One of the many joys of our archive is how it encompasses not only the county’s history – its people and places – but also world events as witnessed and experienced by Wiltshire folk through the centuries.
Each year I am in the privileged position of being able to take young historians on an archival journey round the world thanks to the extensive collections held by Wiltshire and Swindon Archive. These youngsters come to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for work experience and for a week they get to explore the archive and local studies collections, as well as learn about the work of the conservators, archaeologists, civil registration certificates team and business support staff.
During five weeks of work placements – this year we took 14 students from six schools –the archives have transported us through time and space. We have crossed continents and centuries, catching a glimpse of the ordinary and extraordinary lives of people from another time.
As Education Officer at the History Centre there are types of documents that I frequently use because they make great classroom resources – maps, photographs, diaries, personal letters, school log books. And then there are the topics for which we have excellent collections – Tudors, Victorians, canals and railways, the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War.
But with the arrival of work experience students I have the opportunity to explore the archives at a more leisurely pace and in broader terms – and I am always finding new things to look at or seeing familiar documents in a different way. A good example is Siegfried Sassoon’s February 1933 letter predicting war. This year was the third time I produced the document for students and it was as they were practicing their transcribing skills I finally made out a word that had been eluding me all this time – ‘entente’. It was so obvious that I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I had not worked it out sooner.
Although we often begin by digging out documents related to topics being studied at GCSE and A-Level, the challenge is to find the more unusual and quirky among them that don’t always see the light of day but which take us on wonderfully unexpected journeys.
One of the quirkiest set we produced this year concerned the gift of an elephant to Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) in 1794. Three letters (WSA 9/34/42) contain hints and allegations of an East India Company man, who acted as an intermediary in delivering the elephant, claiming back the cost of the animal despite it being a gift.
The East India Company is well documented across a number of significant collections within the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive, including archives from Wilton House, the Earls of Radnor (Longford Castle), the Seymour family (Dukes of Somerset), politician Walter Hume Long and the Money-Kyrle family.
But I was not expecting to find any further reference to elephants… Yet in the Lacock archive, among documents belonging to the Davenport family, is a cache of letters, invoices, receipts and company accounts detailing goods being shipped – including elephants’ teeth! (WSA 2664/3/2B/125 & 139 and WSA 2664/3/2D/79 et al.)
When we think of the Second World War, we often think of the Home Front or the front lines, Dunkirk and D-Day. It’s much less often that we think of those who spent their time behind enemy lines as prisoners of war. As I was looking through the archive catalogue recently I came across an entry for Trooper George Sweetman, of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, whose diary recounts his time as a PoW. As we get close to Christmas and begin to think of spending time with our family and friends, I thought about what life must have been like for men like George at this time of year as prisoners of a hostile nation so far from home. George’s diary gives us a fascinating insight into the lives and emotions of captured British soldiers, how their morale ebbed and flowed with the course of the war, and how important Christmas was to their wellbeing.
On 2 November 1942 George’s unit went into action in North Africa, as part of Operation Supercharge, part of the Second Battle of El Alamein. The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, operating within the 9th Armoured Brigade, lost a large number of tanks during the action, partly as a result of a counterattack led by the 21st Panzer Division. In his diary, George recorded the action: “Went into action at dawn. B Sqd. first in, one shot up A.T.G [anti-tank guns], lorries & tanks, & then Jerries’ main armoured force came & a big fight started”, and his unit took heavy casualties.“We lost B Sqd., lost all our tanks, we got wiped out.” George was taken Prisoner of War (PoW) during this action, and was to spend the rest of the war in a PoW camp.
From El Alamein George was taken through Egypt to Libya and from there he and other PoWs were shipped to Greece and onwards to Italy, arriving in southern Italy on 22 November 1942. The prisoners’ journey was far from easy. The day after his capture George’s convoy was attacked by the RAF: “coming up the Mersa road from Darla we got bombed and machine gunned to hell with our own planes. Several of our mates got wounded & one got blown to bits. A hell of a day that was”. Relative to what was to come in the last years of the war conditions in the Italian camps were fairly good, though life there was apparently rather boring. The prisoners’ main complaint was about the quantity and quality of the food, which came to a head in George’s first Christmas behind the wire.
