Here at the History Centre, we’re no stranger to Morris Dancers. We’ve had dancers on the staff, while each May Bank Holiday Chippenham hosts its popular Folk Festival. It’s great fun watching the street theatrics, but there was once a darker side to Morris Dancing that led to the following stories being recorded by the Wiltshire Magistrates (and now appear in Records of Wiltshire).
What happened at Woodborough in May 1652 caused official concern, but how was it that Morris Dancing threatened the pillars of the state?
Capers against the Commonwealth On the evening of Sunday, May 16th 1652, Edward Smyth and Edward Hawking left their homes in Woodborough and went to All Cannings, where they met and conspired with about a dozen people. That same Sunday, Robert Golfe went from Woodborough into Marlborough “to get a drummer”, while Thomas Beasant went to Ram Alley in Easton and “there invited and procured a fiddler”.
The following day, their plans were revealed when a crowd gathered from the surrounding countryside; according to the records, “three hundred persons, or thereabouts … gathered together in a Riotous, Routous, Warlike and very disorderly manner’.” If anyone thought about stopping them, they were armed “with muskets, pistols, bills, swords drawn and other unlawful weapons”.
The musicians led the crowd from Woodborough to Pewsey where they “very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”, and committed other misdemeanours, including “drinking and tippling in the inn and Alehouse”. While the prevalence of weapons may, happily, be less, it’s reassuring to see that the drinking still continues in and around Morris circles to this day (and sometimes, people still disapprove).
Public nuisance, party, or Sedition? In 1652, England was a republic, following the execution of Charles I. The Commonwealth kept a close eye on signs of dissent, looking for evidence of Royalist insurgency: traditional sports and pastimes were suspect. Ales, Morris and other customs had been the target of religious reformers since before the Civil War. The opposition from these authorities meant that Morris and other customs now symbolised the old order prior to the Civil War, when license and liberty were, supposedly, more freely allowed; as such, Morris dancing and the open drinking of ale was as much an open challenge to the authorities as the bearing of arms. Although the weapons offered a challenge to the authorities, the Morris spoke of tradition, culture, custom and a perceived stability before the upheavals of the 1640s. The new rulers of England were right to view the emotional power of such demonstrations with suspicion.
While the Morris at Pewsey may not be as famous as folksinger Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in Cold War America, or Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed during the 1973 coup, the Wiltshire boys used their folk art and their rootedness in the traditions of their place to show dissent toward the Authorities. Were the ringleaders seeking to incite rebellion, or just standing up for traditional fun? No doubt motives were mixed and shifting, including a mass of local and national grievances, as well as people being there for the fun, the beer and the free entertainment. What also seems remarkably modern was the casting of The Commonwealth as an alien, faceless Authority that stopped fun and meddled in the lives of “ordinary folk” (“Bonkers Conkers” anyone?).
However, as our next story shows, the dancers in Pewsey were evoking an idealised past in an “imagined village” …1
During a visit to Cricklade I was asked to pop in to see a cottage in Swindon. This cottage and another similar one nearby were all that were left of an ancient hamlet and were now surrounded by modern houses, giving a very suburban flavour to the area. The cottage had once been a prosperous farm but was subsequently divided into two cottages, a not unusual development for a farmhouse in the 19th century.
On the ground floor were two original rooms, the core of the cottage before it was extended. A heavy 17th century beam ran from the gable end fireplace to the cross wall and this immediately aroused my interest; when an open medieval hall with a central hearth is floored over, the beam supporting it often has one end lodged in the chimney breast, which is added at the same time.
By the time I got to the first floor I was excited to see the start of a heavily-plastered cruck blade with arched brace of what must have been a hall truss emerging from the stone wall, and disappearing through the ceiling. Crucks are a very distinctive form of timber-framing not seen in Wiltshire after about 1530: our dendrochronology project is collecting data on this very subject. Barely containing myself, I arrived at the attic floor via a steep, winding stair to be confronted with the massive and heavily smoke-blackened top parts of a 14th century roof. There were two main frames complete with characteristically skinny wind-braces, some original chunky rafters, and smoke-blackened battens, though the thatch had been replaced.
Image: Apex of one of the cruck trusses
The timbers had been cut about to allow circulation within the attic space, but originally the impressive cruck frames would have been only viewed from the ground. To get some idea of what a medieval dwelling house would have been like when built, go into an old tithe barn such as that at Lacock or Bradford-on-Avon and be impressed by the sheer scale and size of the timbers and height to the roof. A farmhouse would have been smaller, but still impressive. The hall truss over the open fire would have been the most decorative, with chamfered bracing, parts of which remain. In the 17th century the old hall was clad in stone, hiding or replacing the original timber-framing and its wattle-and-daub panels. Houses like this had to change with the times to stay useful, or be replaced. I suspect there are many more hidden medieval halls out there just waiting to be discovered, even in the most unlikely places!
