Last year I completed a dissertation that looked at how archives and archival activity could help tackle the widespread issue of elderly loneliness. As an archive professional I wanted to see what was being done within the profession that could aid the mental and physical well-being of those experiencing loneliness, but also to ask what else could be done. My research showed archival institutions are well placed to contribute to tackling loneliness, indeed they are already actively doing so. This blog hopes to highlight the positive effect of using archives during lockdown (and beyond!), and update readers on our work behind the scenes.
Anyone who frequents an archive may note its popularity with those of retirement age; retirees may have more time to undertake research and so may visit an archive more often. However, it should be emphasised that archives are friendly, welcoming places for anyone with an interest in history or any form of local history research to conduct: be it students researching for their degrees, house historians searching historic building applications, or family history enthusiasts. Anyone and everyone is welcome: provision of access to historic documents is at the forefront of our work, and we would encourage anyone to visit Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, regardless of age and, furthermore, that feelings of isolation and loneliness are universal and not confined to any one demographic!
So, in these unprecedented times, where isolation and loneliness for all age groups is more prevalent than ever before, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre is looking at new ways of serving all of our community. While we’re unable to carry out any physical outreach work during lockdown, promoting and ensuring continued access for as broad an audience as possible is still a fundamental and highly enjoyable part of the work of the archive team at WSHC, except now we must find new ways to reach out to anyone unaware of what we can offer!
In terms of our ability to interact with the community, our intrinsic knowledge of the local area ensures that we are well placed to do this. Archivists can relate to tales of old and offer suggestions on how to find out more on such subjects, but we can also bring to light fascinating new stories, that were hitherto forgotten or hiding in the strongrooms. In Wiltshire, our County Local Studies Librarian, Julie Davis, does exactly this with her ‘Memory Box’ reading groups – follow this link to see some of her recent isolation sessions from her living room. Julie’s work shows how heritage professionals are adapting to fulfil their duties during this period. Not yet available on the website, but done in preparation for the VE Day celebrations is her extract readings on the event. This is available here.
The entire nation would normally be planning events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE day. However, new and innovative ways are being sought to celebrate and mark the occasion during lockdown. The talk we had planned at WSHC has been made available online, again by Julie Davis, and is available here (you may need to sign in to Google for this).
Of course it is a great shame not being able to celebrate with our family, friends and neighbours, but Wiltshire Council has put together a VE Day Toolkit, that will hopefully provide inspiration on how best to celebrate this momentous occasion at home or in the garden.
Even if we cannot be in the immediate vicinity of our friends, family or community, we can continue to be connected, and being connected can contribute to people’s well-being. Did you know that there is evidence to show that tracing your family tree can have a positive effect on your mental health? Indeed, any form of research that engages the mind will be positive during these times, so why not take a look at some of the fantastic online resources that are available and start a new research project or learn about the local area? You can find out more about these resources here in our recent blogs.
Connectedness does not need to be confined to the present. Relating to the past, be it family members researched as part of a genealogy project, or even past occupiers of your house, can help ease feelings of isolation. Documents usually consulted in the searchroom, are increasingly available as online resources, for example: Wiltshire parish registers and wills are now temporarily available for free on Ancestry. Follow this link to see what’s available and for guidance on how to proceed. So, if you’re at home struggling for things to do, why not start your family history? We have starter packs available here too!
There are multiple agencies working locally and nationally to assist us in these difficult times. If you, or anyone you know, is struggling in isolation in Wiltshire, check out the Wiltshire Wellbeing Hub. Charities are naturally at the forefront of the effort to keep loneliness and isolation at bay. At a local level, Celebrating Age is a fantastic project aimed at tackling the issue of loneliness by delivering arts and heritage events in community settings for frail, vulnerable older people unable to access concert halls or theatres. Their current programme of events has understandably been called off, however they are looking at ways of delivering digital programme. Follow this link for 90 minutes of live music and storytelling from the comfort of your living room! Also, keep an eye on their website when lockdown is over because they are doing great things across the county.
At a national level, the Campaign to End Loneliness website has a really useful section specifically for Corona virus related issues and anxieties, as does the Age UK site.
I’d just like to sign off by wishing all of our readers well. Do share, re-tweet or pass on this message with family, neighbours, colleagues or anyone you know who may be struggling with loneliness during lockdown and whose well-being may benefit from some of the suggestions here.
Follow us on Twitter, friend us on Facebook and keep a close eye on our website for more information, as well as updates on re-opening. Happy researching!
In 2017 I graduated from the Conservation MA at Camberwell College of Arts and having volunteered for several years in the Archives Conservation department I began work as Assistant Archive Conservator at the WSHC. My role involves being part of the Conservation Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) who support heritage organisations in Wiltshire and beyond. Primarily I work with the archive material held at the WSHC to help maintain and preserve it for current and future generations.
Since beginning at the WSHC in August 2017 it has certainly not been quiet. So far amongst other things: I have begun to master map repair, mounted and tensioned parchment, attended several conservation surgeries, found some exciting things whilst surveying archive boxes, spent seven hours hoovering the strongrooms and made several gluten free cakes for the staffroom! Here are some of the highlights:
One of the parchment maps from our collection was extremely distorted so I used a conservation tensioning method to gradually reduce the cockling. Because parchment is animal skin it behaves very differently to paper and requires specific methods of treatment. It was left tensioning for two weeks before being put in a polyester enclosure and returned to the archive.
