Open Day success at the History Centre
Knights were shot with longbows, bayonets were fixed on rifles, entrenching spades were used as weapons and the archaeologists dressed to kill at this year’s Wiltshire at War event. Visitors were enthralled as staff and our special guests shared their knowledge of the martial history of the county.
From the Iron Age to the First World War the lives of soldiers, the impact on the county and the many documents, objects and monuments that they left behind were here for visitors to see. The archaeologists gave visitors an overview of 2000 years of the county’s history from Iron Age hill forts, through medieval castles to First World War airfields. With costumes to match and an impressive array of weaponry they fascinated visitors with their knowledge of the archaeology.
The conservation labs were busy, with conservators hard at work showing visitors how they conserve archaeology and museum objects every day. They were joined by an Anglo-Saxon re-enactor who greeted visitors in Anglo-Saxon and displayed an impressive knowledge of the period, partly gained through making replica weapons and other objects. A genuine Anglo-Saxon sword, conserved in the labs, was also on display.
We were delighted to be joined by members of ‘The Association Crown Forces 1776’ – an American revolutionary war re-enactment society whose members drummed, fixed bayonets and told visitors about the involvement of the Wiltshire regiment in that war. Visitors also had a go at shooting longbows provided by the Companions of the Longbow. When they had tried to shoot the knights defending the castle they could try on some armour themselves. Inside visitors met a Tommy and saw his trench, and weaponry. Local re-enactor and WW1 expert Steve Williams entranced his audiences all day with his knowledge of life in the trenches.
Talks were given by Richard Broadhead of Chippenham museum, which also provided some excellent children’s activities, and Michael Cornwell of The Rifles museum. Both were very popular and visitors learned much about Chippenham in the First World War and the Wiltshire Regiments involvement in the Boer War.
Photographs and archive documents told the stories of the Crimean War, Boer War and First World War including letters from Florence Nightingale. Normally closed to the public the archive strongroom doors were thrown open so visitors could see behind the scenes for themselves. There was an impressive display of Civil War documents in the archive conservation lab and many visitors tried writing with a quill pen.
We also hosted an exhibition of art by serving soldiers “Other Worlds” which showed paintings they had created in response to their own experiences of war.
Once again visitors thoroughly enjoyed the day, as their comments show:
Marvellous” “Fabulous” “Fantastic day”
Next year's Open Day event is planned for September 2014, exact dates to follow...