The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has been inviting people to visit and tell their stories of their connection with the RAF as part of this national event, run by the RAF Museum.
We were a little late with what became our ‘day’; the national event took place at the beginning of November over one weekend, clashing with our Open Day, but we weren’t deterred. Wiltshire has such a longstanding connection to the RAF, Salisbury Plain being the centre of pioneering aviation from its early beginnings; we felt we really wanted to take part. Luckily the RAF Museum at Hendon agreed, and our RAF Big Stories ‘Day’ took place on Saturday 30 November.
Joining us were two brilliant and specially recruited volunteers who quickly learnt how to use the RAF Museum’s oral history app to record 16 stories from 11 willing participants! The stories were varied and all interesting in their own way, some from the RAF staff themselves; others from living relatives. Those from RAF Lyneham included a navigator’s experience of the Berlin Airlift during 1948-9 when he got covered in coal dust from the goods being despatched, to the return of hostage Jackie Mann in 1993, and working in the maintenance crew during WWII and getting caught out in the blackout cycling from Chippenham to the airfield. Stories from overseas included intelligence training in India and the tortoise who became the mascot of the 20th Squadron in Singapore in 1964, who travelled on the plane with them and became a valued member of the team!
It was a real privilege to hear the stories and enjoy the company of our RAF Big Stories participants, and they told us they enjoyed having some interested people to hear them tell their tales. All the stories will be added to the RAF’s Stories website https://www.rafstories.org The app for recording a story is also available on the site for anyone to download and use. We hope to receive a copy of the recordings to store at the History Centre too, and some of the items the participants brought with them we were able to copy and will add to our collections.
The accompanying display of local studies books, photographs and prints plus archive material drew in over 20 people who enjoyed chatting to each other whilst enjoying looking at the items on show. These included plans of Wiltshire aerodromes, a Christmas menu card with signatures plus programme of entertainments dated 1943, letters regarding problems with mud on the roads and road closures during the building of airfields in WWII and ‘Sparks’ the newsletter of RAF Yatesbury. Books included the recent ‘RAF Wroughton and Wroughton at Work in Pictures’ by the Wroughton History Group and ‘46 Miles: a Journey of Repatriation and Humbling Respect’ about the RAF Lyneham repatriations through the town, alongside the classic text on Wiltshire airfields, Rod Priddle’s ‘Wings over Wiltshire’ to name just a few.
We also included one of our recent Creative Wiltshire lottery funded acquisitions, the limited-edition print ‘Cold War Warrior’ by David Bent. A Swindon based artist, David specialises in aviation art and has the enviable job of being the personal artist for the Red Arrows, joining them all over the world to record their story. He also designed the commemorative logo for the RAF’s 100 year celebration in 2018.
We always love any opportunity to show visitors the amazing breadth and variety of our collections here at the History Centre, which even amazes us at times! Please feel free to recommend us as a place to visit for people to learn more about the RAF in Wiltshire; we’d be happy to help them with their search.
In the last quarter of 2019 we received several new archives to add to our resources. From artists’ sketchbooks to property documents, all our new acquisitions further our knowledge and enjoyment of the history of our county. Here are a few recent highlights.
In November we acquired a range of documents from the Wiltshire-born artist Janet Boulton (collection reference 4469). Early in her career Janet worked at the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company in Chippenham, and during her lunchbreaks made sketches of urban landscapes and factory details. We have acquired two of Janet’s sketchbooks plus some of her monoprints and colour collages. These were inspired by her time at Westinghouse and by industrial equipment at a farm at Stanton Fitzwarren. Janet has a long association with the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, going back over 40 years, from her early exhibition Windows and Reflections in 1977 to her 2017 'A Seeming Diversity' retrospective. Janet’s work was also included in a 2019 exhibition at Salisbury Museum. Both these latter events formed part of the HLF-funded Creative Wiltshire initiative.
From Westbury we have a scrapbook donated by the Westbury Town Twinning Association, to add to their existing collection of newsletters, minutes and programmes (reference 4130). This loose volume includes items from the early years of the association in the late 1970s until its termination in 1998, such as newspaper cuttings, photographs, invitations and paper souvenirs.
Elsewhere in Westbury comes an accrual to the archives of the Westbury and District Hospital League of Friends. This new addition (references J2/163/25 and J2/163/26)) comprises pages from a scrapbook packed with newspaper cuttings and event invitations, plus a printed history of the Friends organisation. The group was established in 1954 by George and Phyllis Cundrick, and over the years raised around half a million pounds for the hospital. The collection also documents the Friends’ protests against the threatened closure of the hospital. Sadly the hospital finally closed in 2012 after over 100 years of service to the town, after which the Friends continued to raise money to support healthcare provision in the community.
