Being a newbie out of lockdown (for the time being?)

on Thursday, 16 September 2021. Posted in Archaeology, History Centre

(With apologies to my colleague, Neil Adam, for stealing the title from his blog article)

Hello everyone, my name is Tim Havard and I am the new Assistant County Archaeologist for Wiltshire, a role I began in early August 2021.

I have always been fascinated by history and archaeology. I grew up on a small farm in south Worcestershire almost at the foot of Bredon Hill (an outlier of the Cotswolds). I’m sure that some are aware of the spectacular Iron Age hillfort on top of the hill but I was a frequent visitor here in my youth when my little legs would carry me up the long walk to the top. I spent many happy hours running up and down the banks and ditches here pretending to be an Iron Age warrior.

Aerial photograph of hilltop with hill fort
Photo credit: Nick Turner Photography

Much like many hillforts of Wiltshire, a simple photo cannot do justice to how spectacular the site is. The only way to truly appreciate the setting and views afforded is to visit it on foot. There is a large stone at the top of the hill known locally as The Elephant Stone and legend has it that if you walk three times around the stone then you will be cured of any illness!

Whilst living on the farm my interest in archaeology would manifest itself in the form of digging random holes in the ground to see what I could find. My father and grandfather were a little less enthusiastic about my endeavours than I was at the time. They were probably quite happy therefore when I went to Southampton University to study archaeology which I chose over history as it would afford me chances to get out of the lecture theatre.

Following university I worked for a small archaeology unit outside Southampton and then moved to Cotswold Archaeology where I worked for 22 years. This gave me the opportunity to work on many sites in Wiltshire and see some fantastic and rewarding archaeology. Among my fondest memories of fieldwork undertaken in Wiltshire have been a small evaluation trench unexpectedly full of Saxon features, a test trench to investigate the prehistoric and medieval defences of Malmesbury and a watching brief in the shadow of Malmesbury Abbey. However, the highlight of my fieldwork in Wiltshire was undoubtedly the direction a large scale excavation of a multi period site at Wroughton, on the site of the former airfield, in 2018 and 2019 with archaeology ranging in date from the Bronze Age through to World War Two.

Following on from the evaluation, the first feature uncovered was a prehistoric pit alignment.

Cleared earth with round shadowy features visible on the ground
Prehistoric pit alignment flanked by Iron Age Storage Pits (photo Cotswold Archaeology)

As the stripped area was extended, further evidence for intensive Iron Age occupation in the form of roundhouses and numerous storage pits were uncovered. The western half of a huge ring ditch, possibly denoting a henge was found. The site was also occupied in the Roman period; a cemetery of 14 burials and a drying oven belonging to this period were recorded.

Hole dug into ground with chamber lined with stone
Roman Drying Oven (photo Cotswold Archaeology)

The site was one of the most rewarding of my fieldwork career. It was not without its challenges though; a wide open airfield site in January and February was particularly inclement; at times the wind was so strong it was not safe to work on site.

Conservation of the Radstock Jubilee Drum

on Thursday, 02 September 2021. Posted in Conservation, History Centre, Museums

4 images of side-view of a colourful but tatty drum
Photo 1: Radstock Jubilee Drum Before Treatment

The Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) is based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. We preserve the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and provide support to museums, heritage organisations and individuals to care for and conserve historic collections and meet professional standards.

Close-up of side of drum with red, black and white striped paint on wooden body
Photo 2: Detail of painted surface before treatment

According to the UK’s professional conservation body the Institute of Conservation:

‘The purpose of all conservation is to facilitate the public’s access to and enjoyment of our cultural heritage. It helps us understand ourselves and our future by preserving our past.’

So, when a marching band drum from Radstock Museum recently came into the object conservation studio at CMAS, we had to think about how to preserve the history of the object in the best way.

The drum was from the Radstock Jubilee and much of the original paint had cracked and lifted from the surface. There were already large areas of loss, but the main text on the drum remained. It was not the intention for the drum to be used again, instead the Museum planned to place it on display. In discuss with the Museum it was decided that it would be most ethically appropriate to preserve the remaining paint to show the history and use of the object.

