Articles tagged with: Swindon

Richard Jefferies

on Wednesday, 10 November 2021. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Wiltshire People

November marks 173 years since the birth of this talented Wiltshire writer whose life was so tragically cut short. Chippenham Library’s Local Studies Champion wanted to discover more about him.

Richard Jefferies (John Richard Jefferies) was born on the 6th November 1848 at Coate farm, Swindon, which now houses the Richard Jefferies Museum. His father was a farmer. His childhood had a great influence on him, providing many of the characters he later wrote about in his novels.

Between the ages of 4 and 9 he stayed with his aunt and uncle at Sydenham and went to a private school, returning to Coate during the holidays. His father would read and explain Shakespeare and the Bible and taught him and his siblings what he knew of natural history. Richard would collect bird eggs, he loved to fish in the brook, climb trees, was also a keen reader and had inherited his father’s handiness with tools. A letter he wrote to his aunt mentions his having made a sundial so he could tell the time.

At 16 he and a cousin ran off to France, intending to walk to Russia. After crossing the Channel, they soon realised that their schoolboy French was not good enough and they returned to England. Before they reached home they saw an advertisement for cheap crossings from Liverpool to America, so set off in this direction, but after buying the tickets they had no money for food and were forced to return home.

Conservation of Lydiard House Church Model

on Thursday, 04 November 2021. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

Two black-and-white close-up images of a model of a church
Image: St. Mary’s Church Model Prior to Restoration in the 1970s

Just behind the Lydiard house in Swindon, you will find the small parish church of St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze, which dates back to the 12th century. In the 1840s a model of the church was commissioned perfectly depicting the architecture, interior and grounds.

In the 1970s a large amount of restoration was carried out on the model, predominately on the graveyard area, removing a lot of original details.

Two colour images of a small wooden model of church on a green model graveyard
Image: The Church Model before treatment at CMAS

Having been in storage for a long time, the model came to the Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) to have conservation treatment undertaken before going back on display. Large cracks had appeared in the base of the model and some of the 1970s additions had deteriorated badly. Some of the architectural details were also missing with a general layer of dust on the surface.

The main challenges carrying out treatment on this object were:

Mix of different materials used: This included the plaster base, wood structure of the building, painted interior features and paper and card railings and details.

Ethical considerations: The client was keen to remove the 1970s trees that had badly deteriorated in the graveyard area and replace missing wood features on the building. Generally in conservation, we try to preserve as much historical information on an object as we can. We justified the removal of the trees as these were not original to the 1840s model and were so badly deteriorated they were unsalvageable. The addition of the wooden components was to improve the aesthetic appearance of the model and detailed records will help distinguish between what is old and new.

Condition: The model was very delicate so extreme patience and dexterity would be needed.

Amazing Wiltshire Museums

on Friday, 11 June 2021. Posted in Museums

This week is #MuseumWeek – a worldwide festival for cultural institutions on social media. So it seems a perfect time to talk about some of the amazing museums that can be found across Wiltshire. Whatever your interests - from archaeology to transport to modern art - you will find something that appeals and inspires.

Like many other spaces, museums have been closed for much of the last year due to the pandemic. They are now able to re-open and have been looking forward to welcoming back the public once again, having made all the necessary arrangements to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit following the latest national lockdown. You can find out more information about museums in the county by visiting the Museum in Wiltshire website.

There are so many great museums it’s difficult to know where to kick off, so to quote The Sound of Music, ‘let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’ by looking at some of the earliest objects from Wiltshire.

To find out about more about Wiltshire’s prehistory, you can’t beat Wiltshire Museum, Devizes and Salisbury Museum. Both are home to collections designated as having national or international importance, which tell the story of Wiltshire over the last 500,000 years.

Wiltshire Museum has beautiful gold items from the time of Stonehenge, some of my other favourites items on display are these exquisitely worked bronze age arrowheads.

Museum display case with gold items and other archaeological findsThree finely worked bronze age arrowheads at Wiltshire Museum

Salisbury Museum’s award-winning Wessex Gallery includes the Amesbury Archer and finds from Stonehenge.

Library collections have a life of their own

on Monday, 19 April 2021. Posted in History Centre, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

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.

Title page with a decorative border for King Charles His Speech Made Upon the Scaffold 1648
AAA.946 King Charles Speech

Archaeology under lockdown

on Friday, 18 December 2020. Posted in Archaeology, History Centre

Almost reaching the end of 2020 has given me a good opportunity to reflect on what has been a most unusual and difficult year but one in which archaeology in Wiltshire and Swindon continues to excite and surprise.

