The Joy of Ephemera

on Tuesday, 24 July 2018.

I and two colleagues from the History Centre and Salisbury Library were lucky enough to pay a visit to the welcoming staff and volunteers at the Centre for Ephemera Studies at the University of Reading recently. I’d like to help spread the word about this wonderful collection!

Housed in the Typography and Communications department, the Centre originated with the work of Maurice Rickards, a great collector of ephemeral material until his death in 1998. Maurice was determined to demonstrate the diversity of ephemera and its potential for study. He collected 20,000 items for use by researchers and students at the University. The Centre was inaugurated by Lord Briggs in May 1993. Asa Briggs, the distinguished social and cultural historian, had long been an advocate of the study of ephemera and agreed to become the Centre's first Patron.

Our visit began, perhaps as it should, at the very beginning of the printing process, viewing the department’s current exhibition on the history of printing including its very own replica handmade traditional wooden printing press similar to the one that was used in Europe by Gutenberg in the 15th century, built by a researcher. Experiments had been done using this press with inks and paper to recreate a page from the early printed bible and other texts. We were also shown later letterpress, intaglio and lithography presses which the Typography and Communications students are allowed to use to great effect for their research projects. I can tell you that the smell from the ink and those metal machines was wonderful!

Printing press
Copy of experimental printing
Metal presses

We moved on to meet the Centre’s Director Michael Twyman and long-term volunteer Mrs Pepys who talked us through the history of the collection, which has expanded massively since its early days; how the collection is managed and arranged. The material is sorted first before being categorised on ephemera database sheets and moved to its permanent housing in flat archival storage boxes. Items are grouped according to topic and are mounted on boards using archivally approved materials to protect them as they are often single bits of paper which can be quite fragile.

Grey sorting box
Flat boxes of the main ephemera collection

A thesaurus of ephemera types is used to ensure consistency, and the team are working with the Bodleian Library and European partners towards ensuring consistently over Europe in future years. The Centre proactively looks at current trends and new topics to add to the collection.

The collection is proving to be of huge value to students, researchers; even an interior designer has found a wealth of material as inspiration for their designs. English literature, history and social history are all represented here. The team at Reading are also involved with the Ephemera Society, internationally recognised as the leading authority in this field and concerned with the collection, conservation, study and educational use of printed and hand-written ephemera.

Contents of an ephemera box

Rickards himself noted that ephemera is 'the minor transient documents of everyday life'. It is material that is often thought of as inconsequential, easily forgotten and thrown away, but in fact it can prove to be a fascinating source of treasures which help to chart the history of who we are. It is the aim of the Centre that visitors are able to feel at ease with the collection, to make a connection with the material of all shapes and sizes in order to bring history alive, as it most certainly did for us.

The sheer variety of items ranging from beer mats, dance cards and greetings cards, invitations, bills, letters, posters, public notices and even an envelope with a feather marking the advent of ‘express delivery’ was breathtaking. It was exciting and rewarding for us to have the opportunity to connect with others and share the joy and wonderment that is ephemera in all its glory. Many thanks go to Laura Weill the Assistant Curator for giving us the opportunity to visit and find out more. We will certainly be looking to expand our collections at The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre and at Salisbury Library, and to show others just how fascinating they truly are! Why not pay us a visit to discover what your Wiltshire ephemera collection has to offer…

You can visit the Centre for Ephemera at Reading by appointment, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further details. You can also view an online exhibition showcasing the different types of ephemera at

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

I do so like dried eggs and Spam – Wiltshire food memories

on Wednesday, 23 May 2018.

Our recent Food Festival was a great success, with more than 220 people visiting the History Centre to celebrate Wiltshire’s food and drink heritage. Visitors heard talks on food through the ages, tasted Wiltshire Loaf (actually a cheese!) and had the chance to make gingerbread according to a medieval recipe.

