History Centre

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.

Meet the new Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire

on Tuesday, 16 February 2021. Posted in Archaeology, History Centre, Museums, Wiltshire People

Sophie Hawke, Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire:

Hello, I am the new Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire, job sharing with Wil Partridge at The Salisbury Museum. I started in my new role at the beginning of January but have only managed three days in the office so far, due to Covid lockdown restrictions.

Like Wil, I have been working from home. This is a bonus in some ways as it’s warmer at home than in the office (we are situated directly above the medieval porch at work so any heat rises up to the ceiling and stays there) and my travel time to work is currently ten seconds as opposed to an hour. On the down side, I have to tidy up before any Zoom calls and hope that no-one rings the doorbell whilst I’m unmuted on Zoom as my dogs will bark incessantly at the bell.

I have always been fascinated by archaeology. I joined the Young Archaeologists’ Club in Dorchester, Dorset aged 10 (a long time ago), then went on my first dig aged 11, at Dewlish Roman villa. I was hooked!

Fast forward a few years, I studied at University of Bristol for a Certificate in Archaeology with Mick Aston as my tutor, started a family, did an Open University degree, then immediately returned to Bristol Uni, with Mick as one of my lecturers, for a part time MA in Landscape Archaeology.

During all this, I started work at a secondary school and stayed for 15 years, as part of my role there was (and still is in a voluntary capacity) as Archaeology Liaison Officer for the Roman villa under the School playing field. In 2018, I was awarded a Headley Trust internship with the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The Salisbury Museum, and Historic England. Following this I worked for Historic England as a Finds Supervisor and just before Christmas 2020, I was offered this Wiltshire FLO job. I love working with finds, meeting people and doing research so this is my dream job! My favourite find to date is a hoard of Roman pewter found near Westbury. When the finder sent photos of it, Wil and I couldn’t believe our eyes as it contained a lead tank (see photo below), quite a rare find, which may be a portable font.

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

Archaeology under lockdown

on Friday, 18 December 2020. Posted in Archaeology, History Centre

Almost reaching the end of 2020 has given me a good opportunity to reflect on what has been a most unusual and difficult year but one in which archaeology in Wiltshire and Swindon continues to excite and surprise.

Over the course of this past year around 45 fieldwork projects relating to planning applications were undertaken across Wiltshire and Swindon. There were also 9 research or academic excavations. The volume of work the Archaeology Service has had to deal with has not diminished during the Covid pandemic and if anything has been more intense than before, with some of the large projects we are involved with such as the A303 Stonehenge project and other road schemes in Wiltshire and Swindon. Commercial field archaeology has carried on throughout the year as construction projects have continued. Our team have been allowed to continue going out on site to monitor the field work, subject to strict health and safety policies and Covid-safe practices

Sadly, what we haven’t been able to do so much of this year is the outreach work that we all enjoy so much, the archaeology walks and talks, but hopefully in a few short months we will be able to resume these activities. Please watch this space for details of events from the Spring onwards

Fieldwork in Wiltshire 2020. Map by Tom Sunley

One of the exciting projects we have been dealing with stems from a planning application for a solar farm development between Beanacre and Lacock. It was in this area that Wessex Archaeology excavated Roman remains in 2014 that turned out to relate to a previously unknown large Roman settlement located on an east-west Roman road. The geophysical survey from this latest project and the trial trenching has helped to reveal the extent of a Roman town on its south and east side. This now means we have 6 rather than 5 Roman small towns in Wiltshire and Swindon. Unlike Durocornovium (Wanborough), and Sorviodunum (Old Sarum) and Verlucio (Sandy Lane), this one doesn’t seem to have a Roman name. Who knows how many others may be out there waiting to be discovered?

Conserving a photograph album in-situ

on Tuesday, 15 December 2020. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

An intriguing project that came across my work-bench for conservation, was a lovely green album with old photographs and postcards, dating back to late 1800s and early 1900s, from Bath Record Office. The album is personalised with annotations, and has some damage from wear and tear over the years.

Turning the pages of the album was quite fascinating, and amongst the many photographs were a portrait of a dog, and a postcard of a soldier with a sweet message saying ‘To The Lass that Loves a Soldier.. From The Soldier (?) .. (at least he hopes so)’.

'Mr Begbie’s Dog’ and a message from a soldier.

Upon assessing the album, it was clear that the album required conservation work, which was divided into two stages; the repair of tears, and securing pages that had become loose.

Pages throughout the album were in need of repair , with tears and areas of loss around the photo corners, and damage around the edge of pages.

The pages in the album were gathered into six sections – one section had become detached from the album and others were held in place with staples. The whole text block had become detached from the binding.

Many albums tell a narrative through the photographs selected, the order in which they are placed, and in the personal touches such as handwritten annotations. We did not want the conservation treatment to affect the story told by the original layout, intention or handwritten notes. Before starting any work, we created a detailed record of the layout to check that the original format had been maintained.

Several treatment options were considered for the album, and it was decided that we would clean and rebind the original pages to re-create the photograph album, preserving the original format and annotations in situ.

This meant that the tears around the photographs would be repaired and conserved, and that the pages would be sewn together and attached to the cover, giving life to the album once again so it could be used by researchers.

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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