Archives

A 15 minute online history challenge

on Tuesday, 13 April 2021. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

Mission: try and see what I could find out about this history of a location in Wiltshire using online sources in only 15 minutes.

April sees the #Archive30 social media campaign run by the Archives and Record Association Scotland and is the focus for this month’s #ExploreYourArchive. Today’s theme is #UntoldStories so in this spirit, I thought it would be fun to find an untold story online in 15 minutes.

I decided start with Know Your Place to find my location and settled on Canon Square in  Melksham. Know Your Place is always a good starting point for researching local or building history, the historic maps can be easily compared with the modern day map, and there is the added benefit of information layers including monuments, community pins and Wilkinson postcards for additional insights. You can find a guide on our website on how to make the most out of the Know Your Place.

The 25 inch Ordnance Survey map from the 1880s showed the street layout of Canon Square was much the same at that date as it is today.

Going a little further back in time, Know Your Place also hosts Tithe Maps (above). The tithes were a tax levied by the Church which required one tenth of agricultural produce to go to support the local church and clergy (or lay owners who inherited these entitlements with land following the Reformation). The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act required these tithes to be converted into monetary payments and the Tithe Survey was established to assess which areas were titheable, who owned them, how much was payable and to whom. This information was recorded in an accompanying apportionment, making them a fantastic source for understanding land use, and also who owned and lived where!

Pest Monitoring to Protect Our Archive Collection

on Tuesday, 30 March 2021. Posted in Archives, Conservation, History Centre

Surprise! - Historic pest found in archive volume by an unsuspecting archivist

We’ve recently reviewed the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme that we have in place at the history centre so that we can effectively protect the archives from the possibility of any damaging insect pests.

IPM is a multi-faceted approach to pest management and our program is used alongside a number of other preventative measures such as good cleaning and housekeeping routines, thoroughly checking new accessions for any hitchhiking pests before they are put into the strong rooms and maintaining a stable environment within the strong rooms so that pests do not feel at home. This way we can continue to protect our archives into the future.

Insects can cause a real problem for historic collections, which can be tasty treats for them to feast on, causing irreversible damage and loss of information.

It is really important to protect the archives against possible pest infestations. A small number can quickly increase to become a big problem if left unchecked and cause substantial damage to a collection.

During the pandemic some collections such as The National Trust have reported increased pest activity due to the reduction in footfall and reduced monitoring and cleaning of spaces, leaving areas undisturbed for pests to thrive. With such large numbers of documents held in repositories such as WSHC it is impossible to frequently check all items individually, so programmes to monitor and reduce numbers are put in place.

We have set up ‘blunder traps’ in the History Centre, strategically located around the strong rooms and other areas of the building, and by frequently monitoring them we are able to get a picture of any pests present and which areas they are visiting.

The traps we use do not control pest infestations they simply allow us to monitor levels of pests. If we find a pattern of large numbers of any particular archive pest, we can then look into dealing with any problems and target them specifically.

Virtual WEX

on Wednesday, 03 February 2021. Posted in Archaeology, Archives, Conservation, History Centre, Museums, Schools

It’s that time of year when the first emails land in my inbox requesting placements on the History Centre’s popular work experience (WEX) programme.

This year it is a little different – those early requests are arriving, but students are now looking for Virtual WEX!

In my blog from March 2020 – Celebrating Archives – I was eagerly anticipating a year of anniversaries, the highlights of which were to be Salisbury’s 800th birthday and the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Events were planned, projects finalised, and we had an excuse, though none is ever really needed, to dig out some of our archival treasures that show just how connected Wiltshire is to key moments of national commemoration. And letters from Florence Nightingale would have featured in the work experience programme.

Letter from Florence Nightingale written while she was at Scutari Barracks Hospital (2057/F4/64)

 And then… the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. All certainty about future events rapidly disappeared as History Centre staff joined colleagues from across Wiltshire Council in responding to the crisis. While statutory services at the History Centre had to be maintained our usual talks and courses were cancelled; we had to close during lockdowns; our regular jaunts around the county to speak to community groups and history societies ended; and as education officer there were no school visits to plan or deliver, and no work placements to organise.

It was clear we needed to transfer what we could online, and I found myself working with colleagues from Libraries and Leisure to create resources that gave Wiltshire residents virtual opportunities to enjoy heritage, arts, literature and physical activities. The result was the Active Communities page on the Wiltshire Council website – a great resource which will hopefully have a legacy post-pandemic.

