Volunteers Week 2017

on Thursday, 01 June 2017.

1-7 June is Volunteers Week and a chance to celebrate the valuable contribution that volunteers make! Here at the History Centre we have many wonderful volunteers who work in all our different departments; Archives, Local Studies, Archive Conservation, Archaeology, Wiltshire Buildings Record (WBR). We are sharing aspects of our volunteer’s work on social media throughout Volunteers Week 2017.

Wiltshire Buildings Record is a non-profit organisation (charity no 280382) partly funded by Wiltshire Council and specialises in investigating the history of built heritage.

“We are house detectives, revealing your home’s hidden secrets!”

Volunteers, Peter and Kylie, busy recording buildings.

Dorothy Treasure is Principal Buildings Historian and the only member of paid staff:

“I would like to highlight the work that our Wiltshire Buildings Records volunteers do. We literally wouldn’t be able to function without their help in the office and in the field.

Hilary Dunscombe is WBR’s longest serving volunteer who has been with them for 33 years!

If not for her we would all be drowning in material to be accessioned. We have a team of people who come out and help record buildings including Alyson Curtis, Clive Carter, Paul Jack, Peter Filtness, Alison Goodall, Kylie Coles, Nigel Walker, Tom Smith and Pam Slocombe.

Hilary and others recording a building in Baydon, near Swindon, and Alyson, in a 16th century roof in Salisbury.

Also not forgetting the work of Margaret Parrott and Louise Purdy here at the History Centre researching the buildings we record – we couldn’t function without them either.

Wiltshire Buildings Record is currently running several projects:

‘Dated Features’ project run by volunteer Paul Jack, which aims to collect datestones, etc from Wiltshire Buildings. We are trying to build up a dated chronology of buildings in Wiltshire, and would love the help of people who know their area and can find these features.

Our other project is ‘Farmsteads’, where volunteers go out into the field to record the traditional farmsteads of Wiltshire. These are one of the fastest disappearing types of building in Wiltshire due to pressures of development and redundancy.

One of our most recent volunteer-led projects is ‘Enrich the List’ where Historic England have asked us to upload information under their official online listing, so that WBR can share its information, and to signpost back to WBR (and by extension, the History Centre)."

You can find out more about these projects on WBR’s website or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The other services at the History Centre have a range of volunteers at the moment, carrying out various tasks, either carried out as a hobby or in the hope of gaining work experience. Their work is immensely valuable to our service and we are very grateful to them all. We hope that in return the volunteers will get something back in terms of improved well-being and the chance to meet other people and work as a team.

For volunteering enquiries please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wiltshire Parish Registers

on Friday, 19 May 2017.

Over three hundred Wiltshire parish registers, dating back to 1538, have now been digitised by Ancestry working in partnership with Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, a service funded by Wiltshire Council and Swindon Borough Council. This will open up access to over 6 million names of ancestors who were baptised, married or buried in the county of Wiltshire. Ancestry.co.uk is a subscription based genealogical website which is available free of charge at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, and in libraries in Wiltshire and Swindon.

Wiltshire has had its fair share of famous inhabitants over the years. Among the people born in the county are talents as diverse as musician James Blunt, born in Tidworth; the actresses Billie Piper and Diana Dors, both daughters of Swindon; comedian David Mitchell, born in Salisbury; and even the Youtube vlogger Zoella, born in Lacock!

Famous people were not just born here, but have lived and died here too. War poet Siegfried Sassoon lived in Heytesbury; the creator of ‘James Bond’, Ian Fleming, is buried at Sevenhampton; and Prime Minister Edward Heath had his ashes interred in Salisbury Cathedral, among many others.

A small selection of the famous Wiltshire inhabitants you can uncover in the Wiltshire parish registers are:

Sir Christopher Wren - the architect who designed St Paul’s Cathedral, was born and baptised in the village of East Knoyle, in Wiltshire. Son of the rector of East Knoyle, also called Christopher, Sir Christopher was not the first child with that name. The first Christopher was baptised 22 November 1630.

Sadly but fairly typically of this era, the first Christopher did not survive, although his burial is not recorded in the registers.

The second Christopher, who went on to become the famous architect, was baptised the following year, 10 November 1631:

“Christopher 2d sonne of Christopher Wren D[oc]t[o]r in Divinitie & Rector”

I found this particularly interesting as according to the Dictionary of National Biography Christopher was born 20 October 1632 – so the last year is incorrect in the latter. I did double check the baptism register for 1632 and 1633 and there is definitely no further baptism of a Christopher Wren in that period.

Image: National Portrait Gallery

Wren spent the first eight years of his life at East Knoyle, where he was educated by a local clergyman. His family moved to Windsor when his father became Dean there, and Wren completed his education at the University of Oxford. A distinguished scientist as well as a gifted architect, he and his colleagues were responsible for rebuilding at least fifty two churches in London, after the devastation caused by the Great Fire of 1666. His masterpiece was St Paul’s Cathedral, still a key feature of the London skyline today despite modern development. Other major projects he worked on are the Royal Naval College, Greenwich and the south front of Hampton Court Palace. He was buried on the 17th March 1723 in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

William Henry Fox Talbot is another Wiltshire inhabitant who achieved international fame.