As you might expect for men held prisoner in a foreign, enemy, country there wasn’t much in the way of a build up to Christmas in the camp. In fact even Christmas cards were a luxury: there weren’t enough available for each man to send one home, and the prisoners had to draw lots to see who would be given a card. Luckily for George he won one, and sent it home on the 8th of December. Post to and from the camps during the war was slow, and George would not receive his first letter from home until March 1943. Apart from this there do not seem to have been any Christmas activities in the camp until Christmas Eve which was, for George and the others, a disappointment: after sports in the morning and afternoon, “we had a meat meal in evening. We had a concert in our hut in the evening it was very good, finished with a blind boxing match so that ended Xmas eve, of course we missed the beer and food. Just went to bed”.
If anything, Christmas Day was an even greater disappointment. Throughout the war the Red Cross distributed parcels to PoWs containing food, tobacco and hygiene items. The parcels were meant to supplement the rations that PoWs received in the camps which were usually insufficient in terms of both calories and nutrients. The parcels often came infrequently due to the circumstances of the war, but when they did arrive they were the highlight of the men’s week. Even more than these deliveries, though, the men hoped for one particular parcel. Every year at Christmas the Red Cross delivered Christmas dinner in a parcel to the PoWs, including everything from Christmas pudding to chocolate and sweets. Unfortunately for George and the other prisoners, in December 1942 their Christmas parcel never arrived.
On Christmas Day the men woke early and made a cup of tea, allowing themselves a ration of 2 or 3 biscuits from their remaining ordinary Red Cross parcel. After finishing this the day continued much as any other, with a parade and count of the prisoners, followed by a church service at 9 o’clock and the standard lunch ration “just the same as any other day”. In his usual understated style George simply recorded in his diary “The Red Cross Xmas parcel which we expected never turned up, a great disappointment”. In the afternoon the men received a small Christmas gift from their Italian captors: one orange for each prisoner. Later, it started to rain. At 4pm the men had their ordinary hot meal, with no Christmas extras. After a “sing song” in the evening their Christmas ended. George’s diary reveals his bitter disappointment: “and so to bed hungry & that was how we spent Christmas Day 1942 in our P.O.W. camp. I thought of home, all the good food. That’s all we think about hear [sic] is food”. Morale in the camps was often low, a consequence of having little to do but sit and think, and the missing Christmas parcel crushed the men’s spirits. This continued into Boxing Day – it rained constantly, and the men were forced to sit in their huts all day, with the same standard food ration that they had on any other day. George simply recorded in his diary “and so to bed, that was Boxing Day and Christmas once again over. Wonder where we shall be next Christmas”.
Over the next week life went on as normal until, in the New Year, a rumour ran round the camp that the Christmas parcels had arrived. On Monday 3 January George recorded in his diary “the tale was true – some Xmas parcels had come in but not enough for one each, so we are keeping them till Wednesday in case some more come in … Roll on Wednesday”. By Wednesday the missing parcels had still not come in, so the men had to share one between two. George copied the contents of his parcel into his diary:
Quite a feast for men used to one hot meal a day, which was often a ‘soup’ of a small amount of vegetables in water; by April 1945, when George was imprisoned in Germany, it was a distant luxury. In 1943, though, the men made sure to savour their good fortune. “We had our Xmas pudding hot”, George wrote in his diary, with “jam & Nestlé’s milk after it”, with an apple given to them by the Italians to mark Epiphany. Compared to his mood on Christmas Day, George was ecstatic: “this is my happiest day since P.O.W. the best food I had … a good day”. The next day the men finished off the remainder of their Christmas parcel, eating their cake, marmalade, butter, and beef & tomato pudding.
For some festive fun I thought I would have a look at Christmas entries in various journals here at the History Centre. We have a wonderful one kept by Audley Money-Kyrle while on board the ‘Riversdale’ during her voyage to Calcutta in 1866.