I also found myself co-ordinating the History Centre’s online presence. Colleagues, missing out on the daily rhythm of dealing with enquiries and customers, turned their energies to our website and social media platforms. They kept regular users updated and entertained, and engaged with new followers. And the hard work has paid off as we see more users, followers, likes and engagements with our various social media accounts.

Necessity drove us online in 2020 providing many challenges, but now there are opportunities in 2021, opportunities the History Centre wants to exploit. Virtual Work Experience is one of those. There will always be a need for real world, physical engagement with archives and books, photographs, painting and sculpture, artefacts and objects, not to mention being in the audience for a live theatre or musical performance. But while we wait for the time when we can return to in-person talks, courses and classroom sessions we need to make the most of the technology available.

Choose your classroom...

I am working on developing a virtual work experience programme for GCSE and A-level students. Our work placements are always popular and each year we are fully booked, but we are limited in how many students we can take – normally two GCSE students in any given week and a couple of Year 12 A-level students. Geography and public transport also play a part and, while I provide a county-wide heritage education service, WEX students tend to come from Chippenham and the surrounding area.

The plan is to use an online classroom platform to deliver Virtual WEX. This has the potential to significantly increase the number of students the History Centre can reach, extending coverage to the whole of Wiltshire and Swindon, and beyond. I will always champion in-person placements and visits to the History Centre to really get hands-on with historical documents – there is a thrill to seeing and touching a document signed by Charles I or Oliver Cromwell or, having learned about Henry VIII in school, holding the marriage contract between Henry and Jane Seymour. But as an advocate for cultural education, online sessions are a valuable tool in reaching and inspiring young minds. And while students will not be able to handle the documents in a virtual session they will still be able to see them and work with them.

Death warrant signed by Oliver Cromwell. (332/265)

A key aspect of our work placement programme is the breadth of experience students enjoy, not only working with archives and local studies collections, but also learning about the work of the conservators and archaeologists based at the History Centre. It is also satisfying to see the students grow in confidence over the course of their week with us and to hear back from schools about the positive impact the placement has had on the youngsters.

We hope that those who see what we do via an online taster day will be in-person users of our services in the months and years to come. This opening up of access also supports the History Centre’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, not only as part of Wiltshire Council but also within the Archives sector.

WEX 2021 won’t be the same as previous years but we hope a virtual experience will give young people an opportunity to see what enjoyable and rewarding careers can be had in the heritage sector.

Teachers and students wanting to find out more about our plans for Virtual WEX should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Ruth Butler, Heritage Education Officer

Conjoined Twins, Fisherton Anger and Samuel Pepys: A Tale of the ‘Fisherton Monster’

on Monday, 18 January 2021. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

“The true picture of a female monster born near Salisbury.” London : Printed for R. P. at the sign of the Bible in Chancery-lane, 1664 Image reproduced courtesy of Chetham’s Library (ref H.P.978)

In the early hours of the 26th October 1664, Mary Waterman, wife of John Waterman from Fisherton Anger, gave birth to triplet girls, Mary, Martha and Efflett. What makes this birth even more remarkable was two of the girls, Mary and Martha, were conjoined. A description of the twins is provided in a letter from the Salisbury Oculist Dr Daubeney Turberville to Robert Boyle - a founding member of the Royal Society:

On Tuesday night last, these was borne in Fisherton adjoining to our Town of Salisbury a monstrous Issue in part, the women has three children girls the one very well formed & fat, the other two as you may call them hath but one Body, continued handsomely to their shoulders, from whence growth four Arms completely …ade, two necks & two heads very well featured with all the parts, but they are contrary posited, one at one end of the Body & the other at the other, out of the side there is a Belly, Navel, a woman’s part, & one Fundament, and two complete Legs, & thighs, feet, & nails, they were at writing here of very lusty, & doe take their food, sugar & water, look about & wag all parts, the one is more sleepy then the other, both very pretty”.

The baptism register of Fisherton Anger only confirms their baptism, with no mention of their physical condition. Interestingly it was one of the ‘Monstrous’ twins rather than the ‘normal’ daughter who was named after their mother.

