Articles tagged with: Devizes

'An Election's A Fair'... Bribery & Corruption at Wiltshire's Parliamentary Elections

on Tuesday, 30 April 2013. Posted in Wiltshire People

Bribery, corruption, intrigue, rotten boroughs and riots …oh dear, that will be Wiltshire’s parliamentary elections in eighteenth and nineteenth century! Present events always give us an opportunity to take the long-view and here at the History Centre we have a range of resources on the political history of the county and borough, from excellent accounts published in the Victoria County History for Wiltshire to election squibs, poll books and original documents.

Wiltshire’s early claim to political fame was the impressive size of its parliamentary representation. Until 1832 it elected two Knights of the Shire (representing the whole county), two MPs for Salisbury, and two burgesses for each of its 15 boroughs, a grand total of 34 seats. Only Cornwall had higher. This was especially impressive given that many of the boroughs were the size of a village, and few of their residents could vote.  The most notable, of course, was Old Sarum, which retuned two MPs and in 1768, it is claimed, had an electorate of, er…one, though usually could count on seven. Other small boroughs included Great Bedwyn, Cricklade, Downton, Heytesbury, Hindon, Ludgershall and Wootton Bassett. Yet other towns like Bradford on Avon, Corsham, Trowbridge, and Warminster could not send representatives to parliament.

The remaining boroughs electing two MP’s were Calne, Chippenham, Devizes, Marlborough, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Westbury and Wilton. But don’t think for one minute that the larger towns necessarily had a bigger electorate. Malmesbury weighed in with a total electorate of 13, and if this was not enough it was notable for being one of the most corrupt boroughs in England. Cricklade, on the other hand, through the Act of 1782, had its franchise extended to all freeholders in the surrounding area, numbering 1,200. This made bribery and corruption more difficult, but unfortunately fewer than fifty voters actually lived in the borough itself.

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.

The Old Bridewell

on Wednesday, 03 April 2013. Posted in Architecture, Crime

In the centre of Devizes is an unassuming building, not very different from those red-brick houses flanking it. It has large, airy two-by-two pane sashes with typical segmental arches which contain a shaped keystone. Behind the net curtains can be glimpsed a cosy living room, and a pretty garden beyond. This is The Grange and it was once the old Devizes jail, or bridewell, in Bridewell Street.

The Bridewell started life in 1579 as a timber-framed building in the street which now bears its name. It was established after the opening of the Bridewell prison in London in 1556 as a new type of prison to deal with the growing numbers of those regarded as rogues and vagabonds or the idle poor. This example had been followed in Oxford in 1562, Salisbury in 1564 and Norwich in 1565. It was burnt down twice and rebuilt: after a fire in 1619 and another more serious fire in 1630, but still in timber, much of which survives today.

In 1771, the Devizes bridewell was re-fronted in brick: the date appears in studs on the original front door which was reused.

Potterings in Potterne

on Friday, 05 April 2013. Posted in Architecture

One of our latest visits took us to Jenny Mill in Potterne, to look at a mill that had been turned into the Mill School when the last miller left in the mid-C20. Without a map, it would have been very difficult to find Jenny Mill as it is as literally ‘the back of beyond’ at the end of a narrow track.

According to the Domesday Survey, there were six mills at Potterne in 1086. In his ‘Notes on Potterne’ (WSHC 1172/193), written in 1914, the then Rector, Rev. H. E. Medlicott, suggested that ‘Five Lanes Mill’ (as it was then called) was ‘no doubt one of the Domesday mills’, but offered no evidence to support this conclusion.  The mill as it stands has been rebuilt over again, probably several times, and what is there represents a rebuild of the 18th and 19th centuries, incorporating fragments of an earlier, timber-framed building. Still less remains of the workings of the mill; the leat that fed the wheel has been diverted and conduited around the site, and all that remains are two huge mill-stones propped decoratively against the gable end.

Art to Illuminate Wiltshire

on Tuesday, 19 February 2013. Posted in Art

As I travel from Corsham to Chippenham by bus to work at the History Centre, I often think of what past local inhabitants might make of the ‘Sainsbury’s Roundabout’, the Methuen industrial park or the sprawl of post-war housing leading into Chippenham itself. Local artists have often recorded changes to the environment in their art, not always intentionally but as a consequence of the time in which they have been working. Wiltshire’s museums contain hundreds of such drawings, sketches and paintings of the people and landscape that makes this county so special.

 


One such local inhabitant was Robin Tanner (1904–1988) who was born in Bristol but grew up in Kington Langley, near Chippenham. Whilst training to be a teacher at Goldsmiths College in London during the 1920s he studied etching during the evenings. This etching was to become the means by which he expressed his deep appreciation of the countryside. Later returning to Wiltshire - moving into a house at Old Chapel Field, Kington Langley, where the diarist Francis Kilvert's ancestors are buried - to earn a living as an artist, his etchings show the strong influence of Samuel Palmer, the visionary Victorian romantic painter, depicting a world of thatched ricks, hedges, gates and stiles. 

Tiddly Pom... Some Wiltshire Animal Tales

on Friday, 11 January 2013. Posted in Wiltshire Tales

I’ve been delving in our archives, on the hunt for some notable animals in Wiltshire’s History, and I’ve got a couple vying for that top spot. First, and being a fan of the good old British moggy, I was pleased to have the Marlborough church cat brought to my attention. Yes, it is commemorated in stone, but it seems that it really did exist. Visitors to St Mary’s Church in Marlborough will be able to pick out the outline of a cat on the south porch. This corbel, dating to the fifteenth century, commemorates a church cat that saved her kittens from a fire. Perhaps the cat was originally employed to catch the church mice, but it goes into our top ten as our most heroic animal in Wiltshire’s history.

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