"We leave the theoretical Utopias to others and concentrate on the down-to-earth ways in which ordinary lives can be improved" Pat Jacob, National Chairman in ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ by Simon Goodenough, 1977.
The Women’s Institute is probably the largest and most widely known women’s organisation. Over the years it has not only survived, but thrived.
The first WI was formed in 1897 at Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada by Mrs Adelaide Hoodless. A suggestion that women could form their own group was put forward at a Young Farmer’s Institute and the following week over 100 women attended. Adelaide Hoodless had suffered the loss of a baby from contaminated milk, and, recognising this, she was determined to prevent others suffering similar losses through a lack of education. She went on to be involved with founding Domestic Science courses for girls, as well as holding positions of president of the national YWCA and treasurer of the National Council of Women of Canada.
It wasn’t until 1915 that the WI came to Britain when the first group was formed at Llanfair in Wales by Mrs Watt. Mrs Watt had been a member of the Canadian WI, one of only four women on a committee to advise the Department of Agriculture in British Columbia and promoted the Women’s Institute movement following its official recognition in 1911. Upon the death of her husband in 1913 she moved to Britain and set about encouraging the movement here.
The Wiltshire federation came into being in 1919 following the establishment of six WI’s. Founded in September 1916, Redlynch and District WI is the oldest in Wiltshire and probably the second oldest in the country. There are currently over 4000 members in 125 WIs across the county and here at the History Centre we hold an array of archive material from many of them.
One of the most interesting aspects of many of the WI collections are the scrap books, which showcase local life, are often a work of art in their own right. Bradenstoke WI scrapbook highlights some of their achievements as well as hiding unexpected gems such as the beautiful examples of a 19th century lace collar and lace neck tie below.
WI scrapbook of the history of Bradenstoke with Clack, ref 2626/1
Studio portrait of the Hon, B.P. Bouverie, vicar of Pewsey, seated and reading a magazine, late 19th or early 20th century (P551)
With foreign affairs much in the news lately, readers might be interested in taking the long view and discover what Wiltshire people were reading about the world this week 200 years ago. If you lived in Wiltshire in March 1816, this was a time where semaphore was the nearest thing to Twitter and mail travelled by boat and stage coach, and took a bit longer to end up in the junk folder. Although news travelled slow, it was not hard as you might think to follow international news. Your provincial newspaper, such as the Salisbury Journal (The Salisbury and Wiltshire Journal and General Advertiser for Wilts, Hants, Dorset and Somerset), mainly contained adverts, national (parliament) and international news, more adverts, and just a little bit of local news from surrounding counties. The main function of the newspaper was to bring you foreign and national news, rather than fill the papers with local stories. Given the relatively small population size, you probably knew most what has going on in your local area and all the local gossip, so you didn’t need to read about it. Your newspaper would have been weekly and unlikely to extend beyond four pages. Of course, there were two other essential conditions for your enjoyment, money – the newspaper cost seven pence (the average wage for a labourer was about four shillings and sixpence a week), and you had to be able to read. So unless you were in the minority of the educated and relatively wealthy, well you will just have to wait until someone passes the news on to you and who knows how accurate it will be by the time you hear it – just the sort of misinformation to cause a riot.
Unrest seemed to be the order of the day around the world in 1816. The Salisbury Journal reported on a “serious misunderstanding” between Spain and the United States, the Spanish demanding all of the American citizens who were concerned in the revolution in “South America.” They also insisted on some cessation of territory from the US to Spain. This is most likely a reference to the war of independence in Mexico (New Spain) which lasted until 1821. The Journal also reported that the leader of the “Mexican insurgents,” a man named Morellos, had been arrested. Happily there were no presidential primaries to report on in the US, but it was business as usual, strengthening the navy, creating a national bank and making peace treaties with Native American tribes on the North-West Frontier. Oh, and there was an increase in taxes to pay for previous wars. A bit further away the French were falling out with the Portuguese, who had taken the opportunity to seize Cayenne and French Guiana during insurrection along that part of the Atlantic coast of South America.
In North America the British government were clearly not worried about the sustainability of fish and other sea life, encouraging an increase in the fishery of cod and whales on the banks of Newfoundland. But it was not so good if you wanted to start a new life there, as the government also announced that it was no longer funding emigration passages to America.
This was all very interesting, but of course the news you most wanted to read about was in Europe and in particular, the French...
Archives can reveal details about how our ancestors lived and customs and practices they took for granted which can look very strange to modern eyes! Lost ways of life can be found in all kinds of sources, the most personal of which, diaries and letters, can give an intimate portrait of individual’s daily lives as well as shedding light on their wider community. They provide a window through which we can relate to those who have gone before.
With this in mind I thought I would explore how some Wiltshire residents of the past spent their Christmas and New Year.
Francis Kilvert and Edith Olivier both have well known published diaries but the Wiltshire Record Society have also published personal diaries of everyday folk held in our collections. There is much recognisable to us in their festive moments; celebrating new beginnings, giving gifts, spending time with family, the traditional seasonal illness, country walks etc.
William Henry Tucker was born in Trowbridge in 1814 and in later life became a successful clothier. The diary (WRS Vol.62) as a whole offers a candid insight into the life of Tucker and his community during the years 1825-50.