WSHC 1902/1

John was an ostler and described as the ‘labouring poor’. A physician, William Hann, who had witnessed the birth, described the Waterman home as a ‘poorly appointed dwelling, ‘full of holes’ and the girls as having only a linen cloth for its covering, which was taken off at the desire of every new spectator’, which had already brought ‘a thousand’ people to the Watermans’ door; making this a very cold environment for the newly born girls. Hann wrote to Robert Boyle to inform him of the twins’ birth and how he first heard about the birth at Fisherton, whilst at a local coffeehouse he overheard Mr Kent, minister of Fisherton, say that he:

"could justify the baptizing it with two names, adding, that it was a question to be debated by divines, whether it were to be reckoned as two persons, and whether it had two souls".

On Sunday last (says he) the wife of one Waterman an Ostler in Fisherton was in Travell the whole afternoon, & about 11 of the clock at Night she was delivered of a Daughter every way well shaped & proportioned, about an hour after she was delivered of another strange misshapen Birth, having two heads, the one where of was at the place of the Feet, 4 Arms& 4 hands, both the heads arms, & hands well proportion[e]d as low as the Breast, about the middle of the Body there came forth 2 feet Legs Thighs, & Buttocks, with the parts of a woman, & the Arms (& all these by one side) & 2 or 3 Inches above the pudendum the Navel grown out”.

The twins, at first seem to thrive, but died after two days within minutes of each other. Sadly, Efflett also did not survive for very long; she was buried on the 2nd November, only seven days after her birth.

Robert Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society of London which was founded in 1660 for ‘Improving Natural Knowledge’ with two other members, Sir Christopher Wren, who, incidentally, was born at East Knoyle, 18 miles west of Fisherton Anger, and William Petty. It was granted a royal charter by King Charles II who was a patron of the arts and sciences. It is Robert’s correspondence with William Hann (now archived at the Royal Society) that detail the decision to dissect, embalm and have the twins displayed. The Watermans were clearly not wealthy, and the financial incentive to have their daughters displayed was most probably the key factor in their agreeing to this proposal. John initially refused to allow the dissection of his daughters, saying that ‘if he should suffer it, he should offend God’

17,000 miles across Soviet Russia

on Thursday, 07 January 2021. Posted in Archives

In the early 1930s, Christopher Fuller (later a director of Jaggards, Corsham) and Duncan Sandys (who would become Winston Churchill’s son-in-law and MP for Norwood) travelled together in what Fuller called ‘a very comprehensive tour of all the more important parts of the entire Soviet Union’. Travelling by foot, plane, train, car and horseback they crossed 17,000 miles of Soviet Russia to explore conditions in the country and the success, or failure, of the Communist experiment.

Map of Fuller and Sandys’ route across Russia (1196/52)

Fuller kept an extensive diary of the trip, which we hold in our extensive collection on Jaggards (1196). Fuller’s diaries (1196/52) are also complemented by around 200 photographs that he took on his journey (1196/53BW) which include images of Leningrad and Moscow, but also of the labour camps that the travellers visited during their trip.

A page from Fuller’s diary showing Russian phrases he tried to learn for the trip (1196/52)

Though the pair visited the major cities, a key aim of their trip was to take in as much of rural Russia as they could, to get a sense for the life of the average Russian ‘peasant’. As such the diaries are not only a fascinating first-hand account of the conditions that ordinary Russians lived in but are also revealing of the extent to which the realities of the heartlands of Russia were almost unknown to the British political class at the time.

40 years at the Archives

on Monday, 30 November 2020. Posted in Archives, History Centre

Some of the Archives and Local Studies team following our award for Achieving Excellence in customer service, 2018

In July 1980 I took up my first post as an Archivist at the Wiltshire County Record Office in Trowbridge having completed the post-grad course at Liverpool University – little did I think I would still be employed by Wiltshire Council 40 years later! – it was always assumed in the profession that to further one’s career that one should move on regularly- within Wiltshire staff have always stayed for long periods not through lack of ambition – more a reflection not just of the attractions of the county but of the good working relationships and atmosphere within the office. The Record Office, as we were known until our move in 2007 to the History Centre in Chippenham, has always been known for providing a friendly, helpful service – which we continue to be congratulated on today.

