on Tuesday, 25 March 2014. Posted in Events, Wiltshire Places

I feel I can safely say that almost no town, village or hamlet in the county has been untouched by fire at some point during its history. It must have been an ever-present fear for every community – all that was needed was one little spark. Barns and hayricks were often to be found in the proximity of dwellings, and fire could quickly spread…

All houses were constructed of flammable materials, with thatch roofs being particularly vulnerable. When added to this the presence of naked flames, it presented a high degree of risk to person, property and livelihood.

Ramsbury, June 1648
The Ramsbury Fire of June 14th, 1648 destroyed the houses and belongings of 130 people. The county committee authorized collections throughout Wiltshire, but eleven weeks after the fire those affected had still not received much aid (the Civil War and many other needy appeals were occurring at the same time).  Shockingly, the Ramsbury inhabitants had also found that a forged ‘brief’ was being used to raise money for the cause which they would never receive. They had to act quickly, placing a notice of the circumstances in the London newsbooks of the day, telling of the validity of the fire and the illegality of the first brief. In fact none of the newsbooks had mentioned the fire at the time as they were too concerned with war movements.

Churches often included ‘briefs’ in their sermons, asking for donations for help with the church roof, but also for events such as this. After initial local assistance, further assistance could be raised on a regional or even national scale by raising a charitable brief, ‘a licence to collect relief which was issued by the Lord Chancellor’.

The Great Flood... of 1841

on Thursday, 13 February 2014. Posted in Events

I just happened to be trawling through some indexes to our records when a subject caught my eye - the Great flood of Salisbury Plain down to the Wylye Valley in 1841. What particularly drew me to the reference was a note concerning a piece of doggerel about the event, which resonates with the events happening across Britain toady, particularly in Somerset.

I have always been curious about doggerel and other poetic forms as an historical record commemorating events (and people), especially disasters, such as William McGonagall’s poem on the Tay Railway Bridge disaster of 1879. But what I found was even more astonishing; forget the 8 verses by McGonagall, our document contains 51 verses, in part 1, and a further 25 in part 2, a grand total of 76 stanzas detailing an event that, according to contemporary local newspapers, lasted a mere 12 hours, though with such force and hugely disastrous consequences for the local communities. The document (WSA 1336/98) is a transcript of a letter by Ann Doughty of Hanging Langford to her mother some days after the flood with a doggerel rhyme by an unknown author.

Those who have lived in Wiltshire far longer than I will probably know about the event, but for the uninitiated here is a summary. On 16th January 1841, two days after a heavy snow storm, a rapid thaw led to a severe flash flood in the area of the Salisbury Plain drained by the River Till, down to the River Wylye. Two communities especially hard hit were Tilshead and Shrewton, where 36 houses were destroyed, 3 people drowned and more than 200 made homeless. The flood reached its peak between 8 pm and 10 pm, but by 3 am the next morning it was completely dry.

And a Wiltshire New Year to You!

on Tuesday, 31 December 2013. Posted in Events

As New Year is almost upon us, I thought to take a look at how some of our previous Wiltshire inhabitants spent their New Years’ Day by taking a look at their diary entries. The authors’ backgrounds range from lords to schoolboys, schoolmasters to reverends, and how different their experiences of New Year were…

It was the plague that was the main concern at the beginning of January in 1666 when Sir Edward Bayntun of Bromham noted in his Commonplace Book on January 6th:

“Orders of the justices of the peace for Wiltshire to prevent the spread by the carriage of goods or by wandering beggars of the plague which infected London, Westminster, Southwark, and Southampton.”

New Year’s Eve offered a poignant moment in the diary of William Henry Tucker, a Trowbridge man born in 1814 who worked his way up to become a successful clothier. The entry of 31st December reads:

“Our usual party. Stood on Emma’s grave while Trinity church clock struck twelve at the close of the first half of the nineteenth century”…

The Suffragist Pilgrimage: Their March, Our Rights

on Friday, 12 July 2013. Posted in Events

1913 was a significant year in the campaign for women’s suffrage and is widely remembered for the increasingly militant acts of the suffragettes and in particular the death of Emily Wilding Davison at the Epsom Derby. However, a less well known protest also marks its centenary, the nationwide march of suffrage pilgrims from all parts of the country converging in London in July 1913. Thousands of women marched through towns across England spreading their message of women’s right to vote in a peaceful and law abiding way. In some towns they met a warm response with parades, teas and flowers in others their voices were drowned out and they were threatened with violence and had to be protected by the police. As the march which began at Land’s End on 19th June arrived in Wiltshire this mixed response to the pilgrims was evident. The march took six weeks.

Be my Valentine?

on Friday, 01 February 2013. Posted in Events

The 14th of February is a date which many of us either love or hate, as a time to celebrate romantic love; be bludgeoned over the head with one’s single status; or feel obliged to spend money much too soon after Christmas, depending on your outlook! However it has roots which go back a lot further than the modern commercial jamboree.


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