Articles tagged with: railway

Elephants and the Moon: Unexpected Wiltshire

on Tuesday, 30 July 2019. Posted in Archives, History Centre

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.)

Only tennis ball factory in Europe

on Friday, 03 June 2016. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire Places

On a recent History Centre village interpretation day course Claire Skinner and Mike Marshman led a party around the village of Box. Besides the Roman villa site, medieval church and many 17th and 18th century buildings they noted, near the bottom of Quarry Hill, an industrial site. In the first half of the 19th century there was a tallow chandler that made candles here. When Brunel’s Box Tunnel was being excavated and built for the Great Western Railway line between London and Bristol the Vezey family at the factory were providing one ton of candles every week for 2½ years to lighten the darkness for the workmen underground. The factory continued to make candles and soap until 1930.

Nowadays the factory sign reads, ‘J. Price (Bath) Ltd’, with no indication as to what is made. From the 1930s the business became Box Rubber Mills until the 1950s and were retreading the motor car tyres that some of us remember from our early car driving days. One of the other products of this family firm was tennis balls and they are now the only manufacturer of these in Europe; you can get them in various colours and with your name printed on them if you wish. Also made is a wide range of other products including squash balls, skittles balls, handballs and Eton fives balls, besides rubber parts for trailers, equipment for the navy, and rubber mouldings for industry.

 

photograph, west entrance of Box Tunnel, Box, Wiltshire, 1920's P18333

An Autumn Tour

on Friday, 16 October 2015. Posted in Museums

Now that summer fades away and crisp/wet autumn arrives, one would expect the museum staff in Wiltshire to take advantage of the impending winter months and retreat into their archives until spring. However, there is still much to see and visit throughout the county – indeed an intrepid traveller could embark on a grand circular tour this weekend, starting at Royal Wootton Bassett, then heading south west towards Trowbridge, due south to Mere and return via Market Lavington.

The museum at Royal Wootton Bassett is an iconic site in the town. Half-timbered, supported on fifteen pillars and dating from 1690, the former town hall was a gift from Lawrence Hyde, MP, (later the Earl of Rochester) to the citizens and incorporated a store room and a lock up or Blind House for drunks and other undesirables, used before local police stations contained their own cells. The building has seen many uses, including a school and a courtroom. After extensive restoration in 1889 the town library was based in the town hall and since 1971 it has housed the museum.

Currently, the museum is marking the closure of the Wootton Bassett railway station back in 1965 with an exhibition and marvellous scale model depicting the station in the 1960’s. Visit the slide show telling the story of the station and its various buildings and its early links with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Look at railway life through the eyes of a signalman and discover the impact of the Swindon rail works on Wootton Bassett.

Royal Wootton Bassett Museum is open every Wednesday and Saturday (10-12).

Travelling across the county we reach the administrative centre of Trowbridge and its wonderful museum which is situated in The Shires Shopping Centre. The museum collection covers Trowbridge and outlying villages and contains a multitude of artefacts relating to the history of the town including its past industries and notable townspeople, one of which was Sir Isaac Pitman, developer of phonetic shorthand. Trowbridge Museum is located on the second floor of Salters Mill, the town’s last working woollen mill which closed in 1982. The cloth industry was a huge factor in the town’s development and in 1820 the place was nicknamed the ‘Manchester of the West’ with over twenty cloth-producing factories - the museum possesses one of only five Spinning Jennies left in the world.

And a Wiltshire New Year to You!

on Tuesday, 31 December 2013. Posted in Events

As New Year is almost upon us, I thought to take a look at how some of our previous Wiltshire inhabitants spent their New Years’ Day by taking a look at their diary entries. The authors’ backgrounds range from lords to schoolboys, schoolmasters to reverends, and how different their experiences of New Year were…

It was the plague that was the main concern at the beginning of January in 1666 when Sir Edward Bayntun of Bromham noted in his Commonplace Book on January 6th:

“Orders of the justices of the peace for Wiltshire to prevent the spread by the carriage of goods or by wandering beggars of the plague which infected London, Westminster, Southwark, and Southampton.”

New Year’s Eve offered a poignant moment in the diary of William Henry Tucker, a Trowbridge man born in 1814 who worked his way up to become a successful clothier. The entry of 31st December reads:

“Our usual party. Stood on Emma’s grave while Trinity church clock struck twelve at the close of the first half of the nineteenth century”…

Wiltshire enters Discworld

on Tuesday, 17 December 2013. Posted in Wiltshire Places

Sir Terry Pratchett has lived in south Wiltshire for many years and is well known in the county for his work at literary, community and charity events. In some recent books the influence of the chalk landscape in which he lives has been very apparent. However it is his latest book that has just been added to the Wiltshire Collection at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. In Raising Steam the power of steam locomotion comes to Discworld and the small settlement of Swine Town on the Sto Plain becomes a fast growing centre of engineering, mirroring the growth of our own Swindon. His railway company also provides homes and social facilities for railway workers, just like the GWR. There also happens to be a Fat Controller, the original of which was created by the Rev. Awdry after living in Box when a boy, listening to the steam locomotives chuffing and puffing around Box Tunnel, and later writing Thomas the Tank Engine books based on these memories.

50 Years Ago – Wiltshire’s Big Freeze of 1963

on Friday, 25 January 2013. Posted in Seasons

Just a few of us at the History Centre were at school during the blizzards and Arctic-seeming conditions of early 1963 and can reflect on how slight recent snowfalls seem! It was Wiltshire’s worst blizzard for 80 years and surpassed the really bad winter of 1947. Some snow had fallen on Boxing Day; we missed a white Christmas as usual, while a further 6 inches fell over the weekend on 29th and 30th December. This was a proper Christmas holiday from school; snowmen were built and furious snowball fights peppered the streets and parks, although drifting snow meant that some families had to dig themselves out of their houses. Most people had plenty of food left over from Christmas and coal and wood for the open fires that still warmed most houses. Many people were still accustomed to walking to work and those that weren’t normally didn’t live far enough away to prevent them working.

 

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