William Henry Fox Talbot public domain image

Born in 1800 over the county border at his mother’s childhood home of Melbury, Dorset, Fox Talbot did not move to Lacock Abbey until 1828 (despite inheriting the estate at a very young age) as the property was leased to a tenant before this. While at Lacock William began to work on the project which has made him still famous today as one of the pioneers of modern photography – he developed the ‘calotype’ method of photography between 1837 and 1841. In 1842 he was rewarded with a medal from the Royal Society for his work, which facilitated the generation of any number of photographic prints from a single negative. Something of a renaissance man, Fox Talbot published various works on photography, botany, mathematics, astronomy and physics, as well as being a keen amateur archaeologist. He served as MP for Chippenham from 1832-1835, and was High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1840. Fox Talbot died on 17 September 1877 and is buried in the churchyard of Lacock parish church. His burial is recorded in the parish registers of Lacock for 21 September 1877 thus:

For more information about the Talbot family of Lacock please see:
http://www.wshc.eu/lacock/

Hannah Twynnoy

Last but not least, I thought I would finish this survey of Wiltshire inhabitants with someone you may not have heard of but who perhaps deserves to be more well-known. Her name is Hannah Twynney (or Twynnoy) and she has the rare distinction of being the first person in Britain to be killed by a tiger! Hannah’s extraordinary death is recorded in both her tombstone in Malmesbury Abbey graveyard and in the parish register of burials, thus:

“October…24th Hannah Twynney Kild by a Tygre at the white lyon”

Her tombstone reads:

“In memory of
Hannah Twynnoy
Who died October 23rd 1703
Aged 33 years
In bloom of life
She’s snatched from hence
She had not room to make defence;
For Tyger fierce
Took life away
And here she lies
In a bed of clay
Until the Resurrection Day”

According to Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury there used to be a memorial to Hannah in Hullavington church which stated: “To the memory of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a servant of the White Lion Inn where there was an exhibition of wild beasts, and amongst the rest a very fierce tiger which she imprudently took pleasure in teasing, not withstanding the repeated remonstrance of its keeper. One day whilst amusing herself with this dangerous diversion the enraged animal by an extraordinary effort drew out the staple, sprang towards the unhappy girl, caught hold of her gown and tore her to pieces.”

Poor Hannah will be remembered for posterity for her foolishness, but who will spare a thought for the tiger, no doubt killed by its keepers soon after?!

Other examples of wild animals in the county can be found at: https://www.wshc.eu/blog/item/wiltshire-s-wild-cats.html

Claire Skinner, Principal Archivist, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

 

Fabric of Life

on Tuesday, 02 May 2017.

"Gone were the buxom femininity of the Edwardian lady and the bluff machismo of the Edwardian gent. The new woman lopped off her hair, first bobbing it, then shingling it … and then cutting it all off into an Eton crop, the shortest of all. She wore cloche hats and sporty, androgynous-looking jumpers, her breasts bound beneath them. She wore scarlet lip-stick, she smoked and drank. And as the girls looked like boys, so the boys looked more like girls. They shaved their beards so that their faces were as smooth as their lacquered hair. Some wore make-up. This look of infantile androgyny both denied maturity and knowingly undermined the conventional distinction of sexual difference."

A Curious Friendship
The story of a bluestocking and a bright young thing
Anna Thomasson

The Fabric of Life is a Heritage Lottery Funded project which will see young people look at the history of fashion as a form of identity with particular focus on gender and sexuality. We are a partner in this Wiltshire Council’s Arts Service and Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership (WYAP) project along with local museums like Trowbridge and Chippenham.

The project began in January this year and will culminate with an event in November. We’re pleased to have already hosted a group of young people here at the History Centre while another group have enjoyed a trip to the Fashion Museum in Bath.

Since then research has also taken place at local museums and given participants a real insight into the wealth of Wiltshire’s fabric history, how fashion has changed and how identity can be formed out of what we wear.

You can follow updates on the progress of the project on the Arts in Wiltshire blog which will be updated by Project Coordinator Emily Malcolm

Public Art Needs You!

on Saturday, 29 April 2017.

Locate – Investigate – Map

About the project

The aim of the project is to locate, record and photograph public art, namely artworks made by an artist, arts practitioner or craftsperson and located in publicly accessible spaces and places in Wiltshire. At present very little is known about the whereabouts and extent of public art in the county and the role it plays to enhance the places where we live and work. To volunteer for the project please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


We need your help

We need individuals and groups to help us gather data on public art in the community such as location of the item, its condition, what is known of it and a photograph of it in situ. Workshops will be run to help prepare, organise and collate material. Data collected as part of the project will be made available in the Local Studies Library at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre with images deposited in the Historic Photograph and Print Collection. The images will then be pinned to the Know Your Place site to map their location geographically.

Churchwardens' Accounts Database - Volunteering Opportunity

on Friday, 21 April 2017.

Volunteers needed - Can you help?

Churchwardens’ accounts are an important resource for historians and genealogists and we are seeking volunteers to help collect data from all surviving pre-1850 churchwardens’ accounts.  This important National Database, although not yet complete, will go ‘live’ shortly and will be updated regularly. The Database will be freely available to all here.

The data we are collecting is:-
• The year of each surviving account.
• The total expenditure for each surviving year.

It is not necessary to have experience of churchwardens’ accounts; training will be provided together with information and guidance notes to help you.

We are (ideally) looking for people who can spare some time on a regular basis, for approximately six months, in their Local Record Office.  If you already have this information for one or more parishes or you are willing to collect it from just one or two parishes that is fine. All help will be gratefully received and acknowledged.

Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested in volunteering, and we will set up some initial training led by Dr Valerie Hitchman.

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