It is so unfortunate that such a terrible practice is still endemic in this country today. Slavery in more modern times, exploits many different nationalities in a period where there is a more fluid movement of people through borders. Despite having more rigid security procedures, innocent victims of slavery are still sneaked through into Britain. It is believed that there may be as many as 13,000 slaves living here, despite the new government law passed last year; the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Many of the people who succumb to slavery today are deceived by broken promises of a new life of prosperity and safety. However, a few centuries ago, the slave trade was carried out in a very different and more brutal way. Most slaves were literally dragged forcefully from their villages by armed raiding parties, instigated by white Europeans. These slaves were predominantly taken from West Africa, from Senegal to Nigeria. Slave ships then transported them in the vilest and inhumane conditions imaginable, to North America and the West Indies.
Some of our records at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre show that we had a strong link to the slave trade. Bristol was a major and dominant port for importing goods which were a by-product of slaving. These commodities included Mahogany, sugar and rum.
One of the biggest slave plantation owners in Wiltshire were the Dickinson family of Bowden House near Lacock and of Monk’s Park near Corsham. This family of Quakers also had large estates in Somerset.
It is believed that the first member of the Dickinson family to arrive in Jamaica was Francis Dickinson during the ‘invasion’ by Penn and Venables in 1655, an attack which was supposed to have taken Hipaniola (on instruction of Oliver Cromwell). Francis was apparently rewarded 2000 acres by King Charles II for his part in taking the island from the Spanish.
The Second World War has always fascinated me, especially the home front – I’ve always been curious about what life was like for those away from the front lines, particularly outside of the major cities in largely rural places such as Wiltshire. In particular the story of immigrants (called ‘aliens’ at the time) living in these areas has always been a major interest of mine. It’s an often overlooked fact that there was a substantial European population living in Britain by the 1930s – including large and long-standing German, Austrian and Italian communities. There was also a considerable influx of people into the country after 1933 as those persecuted by the Nazis sought shelter here. Some of these people came to live in Wiltshire: by mid-1942, in addition to the wider immigrant population there were more than 200 people with official refugee status living in the county, about 75% of whom were German. When Britain went to war with Germany these people automatically became “enemy aliens”, and I wanted to find out more about what happened to them after this. I was surprised to discover that there was a suspected German Nazi party official living in Salisbury!
As the possibility of a major European conflict grew towards the end of the 1930s the government became increasingly concerned about the number of people living in Britain from potentially hostile nations, particularly Germany and Austria. These people fell under suspicion as potential spies and saboteurs and the government, particularly the Home Office and MI5, reacted by putting into place plans to arrest and imprison suspect enemy aliens should war break out, a process known as internment. Initially only those who the security services felt were a threat to national security were interned. In practice this was generally limited to those who were members of German political organisations, as there was serious concern that these people might help any German invasion. For example, pictured is the MI5 file card for Rudolf Habla, a Czechoslovakian living in Chippenham, indicating that he was a member of the Deutsch Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) and as such was wanted as a potential saboteur.
Whilst MI5 drew up the lists of potential suspects, it was left to local police forces to locate and arrest these people, and in Wiltshire the process was no different. We are lucky enough to have the records of Wiltshire Constabulary here at the History Centre and these contain many references to the arrest and internment of Wiltshire’s enemy aliens. These documents tell the story of the internment process during the war, not just for Wiltshire but for the country as a whole.
We’ve recently been enjoying the company of our Antipodean cousins visiting over the summer, here to explore back in time and research the histories of their families before emigration to the colonies. Wiltshire people have been making a new life overseas for many years and for many reasons, and I thought it was the ideal time to take a quick look at just some of them here.
In Australia the 19th century began with transportation to the colonies as an outlet for Britain’s prisons, and also for its asylums and workhouses, but it has been realised that these people had not made the most suitable workers for colonising and developing a country. In response an immigration policy tried to temp British people to Australia but it offered little financial support. In the early part of the 19th century, the decision to emigrate was either made for someone due to forced transportation, or it was a last resort, ‘the only escape from an intolerable situation’. As the years passed and communities became better established, the decision had more likely become one of a way to a better life with fewer worries over poverty. The British government had a policy of offering no financial aid except for some occasions of assisting the parish poor, and it meant the colonies were free to choose their potential emigrees. The British government were discussing a state aided scheme in both 1870 and 1886 but at least one province, Queensland, were adamant against losing control of their choice of settler. Private organisations also tried to set up schemes with little success and those who were trying to settle aided by guardians of the poor or public charities were also often refused at this time. By the end of the 19th century, the ‘quality’ of emigrants had much improved.