He passed the morning of Monday 24th December in rehearsal for a charade. “Mrs Smith kindly supplies the necessary articles of female attire from ‘the bonnet’ to the ‘crinoline’.” The Dining saloon was converted into a stage with a curtain fashioned from ship’s flags and the charade opened with a comic song by the steward.
Christmas Day itself consisted of a sumptuous banquet and drinking of champagne (sounds good to me!)
“Oh day of carols and Xmas boxes, of roast beef, turkey and plum pudding, of happy greetings, of Peace on Earth & goodwill to men
Twenty times I have hailed thy advent at my old home and now my 21st anniversary sees me on the deep blue sea with many miles of rolling waves separating me that dear old home & all I love on earth; oh may all the prayers which I am assured will ascend for my safe return be surely answered!
We dined today about ½ past 4. Mock turtle soup. Roast goose, ditto duck, a splendid ham, tongue and roast joint of pork, champagne ad lib at the expense of the ship for this night only. We all made a good dinner, at least, I can answer for myself. When the cloth was removed, & we became a little exhilarated by the champagne the Captain proposed a toast to ‘the Queen’ which was drunk with becoming loyalty. Major Smith then in a complimentary speech proposed ‘the Captain of the ship’ who thereupon returned thanks in a grateful but wandering address; however what he lost in words, we made up in applause, so it is to be hoped that he was satisfied with his effort. Mr Stainforth in a feeling manner then gave us ‘absent friends’ and I followed with ‘the ladies’. There being only 2 married representatives present I was obliged to moderate the style of my compliments & confined myself in general terms on the many charms and graces of the sex & concluded by hoping it should be my good fortune (?) to exchange my state of single blessedness for one of married bliss I might be as happy in my choice as Major Smith or Mr Staniforth (the 2 husbands)- I think this rather ’took’ with them, at least they seemed to appreciate it. We then sang songs & made ourselves merry till about ½ past 10 when we all turned in.”
Look out for a couple more festive diary entries on our social media!
As shown by one of this year’s Explore Your Archive themes #Archivecatwalk ‘the history of fashion is the history of people’. Archives can provide a unique insight into the fashion of the past from sources such as inventories, wills, household accounts, bills, photographs, drawings, magazines and periodicals, diaries and more. Sometimes they can provide evidence where little else has survived. I’ve picked a few examples from our collections for this blog, but there are many more out there!
Inventories, wills and bills
Inventories can provide evidence for the garments and quantities of clothing in households of varied status. Textiles and clothing are not only revealed through bequests in wills but in the given occupations of testators including clothiers, cloth-workers, glovers, haberdashers, hat makers, draper, cordwainers, weavers etc.
Bills and accounts give us dated evidence of prices paid for all sorts of clothing and textiles, such as this example in the papers of sisters Miss Mary Codrington of Walcot in Bath (died 9 March 1754) and Miss Dorothy Codrington (died at Bath in 1768).
We also hold a detailed bill for Lady Elizabeth Seymour dating to 1669 which is mostly for clothing. It includes white and coloured worsted stockings; fabrics including tabby, lutestring, satin, sarsnett, venetian, cambric, farindin, avignion, parrigone, tifiney; laced shoes, and a “pare of golosus”; damask and jessemy powder. Rather pleasingly it also includes an entry for 8 pounds of that most essential of items ‘iockaletta’ (no prizes for guessing!).
Women in the mid-17th century often wore low cut bodices laced down the front with ribbons and coming to a deep point, a linen collar (which was sometimes transparent) ¾ length sleeve with turn ups of lace. They would have worn gowns and petticoats (which are also listed in Lady Seymour’s bill). There was also a fashion for adding ‘patches’ to the face which satirist John Bulwer described as the ‘vain custom of spotting their faces out of affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty’. The shapes could vary from spots, to stars, crescents, or even ‘a coach and horses cut out of black ‘court plaster’. Amazingly this was a fashion which lasted for more than 50 years.
