Library collections have a life of their own
Local Studies Library – the elderly volumes that might surprise you!
I can’t believe it’s been 5 years this month since I was lucky enough to become the County Local Studies Librarian here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. In this time, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to learn a lot more about Wiltshire’s fantastic Wiltshire Studies collection, both at the History Centre and in the county’s many local libraries. You could spend a lifetime delving into the items we hold; there is never enough time in the day to enjoy looking at the collection and the many and varied topics, people and places that span hundreds of years.
The items in our collection have found their way to us through many different means. Some have been purchased, others gifted or donated by kind individuals, many local residents who share our belief that Wiltshire’s treasures should stay in the county for everyone to access and enjoy. Others have been in the ‘library’ system much longer, from reading rooms at places such as the Mechanics Institute in Swindon, historically part of the Wiltshire local authority before Swindon became unitary in 1997.
Local Studies libraries are classed as a ‘special collection’, and within Wiltshire’s are items dating from the 17th century to today. You would be surprised to learn how robust the most elderly items in our collection are; the acid in modern paper makes modern books more troublesome to keep safe. Even so, we like to keep an eye on our oldest items to ensure they are well looked after. I am currently conducting a condition survey to check on their wellbeing and the process has been very informative, opening my eyes to the rich variety of items we hold.
Our journey begins with some of our oldest items; Civil War and Commonwealth pamphlets from 1647-1658 (ref. AAA.946). These include the impeachment of members of the House of Commons by Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1647, an account of the speech of King Charles I on the scaffold in 1649 and a copy of the Commonwealth Mercury dated 25 November 1658, describing the removal of the body of the late Oliver Cromwell from Whitehall.
Religion has an impact on lives, and this theme is understandably strongly represented in our collection, starting with a sermon from Salisbury Pastor John Strickland in 1643, preached before the House of Commons and published in 1644 (ref. SAL.251). Edward Stokes published his now famous ‘rant’ in 1652 about the “most unparallel'd prophane actings, counterfeit repentings, and evil speakings of Thomas Webbe, late pretended Minister of Langley Buriall” (ref. LAG.263).
Samuel Masters was extolling the virtues of friendship on the day of the Wiltshire Feast in 1685 (ref. AAA.251), and almost a century later in 1770 Edward Goldney is giving us his “Scriptural Counsel” (ref. AAA.250).
A ‘Citizen of New Salisbury’ was ending the ‘Salisbury Quarrel’ with Mr Hoadly in 1770, explaining “the true notions of passive obediance and hereditary right” [sic] (ref. SAL.250). The copy even includes the original letter of donation from 1908!
In 1775 J. M. Coombs was writing in Chippenham about “Divine amusement for the use of churches, chapels, schools and private families : consisting of hymns, psalms, anthems and other sacred pieces, selected from the works of Marcello, Handel, Haydn, Luther, Mason, Boyce and etc., forming a most complete collection of devotional music : composed and arranged with peculiar care for the voice, organ or pianoforte” (ref. CHP.784). By 1792 the residents of Devizes were being warned of using treasonable words or circulating seditious writings with a reward being offered for a hand bill which had done exactly that (ref. DEV.343). J Johnson (also in Devizes) in the same year was writing about “The spirit of the constitution and that of the Church of England. Remarks on two letters, addressed to the delegates from the several congregations of Protestant dissenters, who met at Devizes, on September 14, 1789” (ref. DEV.280). We are again back in Devizes in 1812 when the British and Foreign Bible Society were holding a public meeting at Devizes Town Hall (ref. AAA.255). By 1816 William Lisle Bowles, vicar of Bremhill was writing about the ‘tendings’ of a non-conformist preacher at the beside of a dying parishioner which caused great upset (ref. BRE.922). We conclude the topic with John Legg’s 1789 “Meditations and reflections on the most important subjects; or, serious soliloquies on life, death, judgment, and immortality” (ref. XLE.100). Apparently, Legg was also the author of The Emigration of British Birds!
Of course, Stonehenge and Avebury now form part of an internationally important World Heritage Site, but they were also of interest in the 17th century to the new breed of antiquarians like Wiltshire’s very own John Aubrey. By the 18th century the sites were gaining wider interest but there was still uncertainty as to their origins. In 1720 Johann Georgio Keysler was writing about Celtic Antiquities (ref. STN.930).
Three years later Thomas Twining’s essay was exploring “Avebury in Wiltshire, the remains of a roman work, erected by Vespasian and Julius Agricola during their several commands” (ref. AVE.937). The notable architect Inigo Jones had compiled his “The most notable antiquity of Great Britain, vulgarly called Stone-heng, on Salisbury Plain”, published in 1725 (ref. STN.930) with William Stukeley publishing his findings “Stonehenge : a temple restor'd to the British Druids” in 1740 (ref. STN.921).
You are more than welcome to view any of the items in this article at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre; just make a booking via our website. You can search the Local Studies collection via the Wiltshire Library catalogue (select Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre as a branch).
County Local Studies Librarian
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
- Tags: A303 Stonehenge, Avebury, Bremhill, Celtic Antiquities, Charles Lucas, Chippenham, Civil war, Commonwealth, County Local Studies Librarian, Devizes, Devizes Town Hall, Dr John Smith, druids, Edward Goldney, Edward Stokes, House of Commons, impeachment, Inigo Jones, Johann Georgio Keysler, John Aubrey, John Legg, J_ M_ Coombs, King Charles I, Local Studies, Mr Hoadly, non-conformist, religion, Salisbury, Samuel Masters, Sir Thomas Fairfax, special collection, Stonehenge, Swindon, the British and Foreign Bible Society, Thomas Twining, William Lisle Bowles, William Stukeley, Wiltshire, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Wiltshire Council Libraries, Wiltshire Feast, Wiltshire Studies, ‘Salisbury Quarrel’