Gravitational pull of the History Centre?

on Friday, 31 August 2018.

For many years my colleagues and I have been aware of the phenomenon of gravitational pull of the History Centre, whereby over time archives tend to find their way into our custody. A good example of this occurred this week.  A number of records collected by a past president of Melksham Historical Association were brought to the History Centre by his daughter (ref 2145A). These largely comprised  20th cent miscellaneous items relating to the town. However, one item stood out as of particular interest; two sections from an account book of the mid 18th century. Their contents suggested that they were kept a grocer and clothier, and that they were from separate books. A typed note with them stated that they had been found at Stratton’s premises when they were being pulled down. Stratton and Mead was a long established grocer’s business in the High Street, Melksham. A search on our catalogue revealed that we had a series of account books that had been identified as belonging to the Bourne family of Melksham, wine merchants, grocers and drapers that were deposited in 1975 by W Stratton.

1303/2 Account books of the Bourne family of Melksham, wine merchants, grocers and drapers, and Joseph Udall, same, grocer and clothier. 1764.

Comparison of the ‘new’ material revealed that a section covering the week beginning 17 Nov 1764 came from one of the books already here, and it has been returned to its rightful place. It was possible to re-arrange the folios of the other section by matching up the water stains in the folds. It is all that remains of an earlier volume, which on close inspection appears to be the accounts of Joseph Udall, a grocer and clothier. They had been seen by economic historian, Julia de Lacy Mann, who referred to it in her account of The Cloth Industry in the West of England, 1640-1880.

Steve Hobbs, Archivist

Book Review: Wild Life in a Southern County by Richard Jefferies

on Friday, 31 August 2018.

Wild Life in a Southern County by Richard Jefferies
Wallachia Publishers, modern reprint, 2015 (first published 1887)
Unpaginated, paperback
Wiltshire Local Studies Library Reference XJE.570

Richard Jefferies was born in Coate, Swindon, and his love of the countryside in an around his childhood home was a great influence on his work. Jefferies was a versatile writer, publishing a children’s book and a work of science fiction, but he is best known for his nature writing. His works The Amateur Poacher (1879) and Round About a Great Estate (1880) have drawn the most attention in this genre; I chose to read Wild Life in a Southern County as a modern reprint to see what it had to offer.

The look of the book and text is more modern in feel, but this does not detract from the content in any way although the text is a little small. However, the lack of pagination is a limitation when wanting to revisit certain parts of the book and the uncertainty of how the book is arranged in comparison to the original publication is a point to consider.

Great detail is given on the habits of various species of bird in the scientific manner of study and observation, interposed with the author’s own thoughts and experiences. It is fascinating to read these entries for species such as the kingfisher and swallow. A colourful picture is created of the beauty of the creatures that Jefferies’ observes and their interaction with their environment and the human world. His description of the blackbird in Chapter 9 is poetic in nature. Jefferies included fascinating details in this book such as the folklore that surrounded the wildlife and more soberingly, how they could be hunted. His thoughts on this subject provide a fascinating insight into the mind-set of those living in the late 19th century with matter of fact descriptions of hunting and the reasons for it sounding quite alien to modern-day views.

Jefferies possesses an almost magical touch in the way he describes the landscape, this being almost mythical and dreamlike in places. The information gained from these sections is a descriptive view of the north Wiltshire landscape at a point in time although actual locations are omitted.

The author also describes farming practices, the work of craftsmen, ancient customs such as St. Thomas’ Day, the Clerk’s Ale and folk lore, and the routines of village clubs and friendly societies.

Flora and the seasons are also noted; “All the summer through fresh beauties, indeed, wait upon the owner’s footsteps. In the spring the mowing grass rises thick, strong, and richly green, or hidden by the cloth-of-gold thrown over it by the buttercups!”

Wildlife enthusiasts and those interested in local history, landscape history and folklore should very much enjoy this book. It is a shame that Jefferies himself died tragically at the age of 38 in 1887, the year this book was first published.

Other editions of Wildlife in a Southern County are available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre ref: AAA.590.

Julie Davis, County Local Studies Librarian

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

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