I alone have had the privilege of working under every County Archivist /Principal Archivist in the history of the service being the last member of staff appointed by the first County Archivist Maurice Rathbone (1944-1981) In this time I have witnessed many changes but the constant throughout has been the professionalism, support and friendship of colleagues. Many of our researchers/visitors over the years have become friends – on first name terms and with an interest in staff’s personal families and interests - long may this continue

So, what changes have I seen in all this time? Back in the 1980s we produced paper word catalogues of our collections- typed for the Archivists by a succession of secretaries – letters were also typed – emails didn’t exist – but enquirers did give more thought to their enquiries then – frequently today we have to ask for more information. Family history research was in its infancy – no Ancestry or FindMyPast – no online sources or digital copies. Prior to the Parochial Registers and Records Measure of 1978 which led to the deposit of non-current parish registers and records over 100 years old at the appropriate Diocesan Record Office (formerly the Salisbury Diocesan Office was at Wren Hall in Salisbury with the documents moved to Trowbridge in the early 1980’s) - family historians had to make appointments to visit individual churches around the country to make notes from registers. The Record Office had always had some parish material deposited by forward-thinking clergy – indeed the earliest registers from Maiden Bradley (ref 18) were brought in in 1947 but the Measure led to a vast amount of material coming in – and staff were required to visit and collect records around the county-with over 300 parishes to visit- opening up cupboards, chests and safes in a voyage of discovery – I have memories of accompanying colleagues on many such outings – acting as navigator in search of small village churches. Once catalogued visitors were able to use the original volumes in our searchroom, prompting many staff trips into the strongrooms. We had no photocopier on the premises and each morning we would take it in turns to help carry volumes with the mainstay of Doc Prod -David Mattock- across the road to the main County Hall printing dept.

Some of you may remember the searchroom in the old Record Office, Trowbridge

In 1981 the Wiltshire Family History Society was founded and the work of their volunteers in transcribing initially parish registers extending to marriage licences and in recent times to manorial records, police registers, tithe schedules – their output has been truly prodigious. We have been fortunate to have had such a regular group visiting weekly and owe an immense debt of gratitude to them for their labours.

In the mid 1980s we welcomed the camera operators from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints who filmed all our pre-1900 parish registers to put on their International Genealogical Index (IGI) – later Family Search. The registers were subsequently withdrawn, and visitors were asked to use microfiche instead – we had a separate room for the fiche readers – a few of these remain in use today. A reader printer was installed to enable copies to be made of individual entries and requests for whole registers were sent to a local firm in Melksham.

Today fiche has been superseded by the digital filming of Ancestry – whose team re-filmed all our pre-1916 registers and early Bishops Transcripts – putting them on their site in 2017. Ancestry has revolutionized family history world wide – the quality of their images compared to the fiche is high however their indexing – done overseas – is not always reliable compared to the locally produced work of the WFHS.

Ancestry also completed the Wiltshire Wills project. The project started in 1999 with HLF funding and other donations to re-catalogue and replace 29 manual indices and digitize over 105,000 probate records. This was the first major team work with the Archivists under the guidance of project archivists Lucy Jefferis and Amanda Goode entering onto the CALM database full details of every record. The new catalogue was completed in 2006 and made available on our website however the digital imaging and conservation work lagged behind and Ancestry were brought in to finish the filming and in 2018 the entire collection was put on their website making another valuable resource available worldwide and generating income for the service.

Another example of change for family history has been the Census returns from 1841-1911 – now searchable online. Initially the census returns were only available on microfilm and visitors had to laboriously wind through reels to locate information. We were fortunate to have the 1851 census indexed by a team led by Dr Barbara Carter - Jean Cole, Nan Simmons – later censuses to 1881 were produced on microfiche. The ability to search by place and name has speeded up research – although today’s genealogists seem to expect everything to be online and not to appreciate how fortunate they are.

Just a few documents from the huge archive of the Talbot family of Lacock, purchased using HLF funding in 2014

Project posts have been the way in recent years to tackle backlogs of large collections – a move that is reflected around the country -in this way we have benefitted from funding to list the Lacock (ref 2664), and Radnor (ref 1946) estate records and staff have been supported in this by volunteers. Volunteers continue to play a key role in the service – we have a whole army of people listing, sorting, cleaning, packaging under staff guidance – from GWR staff records, Westinghouse drawings, building plans, to the many WFHS projects

The way archivists work has changed radically over the years – hand written lists typed on word by secretaries to everything catalogued directly on a laptop by the archivist on CALM – the database used widely in the profession (for Archives, Local Studies Libraries and Museums) although at times it has seemed a misnomer when the system is down and staff are anything but calm!

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