Thursday 31st October 2007 we opened the doors to the new Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
Six months had passed since we closed the doors for the last time at the Record Office in Trowbridge. In that time we had moved 30,000 boxes of archives making 91 lorry loads from Trowbridge to Chippenham and safely installing Wiltshire’s archives into the new purpose built facility.
It was a real mixed bag of documents that went out, with members of the Wiltshire Family History Society coming in to look at Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts. Officers from the Rights Of Way Department based at County Hall were here first thing to look at the County Council’s files for rights of way. Naturally there was interest in the local area with several maps of Chippenham being produced.
We produced 85 records (5 Wills, 3 Parish Registers, 2 Bishop’s Transcripts 66 documents and 9 maps) and welcomed 230 visitors to the new office on that first day.
In the subsequent 10 years we have retrieved and returned quarter of a million documents, engaged 210,000 visitors and issued 14,900 new readers cards.
In 1841, less than two years after the formation of the Wiltshire Police Force, the residents of Wiltshire decided that it was an unnecessary expense and petitioned the Magistrates, asking nothing less than its abolition.
In April 1839 Wiltshire Magistrates received a letter from the Government Home Department asking their views on setting up “a body of Constables appointed by the Magistrates, paid out of the County rate, and disposable at any point of the Shire, where their service might be require, would be desirable, as providing in the most efficient manner for the security of person and property; and the constant preservation of the public peace”.
Wiltshire was in favour and in August 1839 the County Police Act was passed.
On the 13th November 1839 a Wiltshire Quarter Sessions committee was set up to review the new act and on the 13th November 1839 they concluded that not less than 200 Constables, one for every 1,200 persons and a total expenditure of £11,000 per year was needed. There was an amendment opposing the creation of the force, but this was defeated. Thursday 28th November 1839 saw the appointment of Captain Samuel Meredith R.N. as the first Chief Constable of Wiltshire. Gloucestershire appointing theirs on 1st December, with other counties following their lead, making Wiltshire the oldest county force by a few days!
We often get an influx of our antipodean cousins in the early summer here at the history centre. Many of our internet and postal research requests hail from Australia and New Zealand. Do you ever wonder if your ancestors ever left Blighty for sunnier climes or were forced to leave these shores as punishment?
The transportation of prisoners to Australia rose to a climax during the late 18th century after a statute was passed during the reign of King George III. The standard sentence for transportation was for seven years but in more serious cases for life. Many escaped the gallows and suffered the inhumane conditions on board the prison ships. Not unlike those poor slaves that also had to endure months at sea in cramped and unsanitary ship hulks.
The first wave of the colonisation of Australia aptly named the ‘First Fleet’, took place in 1788. The 11 ships containing around 1500 men, women and children left Portsmouth in 1787 also laden with food supplies, clothing and livestock. The people on board were to be the founding fathers and mothers of the new colony, albeit a penal one.
The colony was established at a location now known as Port Jackson, further inland in Sydney Harbour than originally planned. Transported convicts were shipped in, in their thousands. The transportation of prisoners was abolished in 1868; by then a staggering 162,000 men and women had arrived on 806 ships.
Whilst exploring the archives at the History Centre on the subject of transportation, I discovered that we held some ‘Bonds and Contracts for the transportation of felons to the American colonies and plantations and elsewhere 1728-1789.’ Within these documents there are names of the Ships’ captains and felons; very useful information for those researching their convict ancestors.
I picked up the trail of a convicted thief, Sarah Varriner, in 1788. She was originally from Painswick, Gloucestershire but arrested, tried and sentenced in Wiltshire for the theft of gold and silver coins. The calendar of prisoners (shown below), lists her offence and committal in 1788.
Sarah Varriner was sentenced to 7 years transportation to the ‘Eastern Coast of New South Wales or some one or other of the islands adjacent’. She was bound for the ship ‘The Lady Juliana’ which was to be the first all female convict ship to leave for the new colony in Australia.
John Ivory inherited Lacock Abbey estate in 1714 on the death of his maternal grandfather, Sir John Talbot, and took the name John Ivory Talbot. The following year he entered Parliament as a Tory and served as MP for Ludgershall for 7 years. Later he served as an MP for Wiltshire from 1727 - 1741. His career as an MP was less than distinguished. His entry in 'The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754' is brief. It records that he voted consistently against the Government and made only one speech in the House of Commons, against the Quakers title Bill in 1736. It is also noted that he was a possible Jacobite supporter in the event of an uprising against the new Hanoverian king. The last remark in the entry is, however, intriguing and reads:
'In 1735 the mother of his nephew, Thomas, 2nd Lord Mansel, then aged 14, objected successfully to his being made sole guardian of her son because she ‘did not care that Mr. Talbot, whose wife is mad ... and is himself driven to drink, should have the sole management of her son’s education’.
Evidence for these assertions have been sought in the Lacock Abbey archives and is found in the Account Books of the Lacock estate and in the correspondence between John and his wife, with John's brother-in-law, Henry Davenport.
In July 1716, John Ivory Talbot married the Honourable Mary Mansel, the daughter of Sir Thomas Mansel, 1st Baron Mansel of Margam in South Wales. Together they had 4 children; John (b. 1717), Thomas (b. 1719), Martha (b. 1720) and Ann (b. 1723). The early years of the marriage appear to have been happy and trouble free and Mary appeared to be running the household and engaging in country pursuits such as riding to hounds. However, problems with her health became evident within a few months. In a letter to Henry Davenport in January 1717, John noted 'you must excuse both me and my wife for not answering yr letters, for she has scarce been a day without some disorder, & yesterday worse than ever, but I thank God she is pretty well to day; these fitts follow her so fast' (1). Mary herself, in July 1717, at this time half way through her first pregnancy, wrote to Henry reporting that 'I have been extream ill all this week my self' (2).
