History Centre

The Bersted Sword

on Tuesday, 07 June 2022. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation, History Centre

A truly fascinating and very significant object has returned to our studio for conservation work, and I have been the lucky conservator to work on it, on behalf of the Novium Museum.

The Bersted sword is over 2000 years old, discovered during excavations for a new housing estate in Bersted, West Sussex. It was found with the remains of a man, since dubbed the ‘mystery warrior’, alongside his helmet and a very elaborate and unusual headdress. Archaeologists believe he was a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar's Roman Army in Europe around 50BC.

The sword itself is bent into a v-shape, understood to be a ritual ‘killing’ of the weapon at the time of burial with its deceased owner.

A bent metal object lying on top of soft packaging covered in corrosion
Figure 1- The Bersted sword in 2010, before investigative cleaning

X-rays and investigative cleaning were undertaken by CMAS in 2010, which were able to expose parts of the sword beneath the thick corrosion products, revealing that it is fused to a ribbed iron scabbard, complete with intact suspension loop and two copper alloy rings for attaching the scabbard to a belt. Remarkably, remains of horn, which is a material frequently lost due to decomposition on burial, are still present on the hilt. The tip of the sword was missing, but discovered separately during the excavation.

A New Start with a New Placement

on Tuesday, 23 November 2021. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

Hiya! I’m Sejal and I’m a trainee conservator doing my placement with the Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service. I’m excited to start my professional work here and I am looking forward to some amazing projects.

A woman with red hair wearing a face covering stands next to a museum cabinet with 4 skulls and two knapped tools
Showing off my last big project; some anatomical skull models for the Durham Museum of Archaeology

My placement is part of my master’s degree in object conservation at Durham University. My background is primarily based in archaeology and I’ve been on several excavations, but I’ve always gravitated more towards lab work than field work. For my undergraduate dissertation, I spent a month in Portugal, helping sort through discarded ceramics from a seventeenth century kiln. It was like trying to put 100 jigsaw puzzles together at once, but you only have about 75% of the pieces.

A table covered with pottery bowls and plates, some mostly incomplete all with fragments taped together
A nearly complete set of 18th century tablewares from a kiln waste site in Portugal

I’m originally from the United States and have spent the last four years up north for my studies, so I haven’t spent much time in the southwest of the UK. So, I’m very excited to explore the region and the rich prehistory and history it holds. I also hope to visit a lot of local museums and work with a variety of institutions whilst I’m here.

Richard Jefferies

on Wednesday, 10 November 2021. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Wiltshire People

November marks 173 years since the birth of this talented Wiltshire writer whose life was so tragically cut short. Chippenham Library’s Local Studies Champion wanted to discover more about him.

Richard Jefferies (John Richard Jefferies) was born on the 6th November 1848 at Coate farm, Swindon, which now houses the Richard Jefferies Museum. His father was a farmer. His childhood had a great influence on him, providing many of the characters he later wrote about in his novels.

Between the ages of 4 and 9 he stayed with his aunt and uncle at Sydenham and went to a private school, returning to Coate during the holidays. His father would read and explain Shakespeare and the Bible and taught him and his siblings what he knew of natural history. Richard would collect bird eggs, he loved to fish in the brook, climb trees, was also a keen reader and had inherited his father’s handiness with tools. A letter he wrote to his aunt mentions his having made a sundial so he could tell the time.

At 16 he and a cousin ran off to France, intending to walk to Russia. After crossing the Channel, they soon realised that their schoolboy French was not good enough and they returned to England. Before they reached home they saw an advertisement for cheap crossings from Liverpool to America, so set off in this direction, but after buying the tickets they had no money for food and were forced to return home.

Conservation of Lydiard House Church Model

on Thursday, 04 November 2021. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

Two black-and-white close-up images of a model of a church
Image: St. Mary’s Church Model Prior to Restoration in the 1970s

Just behind the Lydiard house in Swindon, you will find the small parish church of St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze, which dates back to the 12th century. In the 1840s a model of the church was commissioned perfectly depicting the architecture, interior and grounds.

In the 1970s a large amount of restoration was carried out on the model, predominately on the graveyard area, removing a lot of original details.

Two colour images of a small wooden model of church on a green model graveyard
Image: The Church Model before treatment at CMAS

Having been in storage for a long time, the model came to the Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) to have conservation treatment undertaken before going back on display. Large cracks had appeared in the base of the model and some of the 1970s additions had deteriorated badly. Some of the architectural details were also missing with a general layer of dust on the surface.

The main challenges carrying out treatment on this object were:

Mix of different materials used: This included the plaster base, wood structure of the building, painted interior features and paper and card railings and details.

