My first year in Wiltshire
It’s been a year since I first started working in Wiltshire – how time flies! Working as part of the Conservation and Museum Advisory Service (CMAS), I work with museums across the county giving support to staff and volunteers on a whole range of topics such as Accreditation, collections, exhibitions, audience development and fundraising.
Over the last twelve months I’ve been getting to know Wiltshire and visiting as many museums and heritage centres as possible. Having moved from South Wales, a very different part of the world with a different story, it’s been great to explore the county and find out more about it. With over forty fascinating museums, amazing archaeology and heritage sites, I’ve been spoilt for choice and I’ve really enjoyed finding out about the history of the area.
Driving around I frequently come across sites such as Silbury Hill, Stonehenge, Avebury and West Kennet. It’s a little treat every time I see them but it’s been many years since I studied archaeology. I was struggling to remember what I’d learnt about these special places – but where better to find out more than at a museum?! Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum in Devizes both have internationally important archaeology collections from the area and are a great place to discover the story of Wiltshire going back over half a million years and see the evidence from the earliest humans living in the area, including beautiful gold jewellery, finely made pottery, coin hoards and everyday tools. What a great introduction to the history of the area and a way to help me understand the things I’d seen out and about!
When I came to Wiltshire I knew the archaeology would be amazing – it’s something the county is famous for around the world. However, there are many other stories that I hadn’t heard about and the ‘Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects’ project was a good starting point to help me find out more about them. One hundred objects from Wiltshire’s museums have been carefully chosen to interpret the history of the county from 10,000 BC to the present day. It gives a great overview of the diversity of collections that Wiltshire’s museums collect, care for and interpret.
It was from this exhibition (on display in Salisbury Museum until the 7th January 2017) that I found out about the industrial history of Wiltshire. I hadn’t realised that the area had been a major centre for the development and manufacture of woollen cloth. The story is told in Trowbridge Museum where there are several original machines used in the manufacturing process, including a rare example of a Spinning Jenny. The Museum is even located in Home Mills, the last working cloth mill in the town. Bradford on Avon Museum tells the story of another town built on the prosperity brought by the woollen industry.
Another impressive reminder of Wiltshire’s industrial past is Crofton Beam Engines near Marlborough. In the countryside next to the Kennet and Avon Canal, you can see the oldest steam engines in the world still performing the job they were built to do. Before the railways came, canals were essential for getting manufactured goods and raw materials around the country. Built in 1807 Crofton Pump House played its part by providing the water needed for the canal’s lock system. Currently closed for the Winter, I’m looking forward to seeing them working during one of their steam weekends when the site re-opens next year.
I’ve visited many museums that tell the unique stories to be found in Wiltshire, collecting and looking after historic collections. These include Athelstan Museum, Pewsey Heritage Centre, The Rifles, Chippenham Museum, Aldbourne Heritage Centre, Atwell Wilson Motor Museum and many others too numerous to mention!
Whenever I visit somewhere new, I always look to see if there is a museum nearby to tell me the history of the local area. While I enjoy reading about a place, going to a museum to seeing the collections, paintings and documents in real life helps me to imagine what life was like tens, hundreds or thousands of years ago in a way that books just can’t. After a year in the County, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that Wiltshire has to offer and can’t wait to discover new places, collections and stories.
Heather Perry, Conservation and Museum Manager
- Tags: Aldbourne Heritage Centre, archaeology, Athelstan Museum, Atwell Wilson Motor Museum, Avebury and West Kennet, Bradford on Avon Museum, Carding Machine, Chippenham Museum, Conservation and Museum Advisory Service, Crofton Beam Engines, Crofton Pump House, Devizes, heritage, Home Mills, Kennet and Avon Canal, Marlborough, museums, Pewsey Heritage Centre, Salisbury Museum, Silbury Hill, Spinning Jenny, Stonehenge, The Rifles, Trowbridge Museum, Wiltshire, ‘Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects’