Paper Conservation Volunteering at the History Centre

on Tuesday, 03 September 2013. Posted in Conservation

Saya Honda Miles has been volunteering with the Archives conservation team to help with large conservation projects. She has been working with Senior Conservation officers Paul Smith and Sarah Money conserve Inland Revenue maps from 1901, 19th Century tissue plans of Great Wishford Church and manuscripts for Sir Richard Colt-Hoare’s volumes: The Ancient History of Wiltshire and The History of Modern Wiltshire from the Wiltshire Museum.


Saya graduated with a First-class honours degree in Conservation from Camberwell College of Arts in 2008.  After graduation, she worked on a cellulose nitrate negative deep-freezing project at the Ashmolean Museum. She became an Icon Intern for the Conservation of Photographic Materials; hosted by English Heritage and National Trust in 2009. After the internship, Saya started her private business; SMILES Conservation and she became a member of the ICON Photographic Materials Group Committee in 2010.


In March 2013, she completed the Red Box Project; a digitisation and conservation project of 600,000 open-access architectural photographs as a project conservator at the English Heritage Archives. After completing the project, she started volunteering at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in May 2013 to refresh her paper conservation skills. She has recently been appointed at the English Heritage Archives as the Maternity Cover Assistant Archive Conservator.

WWI, from the pens of Wiltshire's school teachers

on Tuesday, 27 August 2013. Posted in Schools

Since Victorian times, schools across Wiltshire have kept a weekly or daily account in rather fancy log books. During our week working at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, we had the privilege of looking through a selection of the log books kept in the archives, some more battered than others.


Once we were able to read the copperplate handwriting used in these books, we were able to unlock the secrets of historical schools within these books. Focusing mainly on 1914-1918 (looking for any mention of The Great War) we read about children and teachers almost one hundred years ago.


Of course, there were some immediate differences that we noticed: fires in the classrooms, measuring and weighing at schools and excluding of pupils when there were epidemics of illnesses. However we also noticed some other things that have changed over time: we are no longer sent home for being dirty, nor are we caned but unfortunately, we no longer get granted holidays for blackberry picking, going sliding in icy weather or afternoons off for tea parties.

The Wiltshire Yeomanry in Action: El Alamein

on Friday, 13 September 2013. Posted in Military

The Battle of El Alamein has been seen one of the major turning points of the Second World War and although it has been viewed more critically in recent years, it cannot be denied that it was a major boost to British morale. Churchill declared "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat."
The first battle took place in July 1942 with the decisive second battle being fought over a period of 13 days from 23rd October.

An article from The Times, November 6, 1942 reported


“Victory in Egypt
No doubt remains that a major victory in North Africa, for which the country has waited so many months, has been achieved at last.”

'Lacock Unlocked' is unlocking secrets already!

on Tuesday, 20 August 2013. Posted in Archives

It is about two months now since I started working on the Lacock collection and every day I am finding something noteworthy in the boxes. The collection contains a range of beautiful and informative documents: legal documents and correspondence are particularly good at providing valuable insights into the Talbot, Davenport, Feilding and related families who are associated with the Lacock estate. Different documents appeal to different researchers according to their area of research but also their personal preferences. An example here is a series of letters discovered as part of the Davenport collection.

Henry Davenport (1678-1731) was married twice, the second time to Barbara Ivory, the younger sister of John Ivory Talbot who was one of the owners of Lacock. Later, the Lacock estate would come into the hands of Henry and Barbara’s descendents, first in trust to their daughter-in-law Martha (Talbot, who married their son William) and then to their grandson William Davenport Talbot. Sharington Davenport (1709-1774), Henry’s son by his first wife Marie-Lucie Chardin, attended Eton and many letters have survived from his school days and into his time at Cambridge, written to his father and stepmother Barbara Davenport from him and also from his tutors and servants at Eton. These letters are fascinating, and show his character as a slightly rebellious and highly amusing schoolchild, also displayed from various letters written to his father by his aunts (spinster sisters Arabella and Leticia Davenport). Henry Davenport kept many varied letters especially from family memmembers and Sharington’s schoolboy writing is particularly clear and consistent.

Barrow Clump - more exciting finds in the second season!

on Friday, 02 August 2013. Posted in Archaeology

A couple of weeks ago, the archaeology team visited the Operation Nightingale excavations at Barrow Clump. This is the second season of excavations on this Scheduled Monument. I’m going to talk about our site visit, but if you would like to know more about Operation Nightingale generally or the Barrow Clump excavation specifically, there is more information here: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/barrow-clump


This excavation is being undertaken because the barrow (which is one of a large cemetery of Bronze Age barrows) is being badly damaged by badgers. Previous excavations had revealed that, in addition to Bronze Age remains, the site had an Anglo-Saxon cemetery that included some high status burials. The excavations have Scheduled Monument Consent, which means that only the specifically agreed works can take place. The barrow is still scheduled and so unauthorised works, including metal detecting, is illegal.


The team visited on a beautiful, sunny day. The first thing we were shown was the earlier ring ditch that is inside (and covered by) the later Bronze Age barrow.

Finding out about a missing past: Adoption

on Tuesday, 06 August 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

As an archivist I am well used to helping people trace their family back into the past. The further back the better satisfied people usually are! I shall never forget the customer who told me they had been able to trace their ancestry back to the Stone Age. They believed that their surname sounded like the kind of noise a prehistoric person would make when banging two rocks together (No, I’m not making this up – I only wish I were!) The mind boggles at how they would go about tracing a family tree for a time when no records exist, but never mind…


However, what I get asked to do on occasion, less frequently, is to help someone come forward in time rather than going backwards. This type of research is what you might call a ‘missing person enquiry’. This type of enquiry is quite challenging and potentially sensitive. If you are trying to find information about a missing person you might like to look at: http://www.look4them.org.uk/ This website is a collaboration between various official organisations who are experienced in helping find missing persons. However as this is a very broad topic, I’ve decided to focus on one type of enquiry in particular, namely research into the childhood of children who were formerly in a children’s home or fostered. This is because recently I’ve been helping a couple of people find out more about their childhood, and it has made me appreciate how important our archives can be. They really can be life-changing! People can find missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle put into place – things which happened when they were very young, and not fully aware of what was happening, start to become clear in adulthood after consulting the records. This can help bring peace of mind after years of confusion. Obviously not all the answers people find will be comforting – there are many instances of painful facts, such as evidence of childhood habits such as bed-wetting, which people need to be prepared for. But overall some may feel the benefits of knowing more about their past can outweigh the difficulties.

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