Making gingerbread at WSHC Food Festival

As part of the event we asked our guests to let us know some of their favourite memories of food in Wiltshire. Here are a few of our favourites – a fascinating snapshot of our changing tastes over the last few decades.  

The 1940s & 1950s

As you might expect, austerity and rationing dominated the food memories from the 1940s & 1950s:

“I grew up during rationing. My favourite food was a very slim slice of Spam fried in lard. Breakfast was often dried eggs on toast (very tasteless). My mum didn’t go in for gravy or custard so everything was very dry. Believe it or not I used to sneak a teaspoonful of Cod Liver Oil and malt. Yes, I really enjoyed it”

handwritten food memories

The 1960s

A mixture of home cooking and modern artificial food characterised the 1960s:

“Warm memories of helping my mum making Welsh cakes on the griddle. I had my own small rolling pin and cutter. Whilst I was too little to use the griddle for fear of burning my hands, I certainly enjoyed the fresh bakes! C.1960s”

“Does anyone else remember Creamola Foam, crystals from a tin added to water to make a foaming, exhilarating (and highly unhealthy) drink, long before the days of Red Bull (1960s)? Three flavours – lemon, orange and (my favourite) raspberry”

Apparently Creamola Foam has made a comeback – this time as Krakatoa Foam

Krakatoa foam wikicommons

The 1970s

Strangely, most of our 1970s memories revolved around school dinners – not all of them positive memories!

“I have very fond memories of school dinners for the early 70s. I was in infant school and we would have top infants playing mum & dad & serving up lunch to the rest of the table of younger pupils. Food was good and wholesome. Great puddings – sponges & custard. Yummy! At junior school I even liked the Pilchard salad!”

“Early 1970s. I can remember visiting a corner sweetshop with my grandad and being able to choose one sweetie from numerous containers of different types and ending up with a lovely selection in a white paper bag. Favourites were: Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, sherbet dips, flying saucers”

Fruit salad sweets wikicommons

“1970 sweets – being sent to the shop to get a quarter of crystallized rock for mum, Merryman’s toffees for dad (still not sure how his dentures coped) and half of marzipan tea cakes for my brother and I. Treat – toast done on the coal fire with dripping and Instant Whip (for reasons I have still not fathomed I had to give my brother 2 spoons of mine!). Finally – anyone remember Rice Creamula? A ground rice/custard dessert – a bit like custard powder – am I the only person who remembers this?”

One thing that seemed to stand out for almost everyone who was at school in the 1970s was how much they disliked tapioca and semolina:

“I was in primary school in the 1970s & we were lucky enough to have our meals cooked on the premises; they were lovely! Braised chicken & rice was my favourite & there was always a queue for second helpings. The only things I remember not liking we cheese pie, semolina & tapioca – yeurgh!”

“School dinners in 1970s – best things were roast dinners with fantastic roast potatoes & lots of gravy. Worst things were tapioca (frogspawn!) and mashed swede or liver casserole! We always had to clear our plates, and couldn’t leave the dining hall till the plate was clean!”

But not everyone hated it:

“Love it or hate it! I loved it! That ‘pink’ school pudding…otherwise known as semolina and strawberry jam, stirred to create a fabulous creamy pink delight. C1970s”


1980s & 1990s

The 80s and 90s were all about the convenience food:

“I grew up in the 1980s – a Golden Age for convenience food – Angel Delight, Crispy Pancakes & Cup-a-Soup. My parents were too busy for cooking, but my gran was on hand to bake. Every birthday I got my favourite cake – chocolate sponge, buttercream icing and my age written in chocolate buttons”

“Mint Viennetta frozen dessert – the height of sophistication in the 1980s!”