For men the custom of wearing a periwig was adopted following the King appearing in one in 1663. Samuel Pepys recorded his wearing of a periwig in his diary, and is seemingly a little disappointed not to have provoked more interest: “I found that my coming in a periwig did not prove so strange as I was afraid it would for I thought that all the church would presently have set their eyes upon me” The fashion lasted for nearly 100 years, although the use of powder did not begin until the latter part of the 17th century.
Nearly 100 years later, a 1741 inventory of the Earl of Ailesbury’s clothes in London and at Tottenham includes suits of cloth in various colours, flowered crimson velvet, bargen, camelet, flowered silk, 4 tied wigs and 3 bobs, silk and thread stockings, 4 swords, buttons, shoe and knee buckles in gold, silver, pinchbeck and enamel.
Magazines and periodicals:
In a collection of family papers we have 11 copies of ‘The Ladies Cabinet’ magazine covering fashion, music and romance. This 1835 edition includes an advert for ‘French and English Corsets’ with the Patent Black which is ‘instantly unlaced in cases of sudden indisposition’. There is also the Elastic Stay which prevents pressure on the chest in the case of pulmonary complaints and the Gestation Stay, which gives necessary comfort and support to ladies during pregnancy. The corset had come back into fashion after the earlier ‘Empire’ gown of the end of the 18th century. The pursuit of this style led to some extraordinary effort; Laver notes in ‘A Concise History of Costume’ (p162) that in one corset advert a mother is advised to make her daughter lie face down on the floor so she might place a foot in the small of her back to obtain the necessary purchase on the laces.
In slightly less restricted attire, a 1928 magazine snippet shows the remarkable speed record-holder Mrs Bruce (see our Principal Archivist’s blog on some of her favourite archives to learn more about Mary Bruce’s extraordinary story). Post war, fashion began to pick up again, and the flared skirt which had lasted throughout the war was replaced by a more cylindrical ‘barrel’ line with shorter skirts (knee length). This can be seen in this sketch where she is described as ‘a picture of practical smartness in her redingote of beige and grey tweed. With it she wears tan gloves and a felt hat to match’.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the archive service we are putting together an online exhibition of 70 favourite documents from the archive chosen by staff and volunteers. One of the items chosen was only recently deposited and is a remarkably detailed record of its type; Thomas Pinniger's farming diary for Little Bedwyn and Beckhampton farm, Avebury 1828-1832 (ref 4381/1/5).
Entries of note include the purchase of Beckhampton farm and Beckhampton Inn from Anthony Guy of Chippenham, 27 Feb and 18 Jun 1828; a note about Guy's subsequent bankruptcy, Nov 1829-Jan 1830; Work on the new house began 25 Sep 1828, completed Oct 1830; difficulties in digging chalk for the roads led to an accident in the chalk pit, 29 Jan 1830; note about the 'Swing Riots', Nov 1830 (pictured above); efforts to clear snow from the main road (A4) , 21 Jan 1830; fruit trees planted in garden, 8 Mar 1830; fire at Mr Neat's farm at Monkton, 5 Jun 1831; trees planted in the yard, 10 Dec 1831; notes of the deaths of relatives and friends, including son Thomas (Large), 31 Jul 1828; verse by rev William Lisle Bowles on the death of Richard Sadler Smith at Bremhill, 31 Mar 1832; and references to thrashing machine, 6 Mar and 23 Jul 1832.
Unsurprisingly diaries can be one of the most engaging sources in the archives because they enable us to hear such a clear and individual voice from the past.
We have some interesting examples in our collections, including an almost complete series of diaries belonging to writer Edith Maud Olivier (ref 982/32-78). The entries are daily and written in detail covering 1894-1948 including this entry relating to a visit of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in February 1944.
