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.
In the early hours of the 26th October 1664, Mary Waterman, wife of John Waterman from Fisherton Anger, gave birth to triplet girls, Mary, Martha and Efflett. What makes this birth even more remarkable was two of the girls, Mary and Martha, were conjoined. A description of the twins is provided in a letter from the Salisbury Oculist Dr Daubeney Turberville to Robert Boyle - a founding member of the Royal Society:
“On Tuesday night last, these was borne in Fisherton adjoining to our Town of Salisbury a monstrous Issue in part, the women has three children girls the one very well formed & fat, the other two as you may call them hath but one Body, continued handsomely to their shoulders, from whence growth four Arms completely …ade, two necks & two heads very well featured with all the parts, but they are contrary posited, one at one end of the Body & the other at the other, out of the side there is a Belly, Navel, a woman’s part, & one Fundament, and two complete Legs, & thighs, feet, & nails, they were at writing here of very lusty, & doe take their food, sugar & water, look about & wag all parts, the one is more sleepy then the other, both very pretty”.
The baptism register of Fisherton Anger only confirms their baptism, with no mention of their physical condition. Interestingly it was one of the ‘Monstrous’ twins rather than the ‘normal’ daughter who was named after their mother.
John was an ostler and described as the ‘labouring poor’. A physician, William Hann, who had witnessed the birth, described the Waterman home as a ‘poorly appointed dwelling, ‘full of holes’ and the girls as having only a linen cloth for its covering, which was taken off at the desire of every new spectator’, which had already brought ‘a thousand’ people to the Watermans’ door; making this a very cold environment for the newly born girls. Hann wrote to Robert Boyle to inform him of the twins’ birth and how he first heard about the birth at Fisherton, whilst at a local coffeehouse he overheard Mr Kent, minister of Fisherton, say that he:
"could justify the baptizing it with two names, adding, that it was a question to be debated by divines, whether it were to be reckoned as two persons, and whether it had two souls".
“On Sunday last (says he) the wife of one Waterman an Ostler in Fisherton was in Travell the whole afternoon, & about 11 of the clock at Night she was delivered of a Daughter every way well shaped & proportioned, about an hour after she was delivered of another strange misshapen Birth, having two heads, the one where of was at the place of the Feet, 4 Arms& 4 hands, both the heads arms, & hands well proportion[e]d as low as the Breast, about the middle of the Body there came forth 2 feet Legs Thighs, & Buttocks, with the parts of a woman, & the Arms (& all these by one side) & 2 or 3 Inches above the pudendum the Navel grown out”.
The twins, at first seem to thrive, but died after two days within minutes of each other. Sadly, Efflett also did not survive for very long; she was buried on the 2nd November, only seven days after her birth.
Robert Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society of London which was founded in 1660 for ‘Improving Natural Knowledge’ with two other members, Sir Christopher Wren, who, incidentally, was born at East Knoyle, 18 miles west of Fisherton Anger, and William Petty. It was granted a royal charter by King Charles II who was a patron of the arts and sciences. It is Robert’s correspondence with William Hann (now archived at the Royal Society) that detail the decision to dissect, embalm and have the twins displayed. The Watermans were clearly not wealthy, and the financial incentive to have their daughters displayed was most probably the key factor in their agreeing to this proposal. John initially refused to allow the dissection of his daughters, saying that ‘if he should suffer it, he should offend God’
Here at the History Centre, we’re no stranger to Morris Dancers. We’ve had dancers on the staff, while each May Bank Holiday Chippenham hosts its popular Folk Festival. It’s great fun watching the street theatrics, but there was once a darker side to Morris Dancing that led to the following stories being recorded by the Wiltshire Magistrates (and now appear in Records of Wiltshire).
What happened at Woodborough in May 1652 caused official concern, but how was it that Morris Dancing threatened the pillars of the state?
Capers against the Commonwealth On the evening of Sunday, May 16th 1652, Edward Smyth and Edward Hawking left their homes in Woodborough and went to All Cannings, where they met and conspired with about a dozen people. That same Sunday, Robert Golfe went from Woodborough into Marlborough “to get a drummer”, while Thomas Beasant went to Ram Alley in Easton and “there invited and procured a fiddler”.
The following day, their plans were revealed when a crowd gathered from the surrounding countryside; according to the records, “three hundred persons, or thereabouts … gathered together in a Riotous, Routous, Warlike and very disorderly manner’.” If anyone thought about stopping them, they were armed “with muskets, pistols, bills, swords drawn and other unlawful weapons”.
The musicians led the crowd from Woodborough to Pewsey where they “very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”, and committed other misdemeanours, including “drinking and tippling in the inn and Alehouse”. While the prevalence of weapons may, happily, be less, it’s reassuring to see that the drinking still continues in and around Morris circles to this day (and sometimes, people still disapprove).
Public nuisance, party, or Sedition? In 1652, England was a republic, following the execution of Charles I. The Commonwealth kept a close eye on signs of dissent, looking for evidence of Royalist insurgency: traditional sports and pastimes were suspect. Ales, Morris and other customs had been the target of religious reformers since before the Civil War. The opposition from these authorities meant that Morris and other customs now symbolised the old order prior to the Civil War, when license and liberty were, supposedly, more freely allowed; as such, Morris dancing and the open drinking of ale was as much an open challenge to the authorities as the bearing of arms. Although the weapons offered a challenge to the authorities, the Morris spoke of tradition, culture, custom and a perceived stability before the upheavals of the 1640s. The new rulers of England were right to view the emotional power of such demonstrations with suspicion.
