A 15 minute online history challenge

on Tuesday, 13 April 2021. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

Mission: try and see what I could find out about this history of a location in Wiltshire using online sources in only 15 minutes.

April sees the #Archive30 social media campaign run by the Archives and Record Association Scotland and is the focus for this month’s #ExploreYourArchive. Today’s theme is #UntoldStories so in this spirit, I thought it would be fun to find an untold story online in 15 minutes.

I decided start with Know Your Place to find my location and settled on Canon Square in  Melksham. Know Your Place is always a good starting point for researching local or building history, the historic maps can be easily compared with the modern day map, and there is the added benefit of information layers including monuments, community pins and Wilkinson postcards for additional insights. You can find a guide on our website on how to make the most out of the Know Your Place.

The 25 inch Ordnance Survey map from the 1880s showed the street layout of Canon Square was much the same at that date as it is today.

Going a little further back in time, Know Your Place also hosts Tithe Maps (above). The tithes were a tax levied by the Church which required one tenth of agricultural produce to go to support the local church and clergy (or lay owners who inherited these entitlements with land following the Reformation). The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act required these tithes to be converted into monetary payments and the Tithe Survey was established to assess which areas were titheable, who owned them, how much was payable and to whom. This information was recorded in an accompanying apportionment, making them a fantastic source for understanding land use, and also who owned and lived where!

The buildings on Canon Square are not numbered as they would have not be liable for the tithe taxation. Melksham’s Tithe map dates to 1838 and curiosity to see who owned nearby land at that date led me to use the Tithe Award information layer. This enables you to download the tithe apportionment and find out who owned and occupied titheable plots at the date of the award (usually the 1840s) – you can download it from the pin found on the parish church.

I looked for the owner and occupier of the piece of land near the river which you can see numbered on the map as plot 663:

The owner and occupier is recorded as Reverend George Hume and it is Glebe land (land used to support the parish priest) with its area given in acres, roods and perches.

According to the Wiltshire Planning Portal map, I could see there are a large number of listed buildings in the area including The Grange which according to Historic England’s National Heritage List for England is a grade II listed vicarage, later a children's home dating to the late seventeeth century and remodelled in 1877 by G.E. Street.

Turning now to see what I could find about history of people who lived in the street. I decided to take a look at the 1939 register (available on Ancestry). Number 11 Canon Square caught my eye; it housed George Hill, a verger aged 73, Nellie Hill, aged 55 , doing unpaid domestic duties as well as Arthur Worth, a school teacher aged 25, and two schoolboys called Roy Mitten and Leonard Phillips aged 15 and 17.

Continuing with Ancestry, I was able to locate George Hill on the 1911 census, living very close-by on Church Walk, but working as a flour miller (presumably at the flour mill at Melksham). The baptism registers revealed he was born to a Samuel and Emma Hill in 1886; his father Samuel also recorded at that date working as a miller so he obvisouly followed the family trade!

Arthur Worth was probably their lodger, and would mostly likely have worked at the National School, now St. Michael's Church of England Primary School. According to the Victoria County History (available online on British History Online) in 1840 the vicar applied for funds to help build a two-roomed school for 300 pupils (150 boys and 150 girls). The school building cost £530 and an additional £150 was spent on a teacher’s house, which was later sold in 1912. There are historic photographs of the school on our Community History pages:

The above image (ref P18498) shows rows of schoolchildren outside the National School in around 1907.

And that was the 15 minutes! It is amazing how much information you can find online, but, as might be expected, I would argue it is no replacement for the real thing! There are always additional sources you can find in the archive, that aren’t available online. You can check out our ‘Getting Started’ guides on our homepage Home (wshc.org.uk) for ideas about what documents you could search in the archive for more ‘untold stories’.

Naomi Sackett, Archivist


Accredited Archive Service