed and became accommodation, a new church was built elsewhere in the town, and Mum is still involved with the benefice. The rector, John Bennett, who is mentioned on the yellow document, was a good friend of the family and has long since moved away. My father was a church organist and played for another benefice just outside Yeovil, but occasionally played the organ at Holy Trinity for their services. When the church was closed, there was a final service and I (aged about 8) was in the choir, and I still have vivid memories of singing in the choir on that day. Dad wrote a special anthem for the service, which was played by him on that organ on that day.
Just before Christmas I was invited to an afternoon at Chippenham Museum to celebrate the contribution volunteers have made to the Museum over the past year.
I listened with great interest and a growing sense of wonder as Curator Melissa Barnett thanked all those who had given their time for free, speaking about all the work that had gone on throughout the year and the projects and events volunteers had been involved in.
Working with a small team of paid staff, the efforts of the volunteers are vital in creating an active and bustling community based Museum. They have a group of around 75 people who give their time to help in all areas, both front of house and behind the scenes. Amongst other things volunteers welcome visitors on the reception desk, carry out educational activities and workshops, answer enquiries, research and document the collections and work on special events. They also provide an important link with the local community, ensuring that the Museum provides what people in the town want.
As I reflected on the afternoon, it struck me that Chippenham isn’t the only museum in Wiltshire with a vibrant and hard-working group of volunteers. Having recently started working as Museum Officer for Wiltshire Council, I’ve been busy visiting many of the museums across the county and meeting the people who run them. Time and time again I’ve been mightily impressed by the levels of dedication, enthusiasm and expertise shown by the volunteers I’ve come across, including those here at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
Within the Lacock Archive is a collection of recipe books, many of them were created by Ann Talbot around the late seventeenth – early eighteenth century. Some of them are for wonderful food dishes, but there also others that are remedies for numerous ailments and illness. They provide an interesting insight into the history of society and medicine. Today, some of ingredients might seem unpalatable to say the least and here is one that I come across that our blog readers might find of interest. It is a cure for sore eyes and headache, just the thing after the excesses at Xmas and New Year, but be warned, it is not for the faint-hearted as it includes strange ingredients and nasty things happening to cute furry animals … and please do not try this at home!
The fine pigg water:
“Take a gallon of the best white wine and put to it 2 quartes of garden snails well cleansed of their filth and shells, 2 quarts of the finest rosemary flowers, 2 quarts of the bean blossoms picked from the blacks, 1 quart of cowslip flowers, one ounce of march grossly pounded, half a pint of flaxseed cleansed from the dust and brus(h)ed, six sheets of venis (venice) paper cut in bits, 4 large lemons paired and sliced thin, the crum of 2 penny manchetts sliced, then 2 spaniel puppies of a week old the head, skin and guts taken away and they cut in quarters, 2 pigs of a week old, the head and guts taken away and they cut in quarters, a pound of the best virgin honey. Let all steep 24 hours in the wine, then lay a good handful of balm and mead sweet, in the bottom of the still, and then put all your ingredients, and then draw it off with a gentle fire, you may still it in a linbeck or cold stil which you please, when it is stil’d mix it to your sort for if you mix it so small, it will be apt to turn sour, if you please you may put in 2 drams of flower of prepared pearl to illustrate it, but it does very well without. It is good to strengthen week eyes by dropping it in them, it will take the bloodshot in the eye, it comforts the brain if sniff up into the nostrils, and good for the head ache if you wash the temple and behind the ears with it.”
So there you have it, all that effort when nowadays all you have to do is go to your local chemist...