Overseers of the Poor Account Book
A project I am currently working on is the Overseers of the Poor Account Book
This is a large project this time involving a very fragile set of pages from 1732. These would once have been bound but now just remnants of thread remain in some pages. The paper is so damaged in areas that it is crumbling away.
One leaf had a pile of severely degraded papers attached with a pin. I carefully removed the loose pieces and pieced them back together where possible.
To make it accessible to the public again each page is being lined with a Japanese tissue. This is translucent enough that the writing on the side of the lining tissue is still visible whilst making the page strong enough to be handled.
Above: applying the lining tissue to a leaf from the volume
The above photograph shows the main leaf and one of the attachments that I was able to piece back together, after both have been lined. The remaining pieces were grouped together by ink and writing type and enclosed in bespoke polyester pockets in the hope that they may be of use to future researchers.
We are trying to get as many societies and history groups as possible to take photos of traditional farm buildings. The pressure on buildings that have lost their original use is enormous. Many redundant farm buildings are either converted into homes and offices or face demolition to make way for new development. Some are left to decay. In an effort to record this rapidly-changing farming landscape we are urging local history group to take a snap-shot or two from the public footpath, road or hill-top and send them in to us. We want to record buildings that have been converted as well as those in their original state, even if still in use. This will give us an indication of the rate of change in Wiltshire, and a record of buildings that may disappear in the future.
We are not a pressure group that wants to stop change, we merely want to chronicle the changes that occur, and keep the information for future study. We also want to learn from the information submitted, so that people living and working in Wiltshire can understand their built heritage better. Many traditional farmsteads have already been lost to the pressures of development, and maybe nobody will remember what they were like, which is a lost opportunity and a great shame. Once they are gone, they are gone, along with a way of life that has persisted for hundreds of years! If you are interested please contact the office and we can supply you with further details, or just get out there with your camera and snap away, making sure you can identify the farm, and date the photographs.
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record
At the end of August 2016 Michael Marshman retired from his post as County Local Studies Librarian, marking an amazing 50 years working for Wiltshire Council.
Mike originally wanted to be an archaeologist but changed direction after visiting the county library whilst still at school in Trowbridge, his home town. He joined Wiltshire County Council on 1st August 1966 as an eighteen year old library assistant, at Trowbridge Library HQ, which at that time was in Prospect Place. In 1967 Mike was appointed a trainee librarian and undertook training at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He returned to Wiltshire to work and became Marlborough Mobile Librarian from 1970-1 followed by Melksham Town Librarian from 1971-1975. Mike has always prioritised working with the local community and while in Melksham he ran two Puffin Clubs for children, hosted or mounted monthly exhibitions and began giving talks on local history – something he has continued to this day! From 1975-1979 Mike became Town Librarian of Trowbridge, where he was one of the founders of Trowbridge Civic Society. Mike, a keen amateur photographer, carried out much important photography of Trowbridge. In 1979 the first of his eight books, Wiltshire Landscape, was published by Countryside Books. From 1979-1981 Mike became Trowbridge Area Librarian which expanded to include Warminster Area in 1981. From 1981-1988 Mike was Town Librarian of Warminster, setting up its new library, working with the local community and setting up, with Nicola Harris, Senior Assistant, a very successful programme of children’s activities. In Warminster Mike also began working with a certain Helen Taylor who will be well known to History Centre visitors! In 1988 Mike became Wiltshire County Local Studies Librarian, and immediately set to work promoting local history county-wide. He organised local history weeks including over 70 events in one year! He inaugurated ‘Wiltshire History Road Shows’ taking archivists and the Wiltshire Buildings Record staff out to communities. He established fiendish cryptic Wiltshire local history quizzes with sponsored prizes. Building on the work of his predecessor, John Chandler, he extended the Wiltshire Collection into the largest collection of published Wiltshire material in the world. Mike also established the Ephemera and Creative Wiltshire collections as sub-sets of the Wiltshire Collection. In 1998 Mike was one of only a hundred librarians nationwide to be awarded the Library Association Centenary Medal for ‘outstanding contribution to and achievement in library work’, presented by Princess Anne, no less, and in 2001 he won the national Dorothy McCulla Memorial Prize awarded by CILIP for his outstanding contribution to local studies work.
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.
I have been a volunteer with the Wiltshire Buildings Record for around twelve years. Volunteering for me is a privilege and a pleasure. I can choose to do it when it suits and it fits around my family. The benefits have been many. Life-long learning is very important to me. Here, I am immersed in buildings archaeology, which is my passion. My more experienced colleagues are generous with their time and knowledge. They have given me the confidence to explore my interests more deeply.
There is no such thing as a typical week. My work is varied. Recently I have been busy letting people know about our annual Study Day “Dating Clues in Period Houses” which is on 8th November. Yesterday morning I helped with the filing. Afterwards we met with a paint conservator who is doing a PhD in 16-17th C painting schemes. She came all the way from Suffolk to research what the WBR has found in Wiltshire, and to share her research findings with us. It was fascinating and we will put our latest understanding into practice when recording buildings. In the afternoon I went to Malmesbury where we made a record of the historic fabric in a small 19th C house. This included what may be the remains of a lost bastion from the medieval town wall!