Over the course of this past year around 45 fieldwork projects relating to planning applications were undertaken across Wiltshire and Swindon. There were also 9 research or academic excavations. The volume of work the Archaeology Service has had to deal with has not diminished during the Covid pandemic and if anything has been more intense than before, with some of the large projects we are involved with such as the A303 Stonehenge project and other road schemes in Wiltshire and Swindon. Commercial field archaeology has carried on throughout the year as construction projects have continued. Our team have been allowed to continue going out on site to monitor the field work, subject to strict health and safety policies and Covid-safe practices

Sadly, what we haven’t been able to do so much of this year is the outreach work that we all enjoy so much, the archaeology walks and talks, but hopefully in a few short months we will be able to resume these activities. Please watch this space for details of events from the Spring onwards

Fieldwork in Wiltshire 2020. Map by Tom Sunley

One of the exciting projects we have been dealing with stems from a planning application for a solar farm development between Beanacre and Lacock. It was in this area that Wessex Archaeology excavated Roman remains in 2014 that turned out to relate to a previously unknown large Roman settlement located on an east-west Roman road. The geophysical survey from this latest project and the trial trenching has helped to reveal the extent of a Roman town on its south and east side. This now means we have 6 rather than 5 Roman small towns in Wiltshire and Swindon. Unlike Durocornovium (Wanborough), and Sorviodunum (Old Sarum) and Verlucio (Sandy Lane), this one doesn’t seem to have a Roman name. Who knows how many others may be out there waiting to be discovered?

A School in Your Kitchen

on Monday, 16 November 2020. Posted in Schools

Working From Home in History: Dame Schools

Working from home in 2020 might involve a networked computer and video conferencing but if you are working from your kitchen table, you have more in common with a 19th century home worker than you might expect.

Picture anywhere between half a dozen to a dozen children gathered on a flagged or earth kitchen floor in the kitchen of a roadside cottage, receiving rudimentary lessons perhaps in reading or sewing from an elderly woman, and you have what was a fairly typical example of a 19th century dame school.

Thomas Webster, A Dame’s School, 1845 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

There was no national system of education before the 19th century, and the opportunities for a formal education were restricted mainly to town grammar schools, charity schools and dame schools. In the 19th century two societies were responsible for much elementary education; The British and Foreign Schools Society (named such in 1814) was founded by two Quakers in 1808, and the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales for Anglicans was formed in 1811 from the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. The schools built by these societies are commonly referred to as British Schools and National Schools but for areas without access to these schools, a dame school would have been one of the few options. It was not until 1870 the Education Act paved the way for state run schools by providing for the election of school boards, with the power to build and manage schools where provision by the two voluntary societies was inadequate. And in 1902 the responsibility for providing elementary, secondary and technical education passed to 330 Local Education Authorities (LEAs). You can find out more about education in Wiltshire through the centuries and the kinds of records that you can find in another of our blogs “Schools Out for Summer!” 

There are few records for dame schools, although 19th century parliamentary report provide some information. Nevertheless, we know they were a feature of education for several centuries: in the mid-17th century Charles Hoole wrote in A New Discovery of the Old Art of Teaching Schoole that education was too important to be be ‘left as a work for poor women, or others, whose necessities compel them to undertake it, as a mere shelter from beggary’.

A valuable picture of education in the mid-19th century is also given by the return prepared by the Revd. W. Warburton, H.M.I., to a House of Commons order in 1859. The resulting Account of Schools for Children of the Labouring Classes in Wilts (available at the History Centre under shelfmark AAA.372) gives details of attendance, staffing, buildings, equipment, and curriculum every school open to inspection, usually with comments on teachers, pupils, and management. There were 140 day schools liable to inspection and 428 others (including dame schools). The number of dame schools is not precise but Warburton estimates the number of children attending dame schools as about 1,900 (approximately 6% of the total number of scholars in Wiltshire at the time). It is likely there were between 100-200 dame schools in Wiltshire in the mid-19th century.

The second half of the century saw an overall decline in dame schools following the introduction of government grants for the building and improvement of schools. For example, prior to 1858 a dame school with 20 to 30 children existed in Collingbourne Ducis but this closed following the construction of the new parochial school in 1859. However, some dame schools survived and even continued to be established: Warburton remarked that ‘They are not uncommonly set up, especially by the dissenting bodies, as a tentative step, in order to discover whether a more regularly constituted school would be likely to draw in a given place’. As well as to test local demand for education, they were set up due to the need of the mistress to earn an income: Warburton notes ‘It is difficult to exaggerate the shifting, changeable character of private dames’ schools, owing their origin as they do, in many cases, not to the educational necessities of the district, but to the domestic necessities of the teacher.’

The following examples of communities where dame schools existed can be found on our Community History pages (which are well worth checking out!)

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