Our friends at Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury have transferred to us a series of property documents from the nineteenth century concerning properties in the Market Cross and Oxford Street area of the town (collection reference 3678D). These leases, conveyances and other legal documents make reference to various parties from the town and beyond, including the Reverend George Rushout Bowles of Burford House, Shropshire, who by the 1860s was Lord of the Manor of Malmesbury and Westport. These properties changed hands at various points during the nineteenth century, so the collection provides useful information on the buildings and their ownership.
Our archive of the Great Western Railway already includes over 18,000 plans and drawings depicting railway buildings, engineering structures and tracks from all over the British Isles. To this massive collection has been added a modest but welcome accrual of three track diagrams dating from between 1952 and 1968. Specifically, these depict the Amesbury Ground Frame (catalogue reference 2515/410/2205MS), the Salisbury Tunnel Junction (2515/410/2206MS) and the Westbury South signal box (2515/410/2207MS). Another piece of the huge GWR jigsaw has fallen into place.
The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey have donated a collection of their minutes, newsletters and correspondence (reference 4310). This includes correspondence regarding alterations to the Abbey’s fittings such as the provision of a new organ and the refurbishment of the Parvise exhibition area. In addition, we now have a plan and section of the abbey made by the architect Harold Brakspeare in the 1920s, which outlines proposed repairs to the pulpit, lectern and misericords. The collection also sheds light on a design competition for a new sculpture for the East Wall, held between 1967 and 1969. As well as correspondence, this file (4310/4/2) contains photographs, cuttings, minutes and reports on the submitted designs. The winning sculptor TB Huxley-Jones died the day after winning and a second design, by Walter Ritchie was selected in its place. Ritchie's scheme was approved by numerous official organisations but rejected by the Cathedrals Advisory Committee Inspectors in 1969 and subsequently no commission was undertaken. The space remains unfilled to this day.
And finally we have received a fascinating 1947 sale catalogue concerning the sale of large portions of the Longleat estate (reference 4472/1). The sale was necessary to pay death duties, presumably following the death of the fifth Marquess of Bath the previous year. The sale comprises over 200 lots including many houses, farms and plots of agricultural land, as well as the George Inn at Longbridge Deverill. This is a valuable social history document for its evidence of field sizes and uses, and its descriptions of identifiable properties in parishes including Corsley, Chapmanslade, Crockerton, Sutton Veny and Warminster.
As always, we are grateful to all our donors for contributing their collections to the History Centre. Further details of these and the rest of our holdings can be found on our archive catalogue. The collections themselves can be made available for research in our reading room.
3878/5 Detail from the cover of a school magazine from Burderop Park Training College
Since our last acquisitions update the shelves of our archives have continued to swell with new archives. Here is a brief overview of just a few of the new collections deposited between July and September.
Burderop Emergency Training College was established in Chiseldon in1946 by the County Council’s Education Committee. This was one of a number of colleges providing one-year teacher training courses principally to ex-service personnel (exclusively men) to address the shortfall in teachers following the Second World War. Burderop had the capacity to train over 200 men a year. The college proved highly effective, and the principal’s files detail the names of many students and the posts they were subsequently appointed to. As with all Emergency Training Colleges, Burdeop was comparatively short-lived, closing its’ doors in 1950. Nonetheless their archive (collection reference 3678) gives us a vivid account of their activities through a series of Principal’s Reports, college magazines and newspaper articles. The collection also includes programmes from open days, and from the college’s Dramatic Society. There is even the typescript from a broadcast on Norwegian radio, plus group photographs of students and staff.
The Wilton Floral Society (collection reference 3678C) was established in 1969 as a breakaway group from the successful Salisbury Floral Arrangement Society, enabling members to meet closer to home. The group was set up by the then Mayoress of Wilton Irene Hudson, and Lady Pembroke of Wilton House agreed to be their President. The society took part in a series of instruction workshops, not just on flower arranging but also related skills such as creating corn dollies. Their scrapbooks contain many of their prize certificates as well as local newspaper articles featuring their displays. The collection also includes photograph albums focusing on two of their major projects; In September 1986 the Society held a Harvest Flower Festival at the redundant Church of St Mary, in aid of the Wilton Church Appeal. The second album concerns their displays at St Peter’s Church, Fugglestone. This album is undated (perhaps mid-1980s) and includes details of which members were responsible for each display.