The importance of digital preservation

on Friday, 20 August 2021. Posted in Archives, History Centre

As an archive service, preservation is at the heart of what we do; together with collecting records and making them accessible, it forms the holy trinity of archival functions. Record keepers and archivists have been preserving records for centuries and if we were to examine boxes at random in our strongrooms, we would no doubt come across records on centuries old paper, parchment or vellum. Many of these records are still in perfect condition and will continue to be so in perpetuity as they are housed in climate-controlled conditions.

However, it is now widely accepted that paper records are created less and less these days, with many offices proudly proclaiming to be ‘paper free’. Yet the information and data must still be recorded, must still be collected, and most importantly must still be preserved. Herein lies the problem, the media on which digital records are stored are not nearly as stable as traditional record formats. For example, a hardback financial ledger stored in the correct conditions could last for centuries, whereas a thumb drive containing the same information may not last for a decade before it becomes corrupted. Not only this, with advances in technology comes the issue of obsolescence. For example, CDs were the ‘go to’ audio format as 15 years ago, though now how many of us even own a CD player? That’s before we even consider cassettes, audio reels, Betamax and cinefilm. All of these require specialist equipment to work with the content. Audio-visual material in these formats often gets donated to archives and we have plenty here at Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre and it is our responsibility to make them as accessible as possible. While this is sometimes impossible, we will always strive our best and explore all possible options. However, collecting the specialist equipment would not be the best course of action. When possible, it is best to have them digitised, as it is considerably easier to use a digital file, though this still does not solve the problem. We must now consider the concept of ‘bit rot’; that is, when the quality of a digital file diminishes over time and through overuse.

With so much to consider (the above barely scratches the surface), it is of little surprise that the discipline of digital preservation was born. It was clear that digital preservation practitioners would be required to monitor changes in technology and the affects this would have on the long-term preservation of digital material. The nature of their work, ensuring records survive in perpetuity, is inextricably linked to the work of archivists and it is of little surprise that many archivists now train in digital preservation.

While the majority of the records we receive here at WSHC arrive in paper format, we as archivists now need to be aware of this new discipline, as digital accessions are becoming more frequent. Indeed, some organisations now employ digital archivists, whose remit is solely focused on digital records and digital preservation.

Lacock: A Most Unique Village

on Tuesday, 03 August 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

On Tuesday evening on the 27th July I led a free walk around Lacock for the Festival of Archaeology. It was a showery day and I had my fingers crossed for a dry walk, which unfortunately didn’t work! We had to shelter at least once while the heavens emptied a torrent on us. The village is a huge draw for tourists, not just for the Abbey, but also to see the where so many dramas and movies have been filmed, Harry Potter not the least, both in the village and in the Abbey. What makes Lacock so special? The newly-revised Pevsner volume on Wiltshire edited by Julian Orbach states that Lacock village is ‘one of the best in the country, compact and without any loss of scale anywhere, and with a wealth of medieval buildings, both apparent and disguised. The extraordinary degree of preservation is thanks to the Talbot family who owned nearly every house until they gave the estate to the National Trust in 1958’.

A group of people stand looking at a range of white medieval timber-framed hall houses

Outside 2-5 High Street, Lacock – a range of medieval timber-framed hall houses. Image credit: Tom Sunley

The village as it stands is said to date substantially from the early 14th century, though there is a documented settlement before then, probably soon after Lacock Abbey was founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as an Augustinian nunnery. At the same time she also founded Hinton Charterhouse Priory in Somerset, about 20 miles from here. Both were in memory of her husband William Longspee, whose tomb can be seen in Salisbury Cathedral.

The village was started soon after the Abbey and is said to have been completed in 1247. Very little of this original village remains, though there are 13th century fragments of what look to be the very first building on the site inside at King John’s Hunting Lodge in Church Street. Every one of the buildings lining the four core streets are listed, and there are more grade II* buildings than you can shake a stick at, something of a rarity considering the normal rate of development elsewhere. Here you can see seven centuries of buildings in a 10-minute walk around in a variety of materials: ancient crucks, timber-frame, rubblestone, fine ashlar and brick. What you won’t see is concrete or anything after about 1926, the date of the extension to the 18th century Red House in Church Street.