While the Morris at Pewsey may not be as famous as folksinger Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in Cold War America, or Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed during the 1973 coup, the Wiltshire boys used their folk art and their rootedness in the traditions of their place to show dissent toward the Authorities. Were the ringleaders seeking to incite rebellion, or just standing up for traditional fun? No doubt motives were mixed and shifting, including a mass of local and national grievances, as well as people being there for the fun, the beer and the free entertainment. What also seems remarkably modern was the casting of The Commonwealth as an alien, faceless Authority that stopped fun and meddled in the lives of “ordinary folk” (“Bonkers Conkers” anyone?).
However, as our next story shows, the dancers in Pewsey were evoking an idealised past in an “imagined village” …1
We could see the enemy’s whole body of horse face about and run with speed… and our horse in close body firing in their rear, till they had chased them down the hill in a steep place, where never horse went down and up again.
Sir Henry Slingsby, Royalist Cavalry Commander, describing the endgame of the battle of Roundway Down.
Slingsby’s laconic words describe the best-known moment of the 1643 Battle of Roundway Down, when the broken Parliamentarian cavalry were chased from the field by the troopers of King Charles I. During this rout, both those fleeing and their pursuing enemies rode off the steep, western edge of the chalk down. The moment captured the imagination and that part of the down is known as the Bloody Ditch!
The rout of the Roundheads might be the most famous part of the action, but it was part of a bigger battle that was, in turn, part of a wider campaign as both sides tried to take control of the west of England. Both sides were seeking to exploit the region’s resources, recruit its menfolk, seize the horses and tax the populace, who were, often unwilling, participants in the increasingly bitter civil war that had broken out in 1643. Meanwhile, the battle took place on chalk downland that had already seen millennia of human activity, the landscape is rich in archaeological remains as a result, with barrows and a hillfort. The edge of the downs also gives superb views across the surrounding landscape and its archaeology.
In early September, we led an archaeological walk across part of the battlefield to explore and explain both the flow of the battle and the more ancient remains in the area.
The Roundway Landscape
The Wiltshire Historic Environment Record includes data for a number of later Neolithic or Bronze Age barrows. Like many other barrows in Wiltshire these occupy prominent locations with extensive views into the wider landscape. They have also, like many similar monuments, been investigated by 19th century antiquarians. Although some of these monuments are similar to others in the county, with prehistoric burials beneath and within earthen mounds, one barrow is exceptional. When it was opened in the 19th century a number of metal fixings were found that suggested there may have been a bed burial inserted into the Bronze Age mound during the Anglo-Saxon period. Bed burials are an unusual Saxon burial practice, usually reserved for women of high status, another example in Wiltshire comes from Swallowcliffe, between Salisbury and Shaftesbury, with others known elsewhere in Wessex and around Cambridge. These bed burials appear to date to the 7th Century AD and may relate to the conversion of England to Christianity, and the woman was buried with a dress pin decorated with a cross. The burials may also relate to the wider power struggles between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, including the expansion of Wessex. The mound and the artefacts were re-investigated by Sarah Semple and Howard Williams in 2001 when they suggested that the Roundway burial might actually have included an elaborate coffin, rather than a bed. Whatever the mode of burial, the status of the deceased remains in no doubt, while the reuse of the much older burial mound is typical of Anglo-Saxon burials associated with barrows. This practice suggests not only the use of the barrows as landmarks, but also that they retained some form of mythic or folkloric power to the people of Anglo-Saxon England.
The walk also visited Oliver’s Castle, an Iron Age hillfort that overlooks St Edith’s Marsh. This monument includes a ditch and bank creating a rampart that encloses a promontory on the edge of the downs. The ramparts respect two earlier Bronze Age burial mounds. When excavations took place in the later 19th century, there was little trace of settlement, suggesting that the hillfort was, perhaps, used as a place of safety in time of danger, or that it was used for ceremonial events. In either case, the prominent location meant that views of the surrounding landscape were excellent, whether to see enemies or to be closer to the gods. The site enjoyed a later life as a sheep fold; a dew pond, providing water for sheep and probably originating in the 18th century, still survives within the ramparts. By the later 19th century, a shepherd is known to have had his hut close to the pond.
Below the fort is a site known as Mother Antony’s Well. This has been the site of excavations in recent years that have found probable Bronze Age barrows, an Iron Age enclosure, and Roman remains that included kilns used to dry grain. In addition, the Romano-British population seem to have regarded the springs in the area as special, and one had an elaborate well head that may suggest a shrine.
We all know and love the historic town of Malmesbury and plenty is known and has been written about the place. However, there was a flurry of excitement in the Archaeology team, Wiltshire Buildings Record and in the local media in September last year.
We were asked to come and look at a void that had unexpectedly been discovered by workmen during the course of ground works at 7 King’s Wall. This unlisted house dating to 1823, is located close to where the line of the town defenses is known to have been in medieval times. Following an initial visit there was just enough time before the building work was completed for a very brief investigation by Dorothy Treasure from the Wiltshire Buildings Record.
In the void, below the 20th century concrete floor of what had been the kitchen, was a small square room three and a half metres deep and measuring around two and a half metres on each side. Rubble masonry,probablylocal cornbrash or ragstoneset inanearthmortarcomprisedthreesides and but the north side was cut from solid rock.
We have been experiencing some very fine weather recently and with this day trips come to mind, and visits to some of Wiltshire’s lovely country houses. One such is Avebury Manor, run by the National Trust and restored in 2011.