The North Wiltshire Centre of the National Trust was established in 1971 to arrange lectures and visits for members, as well as working to recruit new members for the Trust at a local level. One of its earliest projects was to fundraise for restoration work at Lacock Abbey. The group later spread geographically to become the North and West Wiltshire National Trust Association. Their archive (reference 3678B) includes meeting minutes and correspondence which document their range of activities. The accompanying series of newsletters are also of interest to local historians as they collate updates on local Trust projects, such as landscaping and property conservation.
Our considerable collection from Devizes Town Council has been further enhanced with a broad range of papers. One file details the redevelopment of the Brittox area of the town in the 1980s (3332/68). Elsewhere there’s a programme from an event to mark the presentation of New Colours to the Wiltshire Regiment in Bangalore in 1939 (3332/71). There are also files on a series of events giving the Freedom of the Borough of Devizes to various former mayors, councillors and local worthies. These files provide biographical information on each honouree as well as highlighting the research and consideration given to the festivities, such as invitees, speeches and ceremonial gifts (3332/72-76).
In July we received a substantial addition to our collection of records of the Freemason Lodge of Friendship and Unity 1271, Bradford-on-Avon (reference 2592a). This accrual consists of over a hundred years of meeting minutes (1884-2017) and financial and membership ledgers (1869-1988), plus administration files (1920s-2010) and ceremonial certificates. This collection complements our other freemasons collections from lodges across the county. As well as providing much information on the activities of the lodge, the collection also includes a file of historical notes on masonic ceremonies and rituals.
We have also recently received a single ledger relating to Slade's Brewery, which was located on Union St here in Chippenham. The ledger (reference 3571B) is a beer and mineral day book, covering the years 1924 to 1926. It records of the names of pubs supplied by Slade’s and the names of licensees, and as such supplies the researcher with much local information.
The West Lavington branch of the British Legion have deposited a set of their minutes and accounts covering the dates 1953 to 2009 (collection reference 3558D). The minutes record the various good works undertaken by the group, such as visiting the sick and allocating funds to those in need. The collection complements numerous other British Legion collections deposited here from across the county.
Swindon Borough Council’s Highway Record Department have donated a series of ledgers concerning the apportionment of the cost of making up private streets. These 5 volumes list the owners of properties on each street and the monies they contributed to upgrade their road. In many cases these improvements led to the street becoming a designated highway. The volumes (reference numbers G24/701/287 to G24/701/291) cover the years 1895 to 1972. Our collection of poor law records for the county has been enhanced by the acquisition of three out-door relief lists covering the parishes of Collingbourne and Netheravon, part of Pewsey Union. These volumes (reference H13/170/1H) cover 1905 and 1906, and record the names of individuals receiving relief from the parish (referred to as ‘paupers’) plus the amounts paid each week. Similarly we have received a parochial poor rate valuation book for the parish of Enford, which was also part of the Pewsey Union. This volume (H13/130/2B) is broad in scope, covering the period 1891 to 1914. It was used to record the name of the owner and occupier for each property or area of land plus its rateable value, and an estimate of its size. These additions are therefore useful tools not just for family historians, but also those interested in the history of these parishes. It is heartening that such acquisitions come our way over a hundred years since they ceased to serve their original purpose.
The Devizes and District U3A group have undertaken interesting research at Lacock Abbey, and kindly deposited their results with us (2664/2/2E/9). This includes biographies of each of the owners of the abbey from Ela, Countess of Salisbury in the Thirteenth Century up to the present ownership by the National Trust. There is also a file of research on Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Domestic Matters, wherein the group have uncovered many recipes and remedies from the Abbey archives. These recipes are mainly herb-based but also include liberal use of alcohol. These certainly sound more palatable than those involving worms, snails or soot from the stove. The same U3A group has also undertaken further research at Lacock Abbey, in conjunction with the National Trust. This time their efforts were focused on the Abbey’s grotto, waterway and old water gardens. The resulting reports and correspondence can be found under reference 2664/2/2H/9.
