I was interested to read a recent news story which described scientific work to extract DNA from parchment using a non-destructive technique, giving us remarkable and unexpected source of information about the animal the page was created from. It has also proved possible to extract DNA of people who have touched or kissed the manuscripts over the years (devotional prayer books for example).
Thinking about the physical fabric of the archives led me to consider our more common archive material; paper. We see paper as a prosaic item nowadays and take it for granted, but it used to be much more valuable and remained expensive until the advent of the steam-driven paper mill.
There is limited documented evidence about paper making before the 18th century and the knowledge and skills would primarily have been shared directly between family members and master and apprentice. We have records of apprenticeships in our parish collections including Edward Hayword from Bradford-on-Avon who was apprenticed to a Gabriel Sweet, Weston, Somerset in July 1745 and a Thomas Whale from Chippenham, apprenticed to a Charles Ward, papermaker at Doncombe, North Wraxall in November 1804.
The process of making paper was a complex one involving many stages and can be read about in more detail in various publications including The British Paper Industry 1495-1860 by D.C Coleman available in our local studies library (shelfmark 338.476). The cellulose fibres in plant tissues were macerated and mixed with water until the fibres separated and were lifted from the water using a sieve-like screen, leaving a sheet of matted fibres on the screen’s surface. This then required pressing, drying, sizing, and finishing before it could be used as paper.
We have several wills in our collection left by papermakers. These can give some indication of the kind of wealth and social standing of the profession.
In the 1792 will of John Lewis, paper maker of Yatton Keynell he bequeathed all his household goods and furniture to his wife, Mary Lewis. He also left an annuity of £8 to be paid to his sister, Elizabeth Parker, to be paid in equal quarterly instalments every year until her death. John Lewis makes it explicit that this money ‘is not liable to the debts or engagements of my said sisters husband or any other husband he may hereafter have and that her receipt alone…’ He also bequeathed to Thomas Vincent, a grocer of Calne (named as executor alongside his wife), all his real estate at Longdean and Yatton Keynell. It is pleasing given his profession that he sees fit to mention the paper that the will is written on:
“… to this my last will and testament contained in two sheets of paper set my hand and seal as follows (that is to say) my hand to the first sheet thereof and my hand and seal to the last sheet and my seal at the top where both sheets join”.
Another will belonging to Thomas Bacon, papermaker of Downton, dating to 1679 includes an inventory of his goods. These include materials and goods from the mill house including scales and weights, paper moulds and their respective values.
The VCH fieldwork has discovered so many very good houses in Kingston Deverill in particular. These represent hitherto largely hidden evidence of the Deverill Valley’s past wealth. At the same time further evidence of early 16th century buildings in Warminster has been discovered, which suggests that the discoveries from the Deverills are just part of the bigger picture.
I was given the opportunity to look at one of a row of probable merchants’ housing in the High Street; the flat of no.16 High Street, Warminster. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but I found some fantastic evidence of a nearly complete 3-bay early 16th century timber-framed house. Recent dendrochronology results gave a precise felling date of 1513. It has a very similar roof structure and ceiling height to Manor Farmhouse, Kingston Deverill. It also has see-saw marks, convincing evidence of an early date. To digress; timber conversion methods may not instantly grip your interest, but they are a useful dating feature. See-saw marks are the result of leaning a baulk of timber on a single trestle, standing on it and sawing down from the top to where it touches the trestle. The sawn end is brought down and the same process is repeated at the other end. The result is two different patterns of saw-marks at 45 degrees that meet in the middle. Duncan James, a Herefordshire archaeologist maintains that you won’t find this feature after about 1530.
Unfortunately the marks were too faint to photograph, so I show a much more striking example from the King’s Arms in Downton, a former medieval pub.
If you have ever spent time looking at the history of your town or village, or even used a map to go for a country walk you may have come across intriguing or unusual field names. But had you ever thought about what these names might tell you about the history of the field and its use over the centuries?
Field names can provide a link between the modern population and its predecessors; a bridge between history and place.
Field names are often made up of two separate words, for example, North Field, a different structure to most place names. To find out the meaning of a name, it is often necessary to try and find its earliest use. Field names can sometimes be traced back to Saxon times!
Names can draw their influence from the agricultural background of the site, its size and location, the lie of the land, its soil, crops, livestock, wild animals and plants, buildings, land ownership amongst many other things.
Sometimes the modern name can be unfamiliar; Catsbrain (which is found several times in Wiltshire – at Broad Chalke, Idmiston, Chisledon and Somerford for example) refers to the kind of soil on the site (rough clay mixed with stones). The reason for the name is obscure, older forms being Catesbragan (13th century), Cattesbrain (16th century), and Catesbruyne furlong (17th century).
Sometimes there are no early forms of the name, particularly if it’s more of a nickname; Fill Tubs, Butter Leaze, Helps Well. Often these kinds of nicknames are uncomplimentary: Bad Mead, Beggar Hay, Breakheart, Hunger Hill, Little Profit… presumably referring to poor agricultural value. Remote fields are often known by names of far-flung places such as Botany Bay, Jericho, and New Zealand. They can also be ironic - very small fields named Hundred Acres (for example at All Cannings, Urchfont and Whiteparish), and others like The City, or Little London (at Oaksey) etc.
In April 2012 the Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) Project was launched. The intention of the project was to study the whole county and to identify the historic and archaeological processes which have influenced the modern landscape.
This work should help in understanding the evolution of the settlements and countryside and to identify what we can see that is typical and what is unusual.
Now, two years into the project, real progress is being made in analysing the areas where we live, work and visit within Wiltshire. Currently, an area of c.194,000 ha (1940 km2) has been characterised. This includes many of the well-known urban and rural landscapes that we all know and enjoy – such as Salisbury Plain and Swindon. Data exists for many of the parishes, and the coverage is expanding all the time!
In early times, the parish of Downton formed part of a great estate granted to Winchester cathedral. The village itself was divided topographically into three sections which were linked by bridges. Settlement had developed in the High Street, so called in 1452 in a document in Winchester College archives, and from the mid-15th century the area was called the east borough.
The King’s Arms, at the junction of Church Hatch and High Street, a solid-looking brick building with a tiled roof, was known to be a public house in 1628. We know who owned and occupied the King’s Arms in the mid-C18 from the Guildhall Library insurance documents. These refer to James Russell, a schoolmaster of Downton, who took out a policy in 1755 ‘on his house only being the King’s Arms Inn at Downton …in the tenure of Lucy Loveday, Innholder… Brick, Timber and Thatched, Brewhouse only adjoining, Thatched. Two Stables only belonging, Thatched, £10 each.’ He paid £250 on the inn and £30 on the brewhouse.