Wiltshire People

Truffles – what a rare treat indeed!

on Tuesday, 07 January 2014. Posted in Traditions and Folklore, Wiltshire People

We all like to indulge in the odd luxury if we can, including a good truffle or two perhaps…

Did you know that these chocolate treats originally contained truffles of the fungal variety when they were first produced in Belgium? At the time it was this truffle that was at the height of fashion.


Truffles were once common in England, especially in the south. The hunting of them became a cottage industry in rural Wiltshire from the late 17th century to the early 20th. The earliest known description of the truffle is by Tancred Robinson in 1693. “Those observed in England are all included in a studded Bark or coat; the Tubercules resembling the Capsules or Seed–Vessels of some Mallows and Aloeas the inward substance is of the consistence of the fleshy part in a young chestnut, of a paste colour, of a rank or hircine odour, and unsavoury, streaked with many white Veins or threads, as in some Animals’ Testicles; the whole is of a globose figure, though unequal and chunky”. The size can range from 3mm to that of a grapefruit, can be found near trees or in forested areas, and are especially associated with beech trees which do not give too much shade. The first definitively English truffle was the ‘Trub’, documented and written up in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1693.

Truffles have held a certain mystique for many years in history as well as today, but just what is that that makes them so special?

The Worst Journey in History

on Saturday, 19 October 2013. Posted in Military, Wiltshire People

Winston Churchill described the arctic convoys of the Second World War as the worst journeys in history; for the sailors not only had to contend with freezing conditions and the very real chance of getting stuck in the ice but also the terror of U-Boats and dive bombers. This all seems a long way from the safety of the present day and from Wiltshire – a county with no coastline. But a few weeks ago Wiltshire Council held a ceremony to honour the residents of the county who served in those convoys and who have had to wait 70 years before they were granted a service medal that recognised their particular efforts. It was a tremendous surprise, and a great honour, for those involved in organising this event to discover that there are 25 men living in Wiltshire who served in those convoys.

Life Style of Your Victorian Ancestors – Using the Census

on Tuesday, 15 October 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

This week I’ve been changing my census lecture into a census workshop for a family history course we’re running at the History Centre. It’s reminded me how really useful the census is to local, social and economic historians, as well as to people looking for their ancestors. However if used properly you can also find information about the living conditions of past generations of your family. You really need to look at a complete parish – easy for a village but for a town you may only be able to look at two or three enumeration districts. Perhaps easier to do using the census on microfiche than on line.

Finding out about a missing past: Adoption

on Tuesday, 06 August 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

As an archivist I am well used to helping people trace their family back into the past. The further back the better satisfied people usually are! I shall never forget the customer who told me they had been able to trace their ancestry back to the Stone Age. They believed that their surname sounded like the kind of noise a prehistoric person would make when banging two rocks together (No, I’m not making this up – I only wish I were!) The mind boggles at how they would go about tracing a family tree for a time when no records exist, but never mind…


However, what I get asked to do on occasion, less frequently, is to help someone come forward in time rather than going backwards. This type of research is what you might call a ‘missing person enquiry’. This type of enquiry is quite challenging and potentially sensitive. If you are trying to find information about a missing person you might like to look at: http://www.look4them.org.uk/ This website is a collaboration between various official organisations who are experienced in helping find missing persons. However as this is a very broad topic, I’ve decided to focus on one type of enquiry in particular, namely research into the childhood of children who were formerly in a children’s home or fostered. This is because recently I’ve been helping a couple of people find out more about their childhood, and it has made me appreciate how important our archives can be. They really can be life-changing! People can find missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle put into place – things which happened when they were very young, and not fully aware of what was happening, start to become clear in adulthood after consulting the records. This can help bring peace of mind after years of confusion. Obviously not all the answers people find will be comforting – there are many instances of painful facts, such as evidence of childhood habits such as bed-wetting, which people need to be prepared for. But overall some may feel the benefits of knowing more about their past can outweigh the difficulties.

Sally in the Wood

on Tuesday, 18 June 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Tales

An intriguing enquiry regarding the origins of the road ‘Sally in the Wood’, which can be found just over the border in the parish of Bathford, Somerset, has led us to take a look at the origins of the name. The road forms a section of the A363 as it journeys through Home Wood towards Bathford. Explanations of the road name are many and varied, and they are also closely related to the parish of Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire.

Researching the history of disability in Wiltshire

on Thursday, 13 June 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

Some readers will be aware of the new series on BBC Radio 4 called Disability: A New History. It is a ten-part series where “Across the country, historians are discovering the voices of disabled people from the past.” You can hear recordings of the series, which are posted for only limited time, and view an image gallery on the BBC website:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/

This opens up a hidden history. As the programme’s presenter Peter White said, it is as if people with disabilities didn’t exist in the past or what they did was worth recording, yet for thousands of years disabled people have been getting on with their lives.

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