Articles tagged with: Quarter Session

The Unusual Journeys of Celia Fiennes

on Monday, 01 March 2021. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

“Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject, that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their time in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to Inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souvereign remedy to cure or preserve from these Epidemic diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? – it would also form such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil Itch of overvalueing foreign parts..”

So begins the work of Celia Fiennes published as “Through England on a Side Saddle in the time of William and Mary” by her descendant Emily Griffiths in 1888. Celia Fiennes was born in Newton Tony, Wiltshire on the 7 June 1662 and died on 10 April 1741 in Hackney aged 78, buried on the 17th April in Newton Tony. She was one of England’s first female travellers and was unusual for her time in travelling the length and breadth of the country on horseback with only one or two servants for company.

Engraving of Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes, a man with long curly hair, moustache and seventeenth century military clothing
Engraving of Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes, Celia’s father (ref P3629)

She was born to Nathaniel Fiennes, a Parliamentarian colonel during the civil war and politician, and his second wife, Frances Whitehead. Celia spent most of her younger years in Newton Tony, living at the manor house on the west side of the High Street. The house was largely demolished in the early 19th century but its kitchen later became part of the Three Horse Shoes. Her parents were non-conformist and a group of Presbyterians met at their house, and in 1672 the house was certified for Presbyterian meetings.

Black and white painting depicting the former church of St Andrew's at Newton Tony surrounded by trees
Painting of the former church of St Andrew's from the northeast, Newton Tony, by Geoffrey Crowe (© Geoffrey Crowe, ref P36014)

Celia Fiennes mostly travelled during the period 1684-1703 but continued intermittently until 1712. Her earlier journeys were predominatly in the south, including to Salisbury, Bath and Stonehenge. In 1697 she travelled in the north and then in 1698 undertook her Great Journey travelling to Newcastle, the Lake District, Durham to the South-west Gloucester, Bristol and Cornwall (to Land’s End).

Remarkably, her travels emcompassed every county in England 100 years before the Stagecoach. She travelled sidesaddle on horseback, with only one or two servants staying in inns and sometimes in the country houses of her connections (often seeing these buildings in stages of construction). She wrote notes as she travelled and eventually wrote them all up into a memoir in 1702, originally intended only for family reading. Her explorations began as a way for her ‘to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise’ but her notes demonstrate she had a keen interest in the places she visited. She had a particular interest in mining and industry and also often remarks on the local food she eats, the roads she travelled on and the houses she stayed in: a valuable source for historians! Through her words we get a glimpse of 17th century everyday life. We might never have thought about what it would be like to travel the country without signposts but she highlights them as a notable feature remarking on ‘posts and hands pointing to each road with the names of the great towns or market towns that it leads to’.

Her travels in Wiltshire and its locality prove interesting reading. You can probably guess where she is referring to with this statement, visiting around 1690: ‘This… is reckon'd one of the wonders of England how such prodigeous stone should be brought there, as no such Stone is seen in ye Country nearer than 20 mile.’ If you guessed Stonehenge you are correct!

‘Now in Then’ – getting creative with archives!

on Thursday, 20 March 2014. Posted in Archives, Art

In 2014 a new project called ‘Now in Then’, funded by the Arts Council England, has been launched, which includes a series of Saturday workshops involving creative writers using archives here at WSHC. I have been involved from the outset in helping to choose the themes for the workshops, alongside the tutor Angela Street, and I have had free rein to choose the archives to help demonstrate those themes. Not being a creative person myself, I am greatly enjoying working with others who are, who can help me see the archives in a new light.


The theme for this term is ‘Lives in the Landscape’ and the first session (on 1 March) looked at the ownership of land. Most of the records I chose for this came from manor courts. The history of manors is worthy of a detailed blog in its own right but in the meantime if anyone is particularly interested they can read up on it on the University of Nottingham website (link at end of this article).

Put simply, a manor is a landed estate with the right to hold its own manor court, which, prior to the Tudor introduction of Quarter and Petty Sessions, was the main local court of law for minor offences. The concept of manors dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and central to the operation of the manor court is its monitoring of communal behaviour, known as the ‘View of Frankpledge.’ This basically was a system of mutual responsibility meaning that a tithing (a group of about 10 households) agreed to work together to keep law and order within their grouping.

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