The unfortunate sudden death of widow , Ruth Pierce of Potterne, in Devizes Market Place on 26th January 1753.
This is the original inquisition document as carried out by John Clare, coroner in Devizes on 26th January 1753. It details the circumstances leading to Ruth Pierces’ death and his conclusion to the cause.
‘..a Great Quarrel arose between four women in the Market place in the Bourrough of Devizes. Aforsaid whose names was Elizabeth Slade, Sarah Slade, Mary Parker and the aforesaid Ruth Pierce who joined together and bought one sack of wheat of one ffarmer Nathanial Alexander of the price of seventeen shillings......
After the collection of the money by one of the women gathered, it was noted that Ruth Pierce had not handed over her share of the payment which was four shillings. She was openly accused of withholding the money and the following account of what happened was documented in the inquisition, Ruth Pierce then;
‘called upon the Almighty for witness and wished she might drop down dead that minute if she had not paid it the Rash wish was repeated a second time and immediately from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God was struck down upon the lane and as no marks of Violence appeared upon View of the Body the aforesaid jurors do propose that the aforesaid Ruth Peirce died asforsaid and not otherwise...’
‘Taken at the Burrough of Devizes on Fryday the 26th day of January Upon View of the Body of Ruth Peirce late of potterne Verdict from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God in a Great Quarrell was struck dead with a lye in her mouth’
Corrosion that appears on metal objects is a chemical reaction where the metal is trying to return to its natural mineral state. This often appears as green deposits on copper and red/brown deposits on iron. The main cause of corrosion on metals is a humid environment.
How do you remove corrosion?
Some corrosion is good! If your metal object has a thin dark layer on the surface this may be acting as a protective barrier from further break down of the surface. This is called patination or tarnish.
We would recommend you avoid trying to remove heavy build-up of corrosion yourself. This often needs to be done under a microscope in controlled conditions. Excessive use of polishes and chemicals (I’m including Cola and Ketchup in this!) could remove original surface so that details and decoration are lost. For example, you would no longer be able to identify the date of a coin if the surface was abraded and removed. It can also cause the metal to thin and wear down silver plating. Chat to a conservator if you are concerned about the corrosion build up on your object or want to find the most suitable cleaning regime.
How do I care for the object in the future?
One of the most damaging things to metals is the oils and acids from our fingers, which can etch in to the surface of the metal. We would recommend always wearing cotton, nitrile or latex clothes when handling metal objects. This will also reduce marks and therefore the need for cleaning.
Giving the metal object a dust with a soft micro-fibre cloth or soft hog or pony hair brush will help prevent build-up of dust and dirt. Buffing or coating the surface with wax should rarely be necessary and should only ever be attempted after removing dust and dirt. Depending on the object and environmental conditions a wax or lacquer may be applied to protect the surface from humidity and prevent future corrosion development.
Store in an environment with a low humidity and pack using inert materials such as foam or acid free envelopes. A hoard of coins recently in conservation was packaged in individual acid free paper envelopes, sealed in a Polypropylene plastic box (recycling number ‘5 PP’) to provide a controlled environment and a sachet of silica gel to reduce humidity.
So, remember, avoid the cola and gently brush your objects to maintain a healthy patination!
Kayleigh Spring, Conservator, Conservation and Museums Advisory Service
Wiltshire Conservation and Museums Advisory Service is based at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. We preservice the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and provide support to museums, heritage organisations and individuals to care for and conserve historic collections and meet professional standards.
If you have items in need of a little TLC see if our conservator can give you hints and tips for cleaning without damage, advice on storage or a to get a quote to have them repaired.
We hold regular conservation surgeries at WSHC from 2 – 4pm on the second Thursday of every month. The next one will be on May 9th. Book you appointment by calling 01249 705500.
Here at the History Centre we continue to acquire new collections to add to our archives. In this way we ensure our collections reflect as many aspects of Wiltshire life as possible, which helps us to engage with a wide diversity of research interests. So with this in mind, here is an introduction to some of the new collections we’ve received since the start of the year.