Vienetta wikicommons

“Viennetta for birthday teas! Camping food – Mr Mash & Bean Feast. Buying my dad Werther’s Originals every birthday because he once said he liked them”

“The 1990s were filled with a mixture of convenience foods for school lunches like ‘Lunchables’, baby bell, mixtures of super sour sweets that made your teeth fall out, as well as home cooked foods like the classic roast dinner by nanna. I remember a big staple of my diet being ‘smiley faces’ (potatoes in a J shape) with baked beans and sausages. (Also marmite or chocolate spread went on whatever food it could both to make something yummy or questionable.)”

2000s & 2010s

School dinners return in the Twenty-First century, a little different from those in the 1970s…

“School dinners of the 21st century are awesome! I really like sausages and mash”

“In maybe 2015 or 2016 I was round about 4½ . We were at lunch and I was waiting for my lunch when I noticed a new pudding! It had bright white icing. It looked very creamy. When I got my lunch I asked ‘what’s that?’ pointing at the strange cake. The girl next to me said ‘it’s lemon cheese cake’. When I took a bite…YUM! I LOVE IT!!!”

“Hi. I do not like school dinners except the pizza and puddings!! My fav food is pizza!!! I also love sweets and chocolate. From max aged 10”

FavFoods memory

If you have any memories of Wiltshire foods you’d like to share, let us know in the comments.

Peasant’s Heritage by Ralph Whitlock, c. 1946

on Tuesday, 08 May 2018.

A narrative account, mostly of Ralph’s early childhood and young adulthood with a summary of his later life and experience gained. He began life with his mother as a pauper living outside the workhouse, with a good account of being given the workhouse loaf. There is great detail about rural living in the Victorian era, especially in terms of farming, the landscape, how everyday people utilised what was on the land, and the life that boys led: schooling, work, games and socialising, and the difference in culture, especially the way people looked at wildlife and vermin of many kinds.

Much was said about sheep; looking after them, the work sheepdogs did, shearing, sheep fairs etc. (including shady tradesmen selling wares) and how men and boys were employed at that time. Whitlock managed to gain land of his own, and he explains how this developed as well as how he spent his leisure time with his musical instrument and with the church. There are also details about recreational sporting games, the practical jokes that were played on various villagers and the fear of ghosts.

He also relayed his feelings about the change in customs and agriculture. Peasant’s Heritage is a pleasant read which gives a very different view of the county that both he, and we, love.

Ralph’s book is available to view at the History Centre and at Salisbury library, ref: XWH.630.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

Corsham High Street Project launch a resounding success!

on Tuesday, 08 May 2018.

The launch was held recently at Corsham Town Hall – from which there are excellent views of the High Street - attended by nearly 60 members of the public with numerous others having sent apologies but confirming their interest. Those attending included town councillors and officers. There were short speeches welcoming and supporting the project by representatives of the Corsham Civic Society, Wiltshire Buildings Record and the former Corsham Area Heritage group.

David Clarke, an eminent buildings historian, co-author of Burford: Buildings and People in a Cotswold Town and Secretary of The Oxfordshire Buildings Record, was the guest speaker and spoke about the highly relevant aspects of that project to the Corsham High Street Project [CHSP].

John Maloney, Project Facilitator and Corsham Civic Society representative, introduced the proceedings and began:
Honorary Chairman, Julian Orbach (editor of the forthcoming updated edition of the Wiltshire volume of the Buildings of England), sends his apologies as because of a long-standing prior engagement he cannot be here this evening. He also sends his very best wishes for the project and asked me to say the following words on his behalf:

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner said in 1963 'Corsham has no match in Wiltshire for wealth of good houses. There are in fact no bad ones, and there are a few of really high merit'. He meant in particular the High Street, as at that date Corsham had barely begun to expand. There are many assumptions about the houses, their dates, for whom they were built, and how they worked, but we still know little. Even that much-used term 'weavers' houses' is elusive. To understand in depth what makes the High Street of Corsham such a memorable sequence requires a close look at each building, and this project promises to do that, by which the history of Corsham, and Wiltshire, will be enriched.