The Wiltshire Record Society has also published volumes of transcripts of diaries and notebooks including:
‘Cherished memories and Associations,’ a manuscript memoir by William Small 1881 (Volume 64; original document reference 2713/2)
William Small, a painter and glazier of 1 New Street, Salisbury, of his life in Salisbury, with biographical details of his family and Salisbury people, tradesmen, apprentices and inhabitants of the Close. There are also details of the history of several houses, particularly in East Harnham where Small was born in 1820. The text is interspersed with poetry and items of local and national interest such as the funeral of Benjamin Disraeli in 1881, the Shrewton flood 1841 and an account of the history of Salisbury probably based on the work of Robert Benson and Henry Hatcher. There are also notes of various events in the Salisbury area 1737-1739 (probably taken from the Salisbury Journal).
These entries provide an insight into his trade, historic Salisbury, particular buildings, and into the detail of everyday life that would otherwise be lost to history. Plants and animals often feature as well as the agricultural area surrounding the city.
Through his description of The Close of 50 years previous, we gain an insight into how the area changed:
“The Close was quite different then from what it is now, Wild thorn and elder hedges in a wild state, a great many large trees about… the Grass was laid up for Hay and Farmer Drake of Netherhampton, used to bring his Waggons in, & cart it away. In 1836 or 1837 there was a very high wind in January I think, & blow down all the stately Elm trees on one side of the walk (called lovers walk) but one, prostrate across the field, then the same year the present young ones were planted” (volume one, page 161-2)
I recently finished cataloguing the archive of the Godolphin School, a girls’ only boarding and day school in Salisbury. I took the project on with glee, because I have been very interested in school archives for years and it was wonderful to get the chance to work on the archive. The archive came to the History Centre at two different times. The first accession of material was listed many years ago, but the much more recent second accession had not, although much of it had been indexed. It was my job to take the first accession, 2954, and the second accession, 4265, and amalgamate them into one new collection, 4312.
My first job was to do my own rough box lists of all the material from the different accessions so that I properly understood the material that we had from the school. This also allowed me to check that the 2954 listing was correct and there were no mistakes. Sometimes I think it’s lovely to have a blank canvas with archive collections and it’s great to have no work done on an archive before, so that you come to it with a fresh mind, but for Godolphin it was certainly useful for me to use the previous listings, although I tried to do my own description of the documents before referring to the lists.
Once I had got an idea of what we held, it was time to try and virtually amalgamate the two accessions. I drew up my proposed structure and put each document or bundle of documents from the two accessions into an Excel spreadsheet, which over time probably found itself multicoloured in every shade Excel allowed me to use. Once I had finished, thankfully every number and description was either a satisfying shade of green, to show they’d been put on the system and numbered, or an equally satisfying red to show they were being returned to the school. These returns were all duplicate items. It was then time to put the structure onto our database and begin the more detailed descriptions, which was a lot of fun as I began to know and understand the school history, location, structure and quirks. I loved the school before I even began the project, but I love it more afterwards.
Records for the school date back to 1709, in a letter from Sidney Godolphin, who died in 1712. The school itself was founded by the will of Elizabeth Godolphin, who had married Sidney’s brother Charles. Between them the couple founded many charities, including the school “for the better education and maintenance of eight young gentlewomen to be brought up at Sarum or some other town in the County of Wilts under the care and direction of some wise and prudent Governess or Schoolmistress”. Elizabeth made her will in 1726, but the school did not open until 1784 in the Cathedral Close. Now, the school’s site is in Milford Hill and teaches well over 400 children. The copy made of Elizabeth’s will is the second oldest document in the archive – although the copy itself is much more modern than the will. The most recent documents are from 2014, so the archive really does span the whole history of the school. The most common ones are from the turn of the 20th century: the school itself still holds most of the more modern records.
The most extensive part of the collection (in terms of number of records) is the five boxes we have of photographs, and it was these that I started cataloguing first. The hope was that having the visual impression of the school would help when I was cataloguing other material, and I think it worked. The part I loved most was looking at the turn of the century photographs, which include whole school photographs, staff, house and form photographs, and lovely images of sports. The earliest photograph in the Godolphin collection is one of Miss Polhill, who was headmistress from 1854-1857.