Wiltshire at War: Community Stories is a five year Heritage Lottery Funded project, aiming to discover, explore and share stories about Wiltshire’s response to the First World War. Since 2014 we’ve travelled the county collecting stories of the amazing men and women who were affected in some way by the war a hundred years ago, such as ‘Fiesty Aunty Olive and the Women’s RAF’, ‘Young Freddy Butler – from the farm to the Royal Flying Corps’ and the ‘Soldiers and Sailors Free and Easy Club’.
While we’ve written about the project before, it’s worth taking another look as we’ve just launched the fascinating fourth exhibition – ‘Keeping the Home Fires Burning’. This explores how the war affected everyday life in Wiltshire, including the new roles taken on by women, rationing, daylight saving and the refugees who fled to England from Belgium.
The new exhibition was launched on Friday 3rd March at Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury. A large crowd gathered for the event and following the official opening of the exhibition, musician and singer Louise Jordan took to the stage. Louise spent a year researching and writing songs about the remarkable women involved in World War One, who are often overlooked in conventional histories.
The title of Louise’s show ‘No Petticoats Here’ is inspired by Sir Arthur Sloggett’s words to Dr Elsie Inglis. Elsie graduated from the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1892 and started working with the poor in Edinburgh. Through this work she became aware of the needs of greater rights for women and was an active suffragette. When war broke out, Elsie offered her medical knowledge and expertise, coming up with the idea of treating wounded soldiers from mobile hospital units, run entirely by women. When she presented the idea she was told by Sir Arthur:
‘My good lady, go home and sit still. We don’t want any petticoats here’.
Not to be discouraged, she set about raising the funds to set up hospitals and field units across Europe, staffed by over 1000 women, often in dangerous situations. A truly inspirational woman whose contribution deserves to be remembered.
Louise weaved beautiful melodies through the fascinating tales of these women, with plenty of audience participation along the way! We learnt about many incredible women including engineer Hertha Ayrton who amongst other achievements invented a fan to clear poison gas from the trenches, Louise de Bettignes a French spy employed by the British army and Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, keen motorcyclists who joined Dr Munro’s Flying Ambulance Corps on the front line.
Also celebrated was one brave woman who is already familiar to Wiltshire at War – Dorothy Lawrence. In 1915 Dorothy was a teenager living in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, with ambitions of becoming a war correspondent for the newspapers. Determined to report on the fighting in Europe she set out from England by bicycle, heading for the Somme. With a uniform borrowed from soldiers she met along the way she posed as Sapper Denis Smith, spending 10 nights on the frontline before giving herself up.
Diaries and sketches and maps from the trenches; Tudor plots, pardons and royal machinations; Civil war sieges at old Wardour Castle – these are a few of my favourite things...
At least, these are just a few of the archives I have delved into since joining the History Centre team in May.
It is not merely self-indulgence that finds me exploring the strong rooms and miles of shelving housing historic documents – it is work. Really, it is. I am actually researching and preparing sessions for schools.
I am privileged to be the centre’s new Heritage Education Officer – taking over from Laurel Miller – which gives me access to all areas and the opportunity to work with the incredible team of archivists, local studies staff, archaeologists and conservators who occupy this building. (The collective knowledge of this team is phenomenal – and it’s all here on your doorstep, ready to be used.)
Working with primary sources and discovering the stories of people involved in our county’s history is exciting and my pleasant task is to share that excitement and enthusiasm with young people who visit the centre as part of a school group or community project. I also work with other heritage and arts educators around Wiltshire, promoting learning outside the classroom
Our education programme caters to all ages and as well as workshops held at the History Centre I also travel to schools and community groups to deliver outreach sessions.
The First World War Centenary is an area of particular personal interest and expertise, and I am delighted to be working with the county’s Wiltshire at War project which has launched two travelling exhibitions, with another three planned.
Don’t forget to visit this wonderful touring exhibition inspired by the British Museum and telling the story of Wiltshire in 100 objects. Supported by the Arts Council England and managed by Wiltshire Museum, Devizes, the project showcases the varied nature of objects held throughout Wiltshire by its museums. These museums range from military collections, industrial sites, art galleries, heritage centres and small village museums as well as national collections.
The 100 objects are diverse and each gives an insight into the rich history of Wiltshire. They have been classified amongst ten major themes...
I thought I would use this blog to update you on a couple of the exhibitions currently taking place in museums across the county.
Salisbury Museum are currently showing ‘Secular to Sacred – The Story of the Lacock Cup’
Running until May 4th this exhibition showcases the stunning 15th century silver cup from the church of St Cyriac, Lacock. The cup was recently jointly acquired by The British Museum and The Wiltshire Museum, Devizes and Salisbury is the first venue to display it on this current tour.
The cup has a fascinating dual history, having been used both as a feasting cup and a holy chalice. The cup was in use at Lacock for over 400 years and was loaned to the British Museum in 1963, but continued to return to Lacock for use at religious festivals until about thirty years ago.
Alongside the Lacock cup the exhibition in Salisbury includes other church vessels from surrounding parishes including Wylye, Fisherton, Odstock, Nunton and Bodenham.
This exhibition will be followed later in May by a major exhibition ‘Turner’s Wessex’, the first ever exhibition devoted to J M W Turner’s drawings and paintings of Salisbury Cathedral, the city and its surroundings.
Trowbridge Museum's brand new Magna Carta exhibition ‘Game of Barons’ runs until 25th July 2015. From medieval weaponry to Lego castles, the exhibition will educate and entertain visitors of all ages. The middle ages are explored through heraldry and pageantry as well as displays about daily life, food, warfare, the troubled reigns of Henry II and Richard the Lionheart and much more.
Our Heritage Lottery Funded project to uncover and share stories of the First World War Home Front in Wiltshire is approaching two exciting milestones early in 2015.
At the end of January our website will be going live. This will be a home for all the stories that have been gathered so far – in sounds, words and pictures. If your family or community have your own stories that you would like to include you will be able to do this straight through the website. Over time we hope this will become a significant record of the impact of the war across the county.
At the end of February the first exhibition based on the stories will be on display at the Springfield Community Campus in Corsham. This exhibition will focus on the role Wiltshire played in providing a home and training ground for the military and how this affected the lives of ordinary people. Look out for full details of the exhibition over the next few weeks. After Corsham the exhibition will be setting off on a tour of community venues whilst we start work on preparing further displays looking at different ways the First World War affected Wiltshire.
Our Heritage Lottery Funded project to uncover and share stories of the First World War Home Front in Wiltshire http://wiltshireatwar.org.uk/ is now moving into its second phase. Over the summer we have been out and about meeting people, making contacts and starting to identify some of the stories that we will be sharing and preserving. This month, we will be showing volunteers from across the county how to do this work so that they can find out and record more stories from their communities.
Places are filling up fast, but if you are interested in coming along to one of these workshops they are taking place at:
Malmesbury Town Hall, 15 Oct 2pm The Rifles Museum, Salisbury 21 Oct 2pm Trowbridge Town Hall, 27 Oct 2pm
Meanwhile, behind the scenes museum education officers are planning the schools element of the project, which will be starting next year and we are looking at the best options for how we present all the stories. This will be done through exhibitions in libraries, museums, village halls, churches etc as well as on a dedicated website.