Book review: From Domesday to Demolition: A History of the Flour Mill in Chippenham, Wiltshire 1086-1957

on Thursday, 22 July 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

Dr Kay S. Taylor, 2015
ISBN 9781906 641818
72 pages
£6.95

The publication is one of a number of books in the series ‘Chippenham Studies’, aiming to describe subjects and places in the town and its vicinity.

Although the focus is understandably on the mill itself; the people who owned it, events that occurred such as the night attack and fire that destroyed the mill buildings in 1816, and the premises themselves, what is also included is a history of the manors associated with the mill, including Rowden and the Monkton Park Estate.

The twists and turns of ownership are laid bare alongside economic difficulties such as the impact of the corn law.

Also included is the information of the mill scale model of the C19 created by Michael Brotherwood in 2003.

Details abut the former uses and owners of properties associated with the mill and the redevelopment of the site which included the Island Park and the sad tale of the plane tree and the mill stone were fascinating. The photographs used to illustrate the text have been well chosen and varied, and the use of footnotes and a bibliography and index are a huge bonus for researchers.

The author notes that the mill was an iconic part of the town’s former landscape. This book is an interesting and detailed reminder of what was lost.

From Domesday to Demolition is available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre or to loan via your local library.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

General Pitt Rivers: also known as the father of modern scientific archaeology

on Thursday, 01 July 2021. Posted in Archaeology

Chippenham Library Assistant Sue is our Local Studies Champion and she's very much looking forward to this month's Festival of Archaeology. Here's why!

Augustus Henry Lane Fox was born on April 14th, 1827. He inherited the rivers estate in the 1880s and through this he assumed the surname Pitt Rivers as well as the coat of arms. The Rushmore estate as it is better known, is situated within the boundaries of Cranbourne Chase.

Augustus Pitt Rivers
Augustus Pitt Rivers

His interest in archaeology began in the 1850s. He was one of the first archaeologists to investigate the prehistory of Wiltshire and to use antler picks, he also used flint and bone tools. He was highly methodical by the standard of the times focusing on everyday objects to understand the past, this gave a better insight into social conditions, which wasn’t usual practice at this time.


In August 1880 he began to excavate a round barrow in Cranborne Chase, a cremation was discovered with some fragments of bronze. It also contained flint implements and pieces of pot. After rebuilding the mound he planted a beech tree in memory of his friend Professor George Rolleston, he also named the barrow after his friend. The estate he inherited contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods.


In April 1889 he started to excavate in Wansdyke in North Wiltshire. He found an iron knife, nail and fragments of Samian pottery. It is thought he stayed in Devizes during the excavation.

 Pitt Rivers depicted on the pub sign of 'The Museum' at Farnham'
Pitt Rivers depicted on the pub sign of 'The Museum' at Farnham', Dorset, near the Rushmore estate
He excavated over 40 sites and models of many of the sites were produced by craftsmen on his estate. His research and collections cover periods from the lower Palaeolithic to Roman and Medieval times. He owned 2 craniometers which was an instrument for measuring the size and shape of skulls.

His international collection of about 22,000 objects was the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. The Museum was built in 1885. His Wessex collection is housed in Salisbury Museum.


Pitt Rivers was appointed thee very first inspector of Ancient Monuments in 1882 because of his organisational skills and experience. There is a memorial to Pitt Rivers in St. Peters Church at Tollard Royal, he died on the 4th May 1900, his wife the honourable Alice Margaret Stanley who he married on the 3rd February 1853 is buried in the churchyard. They had 9 children who reached adulthood.

The Pitt Rivers Memorial in St. Peter's Church, Tollard Royal
The Pitt Rivers Memorial in St. Peter's Church, Tollard Royal

Sue, Chippenham Library

Further reading via your local library and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre


Bowden, Mark (1991). Pitt Rivers : the life and archaeological work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA. Ref. TOL.921
Mark, Bowden and Green, Adrian (2017). General Pitt-Rivers : Founding Father of Modern Archaeology. Ref. XPI.921 (available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre)
Cranstone, B. A. L. (1984). The General's gift : a celebration of the Pitt Rivers Museum centenary 1884-1984. Ref. 069.93

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