We have also received a second deposit of records regarding the noted architect Robert Townsend (collection reference 2806). This furthers our collection of company correspondence, architectural plans and project specifications. Townsend’s design skills were utilised in domestic, industrial and ecclesiastical buildings in Wiltshire and beyond. The collection also includes a scrapbook containing images from newspaper cuttings, photographs and postcards considered of interest by Townsend. Interestingly, this volume reuses a school register for 1918/19, and pupils’ progress reports are still visible on certain pages. Sadly its impossible to know which school the register came from, but we would love to find out. No acquisitions update would be complete without mention of the Women’s Institute, and yet again different groups have generously deposited their records here at the History Centre. The WIs of Christian Malford and Foxham (3467B), Broad Town (1742B) and Boxlea (3707A) have each contributed new accruals. These collections typically contain a range of meeting minutes and record books, plus programmes or scrapbooks from their numerous events. Similarly we have received numerous accruals to our collection of parish records. The parish councils of Maiden Bradley (4167), Hornhinsham (4168), Worton (4349), Potterne (3041), Castel Combe (1642), Christian Malford (4422), Southwick (1375) and Chute (4464) have all made new deposits with us.
This is just a selection of our new arrivals. As always, we are grateful to all our donors for adding their collections to our archives. Further details of these and the rest of our holdings can be found on our archive catalogue. The collections themselves are available to browse in our reading room.
Alongside our council, ecclesiastical and business archives, the History Centre also houses many collections created by individual people. These may be the holders of public office within their locale, or notable for achievements in their chosen field. We recently acquired one such personal archive, a single volume heavy leather-bound scrapbook compiled by the Reverend Sidney Meade (born Oct 1839, died Mar 1917). The scrapbook covers the years 1856 to 1914, and contains documents relating to both local and national events. The scrapbook has been given the archival reference number 1405A.
Sidney trained for the church and took his first curacy at St Mary’s Church, Reading. Between 1869 and 1882 he served as Curate for the parish of St Mary the Virgin in Wylye, and subsequently moved to the curacy of Christ Church, Bradford-on-Avon. Documents in the scrapbook tell us that Sidney was also a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral and a Justice of the Peace.
Sidney Meade was born into the nobility. He was the third and youngest son of Richard Meade, the third Earl of Clanwilliam, a prominent diplomat who became Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the Earl of Liverpool’s government. Sidney’s mother was Lady Elizabeth Herbert, daughter of the 11th Earl of Pembroke. His brother Richard (who inherited his father’s title in 1879) was by 1880 commander of the naval Flying Squadron, with his flag in the frigate HMS Inconstant. A cutting of this date gives us details of the ship’s construction and a list of the names of officers and men serving under him. Sidney also obtained a document from the Admiralty which details the Proposed Route of the Detached Squadron under Richard’s command, with the estimated speed and days at sea for each leg of the journey. A banquet seating plan of 1891 names Richard as Admiral of the Fleet, sat at the head of the high table alongside the future George V. Similarly, we can chart the career of Sidney’s brother Robert, who served as Head of the Colonial Office between 1892 and 1897, and at the time of his death the following year was the Permanent Under-Secretary for the Colonies.
Perhaps as a result of his family’s achievements, Sidney had a keen interest in national and international politics, which is reflected in his choice of documents in this volume. On one page, we find a vivid newspaper account of a Conservative Party fete held at Hedsor Park, near Maidenhead, and nearby, cartoons lampooning William Gladstone and Randolph Churchill. There is also a detailed diary of the war in South Africa printed in a newspaper from 1900, plus a copy of a newspaper letter Sidney himself wrote to the Salisbury and Winchester Journal in 1877 to campaign for the Russian Sick and Wounded Fund. One of our favourite documents is the poster notice of a forthcoming Peace Festival to mark the end of the Crimean War in 1856. The list of rural games which took place at Green Croft, Salisbury seem bizarre to modern audiences – climbing a greasy pole for a new hat and a leg of mutton, or the odd-sounding “jingling for a prize”.
Sidney’s family also often appeared in the society pages, which in themselves are rich with contextual detail. A newspaper account of the marriage of Sidney’s daughter Constance to Lieutenant-Colonel Sitwell of the Fifth Fusiliers regiment in 1902 includes a full list of the wedding gifts. These items vary from a diamond and ruby ring and ostrich feather and tortoiseshell fan from the groom, to a Chippendale looking-glass and a carved ivory Japanese umbrella handle from friends. This list gives us a wealth of detail of the family’s social circle and fashions in ornamental gifts at this time, and includes the intriguing information that the gifts of the Earl and Countess of Clanwilliam included a diamond spray of flowers which originally belonged to Queen Anne.
"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