On This Day...

on Thursday, 18 April 2013. Posted in Museums

One of my favourite aspects of working with the museums of Wiltshire is the fantastic variety of stories, events, people and places represented in the many thousands of items in their collections. Mostly these are used in a very structured way. You go to the museum to see an exhibition on a particular subject or the museum is contacted about the history of a specific village. The volunteers and staff at Wiltshire’s museums spend many hundreds of hours cataloguing the items in their collections so that they are able to know which items are relevant when they come to mount their exhibitions or answer enquires.

However, it can also be illuminating to look at museum collections in a less focussed, more abstract way. Writing this piece on the 15th of April 2013 I thought I would take that approach and visited www.wiltshiretreasures.org This website allows you to search through over 200,000 items from museums in the county. Rather than looking for items related to Purton or World War One which would be the sort of searches I often carry out I decided to simply type in the date.

I was pleased to have the website tell me that it had found 23 items. This sort of random search is a great way to reveal the huge variety of information and inspiration waiting to be discovered within museum collections.

These 23 items have nothing whatsoever in common other than a date, and a very normal non-historic date at that.

So, what did I find?

6 newspaper cuttings
4 letters
3 prints
3 photographs
1 will
1 leaflet
1 document
1 menu
1 bill
1 certificate
1 invoice

from the museums in Market Lavington, Pewsey, Devizes, Cricklade and Trowbridge.

It is not surprising that these items are all what we would call ephemera – paper based items. I searched for a particular date and these sort of items being written or printed are easy to date precisely.

Let us have a look at a couple in more detail.

The Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes hold newspaper cutting portraits of Lord and Lady Dickson-Poynder, published in the Daily Mirror on 15th April 1910. Sir John Poynder-Dickson was High Sherriff of Wiltshire and MP for Chippenham. From 1910 he became the last governor of New Zealand. On their arrival in New Zealand the Marlborough Express in that country described Lady Dickson-Poynder as ‘beautiful, with that bewitching beauty generally associated with the Irish. She has masses of dark brown curly hair, a perfect complexion, dark blue eyes, and a delightful voice’. A glowing portrait indeed.

Pewsey Heritage Centre has a document dated 15th April 1880 written by Harry Weaver, Salisbury Diocesan Surveyor detailing work required on buildings in Pewsey under the marvellously named Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Act. This act gave the church the power to survey their properties and ensure that they were being left in a good state of repair on change of tenant. I suspect this document contains much to interest those researching the history of properties in Pewsey.

From Cricklade Museum we have a copy of the menu and program for the Court Leet banquet of 15th April 1978. Cricklade is one of the few boroughs in the country to retain a Court Leet. Established in the 1300s the Court Leet once dealt locally with law and order and the issuing of fines and taxes. Today it is largely ceremonial although they do still hold and administer the legal rights to grazing on Cricklade’s North Meadow. This meadow is home to the country’s largest population of the ‘Snake’s Head Fritillary’ a beautiful and nationally rare flower. Although they have been delayed by bad weather this year, April is the time to see these flowers. Visit http://www.crickladeinbloom.co.uk/fritillary_watch.html for the latest news on conditions at the nature reserve.

I really enjoy this serendipitous form of learning, using museum collections as the starting off point for a great voyage of discovery taking in dilapidated church buildings, New Zealand and wild flowers, all on the 15th April. I would urge you to have a go. Visit Wiltshire Treasures or pop into your local museum – you never know what you might find.

Now, I wonder what the 16th of April would reveal?

Tim Burge, Museums Officer


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