Ethical considerations: The client was keen to remove the 1970s trees that had badly deteriorated in the graveyard area and replace missing wood features on the building. Generally in conservation, we try to preserve as much historical information on an object as we can. We justified the removal of the trees as these were not original to the 1840s model and were so badly deteriorated they were unsalvageable. The addition of the wooden components was to improve the aesthetic appearance of the model and detailed records will help distinguish between what is old and new.

Condition: The model was very delicate so extreme patience and dexterity would be needed.

The Living in Lockdown Wiltshire Collection

on Thursday, 07 October 2021. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

The Covid pandemic has affected us all. Last year the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre put out a call to arms, asking for contributions to a new collection that we are building; ‘Living in Lockdown: A Creative Response to Challenging Times’. We had an amazing response! A big thank you to everyone who has contacted us with material to include. It’s been exciting to look at the scope and variety of Wiltshire’s responses to the issues we face and continue to grapple with.

I’d like to share with you some of the material we have received to give an idea of not just the variety, but also to show how a collection is created, collated and preserved for the future here at the History Centre. We see our collections as the county’s treasures. The precious knowledge contained within them about you, our county’s residents and communities, and how we have faced the Covid challenge can now be discovered and studied by future generations thanks to your generosity and the facilities here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.

We began our collecting process by sending out details of the project Living in Lockdown via our website and social media channels, utilising the help of some of the other teams we work with, such as the communications team at Wiltshire Council. As soon as the material started to wing its way to us, we began entering it on a spreadsheet; basically an ‘accessions’ record to help us register all the material, document where it came from and where it is being stored at the History Centre. We soon built up hundreds of entries, with donations from History Centre staff and other teams within Wiltshire Council such as Wiltshire Libraries, plus local residents, groups, organisations and creative practitioners living and working in the county.

Many types of formats have been received (paper copies, digital images and documents, CDs) and types of material, from cards, booklets, local newsletters, official letters, drawings, newspaper articles, writing and poems - the list goes on…

collection of dpcuments including newsletters, pamphlets, a green poster with rainbow saying 'stay alert', distancing poster and a hand-drawn annotated illustrations.

The creativity that has come out of these dark times has been wonderful to see. From artworks to music, poetry, writing and photography – it shows how intrinsically intertwined creativity is within us as a positive response to challenge and change, and how valuable and essential culture is to us as human beings and communities. We feel honoured to play our part in this cultural experience.

Cards with poems entitled 'Numbers' and 'Sounds' sit in an folded paper pocket painted to look like a murmuration of birds
The hand made ‘A Book of Pauses’ by Jennie Gilling of Warminster, created as a response to different aspects in the natural world that highlighted our human situation in 2020.
Poster advertising Paul Thomas 'one man band' exhibition of drawings made during lockdown.
Art work by Paul Thomas which formed a collection that was exhibited in Salisbury in 2021.

The type of material will determine where it will sit within the collection. The History Centre is home to an archive and a local studies library. They have distinctive specialisms, for example on a basic level, the library deals with published material and the archive unpublished, but there are also some crossovers, for instance photographs could sit within the Local Studies Historic Photograph and Print collection but also within the archive collection too. We also have a new digital repository for born digital works. This is great for us, as it means the History Centre is well placed to welcome all sorts of material. The only items we can’t take are 3D items which are better placed in one of Wiltshire’s fantastic museums!

Mural on a brick wall with a rainbow leading into a yellow brick road

The Ancestor sculpture, a kneeling figure holding a flag with added mask

Small painted stones placed alongside a path through grass
Photographs taken during lockdown: mural in The Butts, Chippenham, 11.2020, photographed by Michelle Chapman, ‘The Ancestor’ in Amesbury, fully equipped with mask, 11.2020 and the Devizes snake stones, 7.2020, photographed by Wiltshire Library staff

The next stage in the collection’s journey will be for myself as the County Local Studies Librarian and one of my Archivist colleagues to assess the collection and formally decide where everything should be placed (this is called ‘appraisal’). This usually involves a lot of excitement and quite a bit of time, as I know I always find so much of interest, but I must take a proper look at it all – we have to spend time getting it right, don’t we!

The documents and creative items will go into the archives, with the books and pamphlets that have been published finding their home in the local studies library. We have yet to make a decision on the digital material, but it is safe to say it will be stored in the most appropriate location. Anything left over after this process will make a valuable addition to the Ephemera collection in Local Studies. We usually define it as a miscellaneous collection of materials that you might often throw out, but believe me, in the future, these items will be a fantastic source of information…

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.

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