1827 25 Dec: Went to W. Plummer’s and had a Christmas supper. Exhibited my watch to the company, and made numerous enquiries respecting my anticipated settlement in the counting house.
1827 31 Dec: This day commences a most important era. At ten o’clock I made my first entry... into Mr John Stancombe’s counting house.
1829 31 Dec The weather was extremely severe about this time. Having an afternoon’s holiday, about three o’clock my brother and myself set off towards the canal by way of Islington: we ran upon the ice... on our way home we over Mr.- a fashionable shoemaker... who told us many lies of his wonderful feats in skating. On passing down the Courts I encountered a young lady who had for some time occupied no inconsiderable share of my thoughts.
1832 25 Dec supped at E.Hs (future wife, Emily Hendy, daughter of Grocer, William Hendy – married in Oct 1935 when both aged 21)
1834 26 Dec Took a walk amid the blackness of the night through the Hennicks,... and in allusion to future prospects I made a rather pointed enquiry touching a somewhat important subject, which was satisfactorily answered by the person to whom it was addressed.
1835 25 Dec An old fashioned frosty Christmas. At Dad’s all day.
1836 25 Dec – Xmas day comes on Sunday. In the evening a tremendous snowstorm came on, which lasted all night and covered the country to a depth unknown for many years past, playing the dickens with coaches, mails. etc. etc.
1838 25 Dec – mild Christmas Day. Took a walk in Studley fields by the inn.
1838 31 Dec Finished stocktaking. Mr Hall died. Had our Christmas party and watched the year out.
1 Jan 1839 Grand fete at factory. Was not present, being in Bath occupied in my final purchases of books. Spent most of the day with Matthew Newth.
1844 25 Dec Dined, tead and supped at W.H.’s Went to church twice.
1846 1 Jan This year begins in suspense on three very important points – How will the crisis in the railway market terminate? Is R. Peel coming forward as a Corn Law repealer? Is -.
1854 he wrote of ‘comforts of the Christmas fireside, surrounded by intelligent and well-conducted children’ (despite his previous depressions over the birth of numerous girls!).
1847 31 Dec. Bill of Health: E., Lucy, Alfred and Emma have had the influenza but are partially recovered. The rest of us are well.
Francis Kilvert was a clergyman, born in Hardenhuish Lane, near Chippenham and who worked as a rural curate helping his father (rector of Langley Burrell) and as curate in the Welsh Marches, Radnorshire, and Herefordshire. His diaries, reflecting on rural life, were published 50 years following his death.
Our Heritage Lottery Funded project to uncover and share stories of the First World War Home Front in Wiltshire is approaching two exciting milestones early in 2015.
At the end of January our website will be going live. This will be a home for all the stories that have been gathered so far – in sounds, words and pictures. If your family or community have your own stories that you would like to include you will be able to do this straight through the website. Over time we hope this will become a significant record of the impact of the war across the county.
At the end of February the first exhibition based on the stories will be on display at the Springfield Community Campus in Corsham. This exhibition will focus on the role Wiltshire played in providing a home and training ground for the military and how this affected the lives of ordinary people. Look out for full details of the exhibition over the next few weeks. After Corsham the exhibition will be setting off on a tour of community venues whilst we start work on preparing further displays looking at different ways the First World War affected Wiltshire.
Cataloguing box 47 is a slow process, it is packed with lots of ‘bundles’, mostly folded and rolled receipts and invoices for the second half of the eighteenth century, intricately put together in years. They are like abstract pieces of origami which when unfolded cannot be put back together in quite the same way. But this is not the real reason for taking so long to work through the documents; I am easily diverted. On the face of it bills are rather boring, but here are people going about their business on the estate, making trips to purchase goods and undertaking repairs to buildings, the Malthouse and Red Lion seem to appear quite regularly. Local history, family history, economic history, even costume history can be discovered here. Trips to Bath conjure up images of Jane Austen, while wages being paid three years late leave you pondering how people managed to feed themselves and their families. The distractions are plentiful.
But back to the title, some of the most intriguing bills found were those for medicines. For a week in September 1740 Thomas Honey was paid for a variety of herbal medicines, along with the ‘vomit’ was ‘cordial mixture’ and ‘a decoction of ye bark a quart’. I have not found any other references to Thomas so far, but he seems well named. Doctor, apothecary, quack, how to describe someone who supplied these remedies; he charged for ‘bleeding’ so a barber perhaps, or even a grocer? Apothecaries were originally part of the grocers’ trade. In January 1745 it was a Mr Ringston and William Busby who were supplying John Talbot with similar items, a ‘cooling emulsion a quart’ and ‘the opening electuary’ and then nothing until August when ‘rhubarb tinctures’ and ‘mercurial pills’ were supplied.
My mission, if I chose to accept it, would be to attempt to read, understand and transcribe on to a computer, the documents contained in certain bundles of the Lacock Archives. I accepted.
On Tuesday 8th October 2013 I arrived at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and was assigned Box 64 which contained 61 bundles of documents.
Reading my first few items was quite demanding but once I was familiar with the different way different people wrote I began to recognise words and sentences and gained a sense of what they were communicating.
Box 64 is a mixed box of items covering the period between the mid 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s – private letters between members of the Fox Talbot family, business letters, letters of community interest, architectural interest letters, photographic processes discussed and enquired about, bills, receipts, pamphlets and booklets and various advertising leaflets about medicinal items.