John noted that in order for a funding application to be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) it needed to demonstrate that sufficient owners/tenants in the High Street were prepared to allow access for recording to make the project viable and he was pleased to report that there already has been a very good response from owners of High Street buildings to informal soundings about agreeing access to their properties for recording. He made a point of stating that internal recording of buildings would be undertaken and managed strictly as agreed beforehand with owners and the aim was to record only internal features of historic significance: modern alterations and additions were not of interest and would not be noted. He stressed that in every sense it is intended that such work is non-intrusive. Thomas Brakspear, a local resident and specialist in historic buildings, who kindly agreed to be a Patron of the project, spoke of his experiences moving to Corsham and made the amusing and valid point that owners shouldn’t be concerned about the tidiness of their houses as CHSP members would be mainly intent on getting into their attics!

John noted that the project committee would ensure that every owner taking part will be provided with a free illustrated copy of their building’s report and acknowledgement in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre archives and, ultimately, the published book.

He mentioned that little more than a decade ago, the Corsham Civic Society successfully completed the HLF funded project for the restoration of the late 19th century Mayo Memorial which was erected in to the memory of Charles Mayo, a notable benefactor to the town. Colleagues on the CHSP committee were involved and so the society has a good track record with HLF.  It was encouraging that on that very day work had begun on one of the oldest known buildings in the High Street which was having its roof ‘raised’ and repaired!

Speakers panel from left John Maloney standing Michael Rumsey Dorothy Treasure guest speaker David Cark Peter Tapscott and Tom Brakspear

The speakers came together as a panel and a good ‘question and answer’ session ensued and discussion continued informally over refreshments.

Dorothy Treasure

Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Feasting on Heritage

on Wednesday, 14 March 2018.

What is a Wiltshire loaf if it’s not bread? And who knew that kisses contain calories?!

You can discover the answers to these culinary questions and sample some tasty heritage recipes when we throw open our doors for its first ever Food Festival.

We are celebrating Wiltshire’s food and drink heritage on 14 April with a day of free activities, talks and displays. The Women’s Institute will also be on hand with a pop-up café, selling tea, coffee and heritage cakes throughout the day.

Food historian and author Sally McPherson and chef Deborah Loader will talk about the history of food and the herbs and spices used as flavourings down the ages. Sally has carried out extensive research at the History Centre for her books M’Lady’s Book of Household Secrets: Recipes, Remedies and Essential Etiquette and The Royal Heritage Cookbook.

For visitors wanting an actual taste of Wiltshire heritage there will be a pop-up café run by volunteers, and led by Alison Williams, from Lacock WI. Members will be recreating some of the historic recipes held in the archive and visitors will have the chance to sample the results, including possets, raspberry and ginger cheesecake, and traditional ice cream. All good cafés need cake and they will also be producing such delights as chocolate porter cake, violet cakes, Duke of York’s cake, Maids of Honour and kisses (small meringues).

Wiltshire is of course famous for its cheese and dairy industries and we are delighted that local cheese-maker Ceri Cryer will be joining in on the day. She has revived the traditional Wiltshire Loaf, a semi-hard cheese popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, which she makes at the Brinkworth Dairy using her great grandfather’s recipe. Ceri will be talking about the cheese and there will be samples to try.

Going back even further in time, and one for the children, local historian Lucy Whitfield will be creating medieval gingerbread and a Roman olive relish.

If that is not historic enough you can discover just what the builders of Stonehenge were eating 4,500 years ago. Historians from English Heritage will be on hand with a display on food and feasting at the ancient monument, including the latest archaeological research which reveals what our ancestors were eating, how they cooked and that early man probably invented the concept of food miles.

18th century cheesecake recipe from the Lacock archive

The day would not be complete without a display of just some of the fascinating archives housed here – from sumptuous feasts enjoyed by the wealthy people to the diet of gruel endured by workhouse inmates. Wiltshire’s bacon and dairy industries will also be celebrated with displays about Bowyers, Harris’ and Nestlé.

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