In the first part of the 19th century migration to America was from farmers; the Swing Riots of 1830 and fear of mechanisation may have affected this trend. It was during this period more than any other which saw the movement of people with other members of their families. The late 1820s had already seen a short-term rise in the number of workers from industry such as textile workers emigrating to America during the depression in the cotton industry. The majority of those emigrating at this time appear to have enough assets to sell to help them on their way, and for many it was not economic hardship, but a sense of concern over the changing economy and worries over their children’s standing and position in that society which affected their choices.
Wiltshire joins other counties on Discovery in providing up-to-date information on where the county’s manorial records are kept. These are key historical sources on the lives of our ancestors for family and local historians, for planning and rights of way enquiries and for students and scholars of all ages. Most, but not all, of Wiltshire’s manorial records are kept at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, but the online Manorial Documents Register within Discovery makes it possible to search one database for the County’s records held in all British and overseas archives.
The revision and online publication of the Wiltshire and Swindon MDR has been made possible by generous grants from The National Archives and the Federation of Family History Societies. Claire Skinner, principal archivist, has managed the project and the work has been done by project officer Dr Virginia Bainbridge and a team of 20 volunteers, assisted by Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre staff. The launch took place at a buffet lunch to thank all the volunteers!
In 1086, Domesday Book recorded information on all the landed estates of England. Many of these estates developed into the manors which controlled their tenants’ lives for over eight more centuries. Manorial officials began writing records in the decades around 1200 when record-keeping became more common.
The Lacock archive is as full of references to cats as there are currently cats living in and around the abbey. Although these are mostly photographs, there are also text references to cats. The earliest reference I’ve found is from the 19th century. Charles Henry Talbot, who owned Lacock from 1877, kept most of the letters written to him (although sadly didn’t make copies of the ones he sent) and from there we can find several interesting references to his home life and relationships with his family and friends – and animals! We know from correspondence that Charles had at least two cats in the last part of the 19th century, called Stripy and Bunny. It appears that he was very fond of them. Matilda Talbot, who inherited Lacock from her uncle Charles, was equally fond of them and many photographs of cats have appeared from amongst her papers.
In a letter to his uncle of 1893, William Gilchrist-Clark advises Charles regarding the mange that his pet is suffering from: “On my way from Brighton I heard of your cat’s illness. I said to Auntie Monie [Rosamond Talbot] that I thought it must be mange, and she asks me by letter this morning to write to you about it. I thought the cat was not in a healthy state when I saw it in Jan – the hair was too matted and it didn’t look right. The regular vet is laid up, but I am sure the best thing you could do would be to have the matted hair cut off as much as possible and the skin dressed with sulphur and hair oil – the cat would be in an unpleasant state for a bit and would hardly do for the house – but if it was kept in a stable for a bit it would soon feel right again – you could get the dressing from any local vet, and at the same time find out if it was the best thing to use – I always use it for dogs myself.” Personally, I think the first thing I’d do is visit the vet, and find out if it was suitable before I even considered buying the dressing. But it is interesting to see how people dealt with animals’ illnesses. Charles must have been very worried about his cat, and William likewise as he wrote to him so quickly. Let’s hope the strange concoction for the cat’s skin worked, and 1893’s “Grumpy Cat” (I would be if I was kept in a stable and dressed with sulphur) got over his mange and his health improved!
A letter from Rosamond Talbot to Charles of 1898 suggests that Charles has had to find a new home for one of his cats due to it possibly hunting his chickens, and she is helping: “We think that a good home has offered for poor old Bunny, in Somersetshire – people who want a grown up tame cat, so I must see about it when I get home. I cannot think that she has been interfering with the chickens again, now that they are grown so much older – besides she has been so constantly and carefully kept indoors during the middle of the day when the chickens are free, but still it is best to be on the safe side, if we can, for the future. Do you think the fox has put in an appearance again?” The phrase “poor old Bunny” is very apt here. It appears that the poor cat was rehomed as a scapegoat for the fox, although we cannot rule out the possibility of Bunny being a natural hunter and deciding that actually, grown-up chickens were also quite appealing. It is not known if Bunny was eventually rehomed. Maybe Charles decided to just be a bit more careful about where she was kept in relation to the chickens.
"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