The Women’s Institute of Little Somerford have donated a significant collection of committee minute books, attendance registers and programmes dating back as far as 1941 (collection reference number 2587A). The minutes alone tell us much about the activities undertaken and the groups’ decision-making processes. In addition, the programmes show the diversity of lectures, demonstrations and competitions the group has undertaken. The collection joins over 200 other WI groups who have deposited material with us. This year marks the centenary of the foundation of Wiltshire’s Women’s Institutes with events planned all over the county.
We have also received a welcome addition to our considerable collection of tithe maps. This 1838 map covers the tithing of Widhill, part of the parish of Cricklade St Sampson, where much of the land is owned either by the Earl of Radnor or by Lord Redesdale. The accompanying apportionment document details both the occupiers and the use for each parcel of land, as well as the value of produce sent as tithe. These maps continue to prove a popular source of local, family and social history.
From the Wiltshire Scout Council comes a collection of logbooks kept by Peggy Shore Baily, the former Akela of the Westbury Leigh Cub Scouts. The collection (reference 4450) spans the years 1932 to 2007, and includes logbooks and scrapbooks, plus several of her personal photograph albums. Also, accompanying scrapbooks compiled by the First Aldbourne (Dabchick) Cub Pack and Winterslow Scout Group from 2007. This is just one of many scout and guide collections we house at the History Centre.
Another of our new personal collections is an addition to the papers of the Mackay and Tucker families of Holt and Trowbridge (reference 3840). This new accrual concerns Lucy Tucker Mackay, and includes a collection of her beautiful sketchbooks. Lucy was a gifted watercolourist who sketched studies of flora and fauna, as well as hundreds of views both of Wiltshire and from her extensive travels across Europe and further afield. Similarly, her photograph albums detail her many travels, most notably visits to her son Edward who was stationed in India with the British Army between the late 1920s and the late 1940s. This was a key time in the relationship between Britain and India, and the albums document the British Army and their families in their leisure time.
We have recently received several very different farming collections. From Box we have a set of haulage account books from Ashley Farm (reference 2324A), covering 1909 to 1964. These detail the transportation of livestock and other goods to and from market, and includes the details of the names and addresses of farmers across Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire. The volumes are packed with details of goods and charges, and are an aid to the identification of farming families across Wiltshire and beyond.
We have also acquired sale particulars for numerous farms located at Braydon, Brinkworth, Cricklade, Potterns and Pinkney. This collection (reference 831J) dates from 1962 and 1963. Each sale particular describes the homestead, farming buildings and any standing features, plus use and acreage for the agricultural land, as well as any locally given names for parcels of land.
From Donhead St Mary we have the papers of the Bridge Farm Trust (reference 3833A), a communal farming enterprise established in 1975. The farm’s ethos combined environmental awareness with sensitive commercial dairy farming. The project also purchased a nearby farmhouse which served as a guest house and centre for the Community. Also of a farming nature, we have received a certificate presented by the Chippenham Agricultural Association to a Charles Sully, marking 29 years’ service to the Case family at Cleverton Manor Farm (reference 831H). The certificate was originally accompanied by a reward of £2, a considerable windfall at the time. This leaves us wondering whether similar certificates for agricultural long-service are out there somewhere.
Do you have an interest in archaeology? Would you like to know what has been found in your local area, or want to know more about how people lived in Wiltshire in the past? If so, then you might be interested to access our new website that allows you to research the finds, buildings, sites and monuments that exist on the county Historic Environment Record (HER).
The Historic Environment Record (HER) is a fantastic resource that holds information on all the currently known archaeology for Wiltshire and Swindon. This includes everything from Palaeolithic flint tools that are half a million years old to World War I practice trenches created only a hundred years ago – as well as everything in between! Using the HER can be fun and helps to guide your research, as it can tell you about the character and date of archaeological sites/finds as well as how they have been investigated and where you can find more (such as in journals, books and reports).
The new website allows people to easily search the archaeology of Wiltshire and presents data on both a map and dynamic database. To have a go, click to visit the HER homepage
The new website is easier to use than our previous one and allows you to search by the following themes: • Unique identifier number – so you can find records you’ve accessed before… • Keyword – to find particular find/site types – such as castles or axeheads! • Site name – for place names you know like your parish church or famous sites like Stonehenge! • Period – so you can see all Roman artefacts or all prehistoric archaeology we know about… • Grid reference – if you know exactly where you want to research - whether rural or urban!
You can also browse by navigating the interactive map – which can show both Ordnance Survey mapping or aerial photography. You can pan and zoom using the tools and the grid reference of your location handily shows at the top in case you need it!