“But here, on the downs, you are not compassed about with trees and boughs, and locked fast in rich meadows… Instead there are bareness, simplicity, and spaciousness, coupled with a feeling of great strength and uncontrolled freedom, an infinity of range, and an immortality of purpose.”
Alfred Williams is better known for his poetry, having gained the title ‘Hammerman Poet’ whilst working for the Great Western Railway in Swindon.
Williams wanted to sketch a view of the people and landscape covering a whole locality rather than just one village or parish. The site was well known to him; along the ridgeway overlooking the Vale of the White Horse which extends into Oxfordshire, now part of the North Wessex Downs AONB.
Alfred’s attempt was successful and what remains are a collection of stories and imagery that takes you from community to community over a 20 mile area. Alfred notes that the characters he writes about are exactly as he found them, and he paints a good picture, describing their clothes, their speech, their backgrounds and trades, but the picture appears to have always been so rosy… perhaps possible artistic licence makes for a more nostalgic read?
The downs are described in detail including how they were cultivated and the flora and fauna that could be found. There were also the buildings; where they were located, what they looked like and their uses. The journey is fondly itinerated, from village to village, up slopes, through thickets and coombs, beside springs. Information on the history of the locations as Alfred knew it is recorded, along with tales of poaching, thieves, smugglers and ghosts. Time was spent talking about local sports such as cockfighting and backswarding and their importance in the community, the relationship between locals and their bees, and the customs that bound these traditions together. Williams presents a unified picture of old village life with ballad sheets in every house and many songs sung in pubs; fairs and revels; village ales. He also vividly notes the changes in the area from the first threshing machine, the first train, the arrival of telegraph poles, the decline of village trades.
Alfred encapsulated the lives of a number of local craftspeople such as the carter, the sawyer, the weaver, the tailor and the basket maker to name a few, describing who they were and how they worked. He also went into great depth regarding how to make certain products, from soap and candlemaking to watercress and elderflower products. Elderflower wine stood high in the estimation of the villagers. The famous north Wiltshire bacon could not be excluded.
Archives and archivists, artists, archers and archaeologists – all were on hand to make our annual open day an event to remember. In fact it was a triple celebration when we welcomed the public to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. Celebrating a decade in the “new” building would have been excuse enough for us to organise a special birthday open day, but 2017 is also the 70th anniversary of the county-wide archive being established, so we were really keen to pull out all the stops. The icing on the cake – there’s always cake at the History Centre – was the official presentation of our Archive Service Accreditation from The National Archives (TNA).
So at 10am on 28th October we opened our doors to the Family Fun Day and a host of activities designed to show off the wide-ranging work we do at the History Centre. The stars of the show were a selection from the 70 favourite archives that have been featured on our website this year. It was difficult for staff and volunteers to choose their favourite archives – especially as it takes almost eight miles of shelving to house the archive collection – but all had a certain wow-factor. The display featured Kings, Queens and Presidents; artists and architects; nurses, soldiers and engineers; magnificent illuminated manuscripts and simpler texts. All had a story to tell and visitors on the day were fascinated to discover some of the gems of the collection.
There were displays and activities showcasing all the work that takes place in the History Centre and this year for the first time our colleagues from the Copy Certificates team put on a display explaining their job. The team provides certified copies of birth, marriage and death certificates but it’s not always modern day certificates that they handle. They were able to show some of the more unusual girls and boys names from more than a hundred years ago – Lemon Maud and a boy called Heritage!
Paste paper making is an historic craft technique used in bookbinding to make decorative papers for books.
They are fun and easy to make and suitable for all ages
You can come and join our workshop at our Family Fun Day on Sat 28th October at the WSHC in Chippenham, but if you can’t make it you can always have a go at home!
• Corn starch paste*/ Wheat starch paste*/ wall paper paste (*see online for easy recipes) • Acrylic tube paint/watercolours • Paper (sugar paper is cheap and colourful and works really well) • Some ideas for tools for mark-making: o Paint brushes o Plastic combs o Lollipop sticks o Fingers o Wooden spoon
What to do:
1. Mix some paint and paste together (you want the consistency to be thick but preferably smooth without lumps) 2. Brush the paste and paint mixture onto the paper covering the whole surface 3. Create patterns by using a tool such as a comb or paintbrush (or anything else that can create a nice mark on the paper) by dragging or drawing across the surface 4. Leave to dry
I am an addict. Not alcohol or drugs, but cake is my particular addiction – coffee and walnut being my favourite. Along with millions of others I am also addicted to the BBC TV show ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ (which has recently started again) so you can imagine my delight at being able to combine my twin loves of cake and archives in our recent HLF-funded Lacock Unlocked ‘Food and Friendship’ public participation event.
This took place on 29 July 2015 at Lacock village hall and took the form of talks about the history of food by experts Sally Macpherson and Deborah Loader, together with the opportunity for the public to taste those recipes, made to perfection by Alison Williams and Nancy Newman of the Lacock Women’s Institute.
Expert Deborah Loader demonstrates a modern ‘ice house’ for keeping ice cream cool to the author of this blog.