‘A few of my favourite things…’

on Friday, 13 November 2015. Posted in Archives

I hope you will forgive a touch of self-indulgence but this blog ties in with a theme of ‘#archiveselfie’ promoted by the national ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign, so I’ve taken the opportunity to describe three of my favourite archives held at Wiltshire and Swindon archives. It is very difficult to make such a selection – as any parent will appreciate, there is something very uncomfortable about the notion of choosing ‘favourites’ amongst your children! Nevertheless this is the result, which I must stress is a purely personal selection – why don’t you visit Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in the coming months, and see if you can compile your own list?

In no particular order then:

  • Photograph album of Mary Petre Bruce, record-breaker on land, sea and in the air, early-mid 20th cent, reference 1700/58.

Mildred Mary Bruce, nee Petre, is a personal heroine of mine – in the 1920s and 30s she was world-famous for breaking motor racing, speedboat and aviation records, including a solo round the world flight in 1930. She overcame personal setbacks, including being an unmarried mother in 1920 and a divorcee in 1941, to become a millionaire by the time she died in 1990.

Her links with Wiltshire centre on Bradford on Avon, where she had a home from 1950 to 1990, and Warminster, where she was at one time owner of a glove factory. I admire her confidence, courage and ‘go-getting’ spirit. If you want to learn more about Mary (also known as the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce) a good starting point is a 2012 biography of her by Nancy Wilson called ‘Queen of Speed’ but we are also privileged to hold her archives at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, in collection 1700. These are just a couple of the many photographs in that collection – I think Mary’s strength of spirit really shines out in them:

  • Map of Fisherton Delamere, 1742 (628/7/1 MS)

Maps are fascinating even when the places they depict are unknown territory – as a child I used to sit and pore over my parents’ Atlas of the World, tracing the rivers and mountains of far-away places with my finger, travelling imaginary journeys and creating my own world of exotic place-names with imagined colours, scents and sounds. Wiltshire may be more familiar territory than Timbuktu but looking at historic maps involves a similar exercise in the imagination as the world they depict can look very different now.

When I first discovered this 18th century map of the Wylye valley manor of Fisherton Delamere I fell in love with its beautifully detailed drawings of houses and woods, drawn by that master surveyor, William Godson, for the 3rd Duke of Bolton. I also marvelled at the strip fields depicting a lost world prior to the enclosure of common fields. Most helpfully the map is accompanied by a survey book which gives the names of tenants and their fields, using a letter and number which links to the map. For a local or family historian such information is like gold-dust for researching a time before censuses, telephone directories, and electoral registers allowed us to pin people down to a particular place at a particular time. 

 - Journal kept by Audley Money-Kyrle while on board the 'Riversdale' during her voyage to Calcutta, 1866-1867, reference 1720/717

Diaries and letters offer a powerful connection to the past unparalleled by other types of record. Few other types of archive offer such immediate access to the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams of our ancestors. It is therefore really hard to single out any one in particular, as they are all in a sense inherently fascinating, but I have chosen Audley Money-Kyrle’s travel diary as it combines an interesting subject with his own vivid and amusing illustrations, such as the one shown here of Audley in his little bed, complete with what I assume is a chamber pot underneath!

Having reached the end of this list it seems woefully inadequate – there are so many other visually stunning, interesting, challenging archives I could have mentioned. I must revisit this again in future, and share some more favourites with you, if you can bear it!

In the meantime, if you want a ‘selfie’ in the sense of knowing what the author of this blog article looks like, please see this video designed to help children find out more about their family tree, created for the Children’s University in 2014:


Don’t worry, I’m not going to give up the day job!

Claire Skinner, Principal Archivist


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