An Autumn Tour

on Friday, 16 October 2015. Posted in Museums

Now that summer fades away and crisp/wet autumn arrives, one would expect the museum staff in Wiltshire to take advantage of the impending winter months and retreat into their archives until spring. However, there is still much to see and visit throughout the county – indeed an intrepid traveller could embark on a grand circular tour this weekend, starting at Royal Wootton Bassett, then heading south west towards Trowbridge, due south to Mere and return via Market Lavington.

The museum at Royal Wootton Bassett is an iconic site in the town. Half-timbered, supported on fifteen pillars and dating from 1690, the former town hall was a gift from Lawrence Hyde, MP, (later the Earl of Rochester) to the citizens and incorporated a store room and a lock up or Blind House for drunks and other undesirables, used before local police stations contained their own cells. The building has seen many uses, including a school and a courtroom. After extensive restoration in 1889 the town library was based in the town hall and since 1971 it has housed the museum.

Currently, the museum is marking the closure of the Wootton Bassett railway station back in 1965 with an exhibition and marvellous scale model depicting the station in the 1960’s. Visit the slide show telling the story of the station and its various buildings and its early links with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Look at railway life through the eyes of a signalman and discover the impact of the Swindon rail works on Wootton Bassett.

Royal Wootton Bassett Museum is open every Wednesday and Saturday (10-12).

Travelling across the county we reach the administrative centre of Trowbridge and its wonderful museum which is situated in The Shires Shopping Centre. The museum collection covers Trowbridge and outlying villages and contains a multitude of artefacts relating to the history of the town including its past industries and notable townspeople, one of which was Sir Isaac Pitman, developer of phonetic shorthand. Trowbridge Museum is located on the second floor of Salters Mill, the town’s last working woollen mill which closed in 1982. The cloth industry was a huge factor in the town’s development and in 1820 the place was nicknamed the ‘Manchester of the West’ with over twenty cloth-producing factories - the museum possesses one of only five Spinning Jennies left in the world.

Trowbridge Museum is currently holding its West of England Festival of Textiles (WEFT), a biennial event highlighting the history of textile production and celebrating regional contemporary textile artists, groups and students through exhibiting their work. The theme this year is weaving, with vibrant exhibitions, events and demonstrations including a Weaving with Willow workshop on Saturday 17th October (drop in between 10.30am and 3.30pm, £2) and The Big Weave Day on Saturday 24 October, 11am to 3pm. This is a fantastic opportunity to see a huge variety of looms and weaving in action under one roof. Whether you would like to learn to weave, try different looms or just want a fun day out for all the family, the weavers are happy to share their experience and give advice. If you can’t make it in person you can also follow the blog to learn more about weaving and if you need time away from shopping in The Shires, why not come along and try the Weaving Corner? It’s a relaxing spot within the museum to while away the time whilst you have a go at weaving yourself.

Trowbridge Museum is open Tuesday-Friday (10-4) and Saturday (10-4.30)

Moving on from Trowbridge - perhaps travelling along the lovely B3095 through the ‘Deverills’, a succession of villages which lie along the River Wylye, and over the downs which fed the sheep whose wool Trowbridge thrived on – we reach the historic town of Mere. The town’s museum is situated within the old National School and shares the building with the library, showcasing some of its c.7,000 objects in the public space. The collection reflects the history of a busy rural town and the individuals who lived there and past exhibitions have included ‘What People Wore’, a display of some costume items including a Mere Town Band uniform and an unusual collection of spectacles, and ‘The Proudest Uniform’, an exhibition focussing on brief biographies of the Mere men whose names are inscribed on the town’s war memorial.

Mere Museum has just been host to the launching of the second of five exhibitions in the Heritage Lottery funded project ‘Wiltshire At War: Community Stories’. This project aims to bring people together from across Wiltshire to discover, explore and share stories about the county’s response to the First World War, with five touring exhibitions travelling to communities throughout Wiltshire between 2015 and 2019.

The exhibition launched at Mere is ‘Wiltshire Does Its Bit’, an evocation of the response and experience of local people during the war years. There are many fascinating stories to discover, including the small jam-making factory in Easterton which expanded hugely, thanks to the 30,000 Canadian troops descending on the village (what was the favourite fruit flavour I wonder?) or the story, told through her diary, of Gwen Beauchamp, a VAD nurse at Mere Hospital who hid in a cupboard on her first day at work. Visit the museum to find out what embarrassed Gwen so much! The exhibition continues at Mere until November 7th.

Mere Museum is open Monday (10-7), Tuesday (9.30-5), Wednesday (9.30-1), Thursday & Friday (9.30-5) and Saturday (9.30-1)

Finally we must wend our way across Salisbury Plain to arrive at Market Lavington, a large and busy village with its museum situated in the old schoolmaster’s cottage beside the church. The museum, described as ‘a treasure trove of the history of the parish’ displays its collection within the rooms of the cottage and so on entering the kitchen one sees a wealth of domestic objects, including crockery and laundry items. The famous Easterton jam can be seen upstairs as well as changing displays of costume.

The museum has recently acquired ten sketches of Market Lavington, mostly from the 1830’s and drawn by Philip Wynell Mayow whose brother, the wonderfully named Reverend Mayow Wynell Mayow, was Vicar of Market Lavington. These sketches pre-date photography and give us information about how the village actually looked when it was still regarded as a market town. One sketch ‘Market Lavington; 1837’ is of Broadwell – the water source around which the community grew. It shows two long gone houses, one of which was only known as a blob on old maps.The lovely jettied house on the left of the drawing didn’t survive to be photographed or remembered by even the oldest inhabitants of Market Lavington and so the drawings exist to give evidence of the history of the village and help for further research.

Enjoy a visit to Market Lavington Museum soon as it closes for the winter at the end of October but it will open again in May.

Market Lavington Museum is open Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Bank Holiday afternoons (2.30-4.30)

There are no excuses to hibernate this autumn when museums and heritage centres throughout Wiltshire are continuing to tempt visitors with various delights.

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