Surprisingly perhaps, in view of this, the meticulous accounts that John kept of expenditures incurred in the running of his household and the Lacock estate show only one entry for a doctor's bill over this period so little medical help was thought necessary at this stage.
The birth of their first child, in November 1717, did not apparently pose any particular medical problems either, as judged by the total lack of doctor's bills, and there is no evidence that Mary's health was of concern during and immediately after her second child, Thomas, was born in March 1719. However, in November 1719, in a letter to Henry Davenport, John Talbot mentioned that 'My wife continues very weak in her limbs tho' well as to other respects' (3).
From this time on, Mary's health deteriorated. Doctor's fees and apothecary's bills began to feature prominently in John's account books from 1719 onwards with most of the entries being 'for my dear' or 'for my dear wife', rather than for the children.
In March 1720, John wrote that 'My wife is better than she was, but so weak as not to stir out of her room or dine at table, but I don't doubt but she will soon pick up if ye children do but continue well, for it is ye frights for them that is ye occassion of all her illness' (4). In August, he reported that 'she had a relapse almost as bad as ye former' (5).
This situation prompted a move to Bath, for in a further letter to Henry at the end of August, John records 'I took lodgings this day sennight, it was a sudden resolution taken, not for ye sake of drinking ye water but only that she might be near help in case of danger, & that she has been so open in that it has sufficiently terrifyed me. We were dissappointed of a horse litter after expecting one three or four days, but by filling up ye bottom of ye coach wth bedding & being near six hours in coming we made ye journey almost as easy to her wch she bore very well & is much better since her lameness still continues' (6). Mary, in her third pregnancy, and so big 'that some say I shall have two added to my family' (7), remained in Bath for several months and gave birth to a daughter, Martha, there in November 1720. A Doctor Bane was in very regular attendance, at a guinea a visit, during the period immediately after the birth and there were also expenditures recorded for nursing, although it is not specified whether this is for Mary or the baby. One entry in the accounts in December 1720 is half a guinea for 'bleeding Jacky', presumably their son John.
For most of 1721, Mary appears to have been better, although there are some entries in the accounts for medical expenses, specifically one in July for £5-10s 'for bleeding my dear'. The size of this bill would indicate that several bleedings were administered. John Talbot was not noted for paying bills on time so this payment could refer to an earlier illness. Letters between John and Henry Davenport during this year are largely positive about Mary. In October 1721, Mary is described as 'perfectly well' (8). In November, the reports are even better, John Ivory reporting that 'My wife thank God is very well & grows fatt' (9).
Within a few days, however, the situation changed, as, by mid-December, Henry was informed that 'My wife was yesterday a little out of order & has return of a giddiness & fainting again today I hope it will go off again for otherways she is in perfect health' (10). A month later, the message became 'My wife has been very ill these ten days, taken much after ye same manner she was before she went to Bath last year, but she mends now' (11). The name of Dr Bane appears in the expenditure column of the accounts in December 1721. It is clear that Mary's condition was now chronic.
No correspondence survives between John and Henry in 1722, but the accounts show numerous payments to doctors and apothecaries during the year, and also payments to a Mr Sagar (or Segar) for bleeding Mary. John conveniently provided a complete summary of his 1722 accounts (March 1722- March 1723) which included the entry 'Doctors fees, Sagers and Apothecarys bills & belonging to Illness £58-12-6'. Sickness clearly was not cheap at this time!
We’ve recently been enjoying the company of our Antipodean cousins visiting over the summer, here to explore back in time and research the histories of their families before emigration to the colonies. Wiltshire people have been making a new life overseas for many years and for many reasons, and I thought it was the ideal time to take a quick look at just some of them here.
In Australia the 19th century began with transportation to the colonies as an outlet for Britain’s prisons, and also for its asylums and workhouses, but it has been realised that these people had not made the most suitable workers for colonising and developing a country. In response an immigration policy tried to temp British people to Australia but it offered little financial support. In the early part of the 19th century, the decision to emigrate was either made for someone due to forced transportation, or it was a last resort, ‘the only escape from an intolerable situation’. As the years passed and communities became better established, the decision had more likely become one of a way to a better life with fewer worries over poverty. The British government had a policy of offering no financial aid except for some occasions of assisting the parish poor, and it meant the colonies were free to choose their potential emigrees. The British government were discussing a state aided scheme in both 1870 and 1886 but at least one province, Queensland, were adamant against losing control of their choice of settler. Private organisations also tried to set up schemes with little success and those who were trying to settle aided by guardians of the poor or public charities were also often refused at this time. By the end of the 19th century, the ‘quality’ of emigrants had much improved.
In the first part of the 19th century migration to America was from farmers; the Swing Riots of 1830 and fear of mechanisation may have affected this trend. It was during this period more than any other which saw the movement of people with other members of their families. The late 1820s had already seen a short-term rise in the number of workers from industry such as textile workers emigrating to America during the depression in the cotton industry. The majority of those emigrating at this time appear to have enough assets to sell to help them on their way, and for many it was not economic hardship, but a sense of concern over the changing economy and worries over their children’s standing and position in that society which affected their choices.
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.