The Covid pandemic has affected us all. Last year the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre put out a call to arms, asking for contributions to a new collection that we are building; ‘Living in Lockdown: A Creative Response to Challenging Times’. We had an amazing response! A big thank you to everyone who has contacted us with material to include. It’s been exciting to look at the scope and variety of Wiltshire’s responses to the issues we face and continue to grapple with.
I’d like to share with you some of the material we have received to give an idea of not just the variety, but also to show how a collection is created, collated and preserved for the future here at the History Centre. We see our collections as the county’s treasures. The precious knowledge contained within them about you, our county’s residents and communities, and how we have faced the Covid challenge can now be discovered and studied by future generations thanks to your generosity and the facilities here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.
We began our collecting process by sending out details of the project Living in Lockdown via our website and social media channels, utilising the help of some of the other teams we work with, such as the communications team at Wiltshire Council. As soon as the material started to wing its way to us, we began entering it on a spreadsheet; basically an ‘accessions’ record to help us register all the material, document where it came from and where it is being stored at the History Centre. We soon built up hundreds of entries, with donations from History Centre staff and other teams within Wiltshire Council such as Wiltshire Libraries, plus local residents, groups, organisations and creative practitioners living and working in the county.
Many types of formats have been received (paper copies, digital images and documents, CDs) and types of material, from cards, booklets, local newsletters, official letters, drawings, newspaper articles, writing and poems - the list goes on…
The creativity that has come out of these dark times has been wonderful to see. From artworks to music, poetry, writing and photography – it shows how intrinsically intertwined creativity is within us as a positive response to challenge and change, and how valuable and essential culture is to us as human beings and communities. We feel honoured to play our part in this cultural experience.
The type of material will determine where it will sit within the collection. The History Centre is home to an archive and a local studies library. They have distinctive specialisms, for example on a basic level, the library deals with published material and the archive unpublished, but there are also some crossovers, for instance photographs could sit within the Local Studies Historic Photograph and Print collection but also within the archive collection too. We also have a new digital repository for born digital works. This is great for us, as it means the History Centre is well placed to welcome all sorts of material. The only items we can’t take are 3D items which are better placed in one of Wiltshire’s fantastic museums!
The next stage in the collection’s journey will be for myself as the County Local Studies Librarian and one of my Archivist colleagues to assess the collection and formally decide where everything should be placed (this is called ‘appraisal’). This usually involves a lot of excitement and quite a bit of time, as I know I always find so much of interest, but I must take a proper look at it all – we have to spend time getting it right, don’t we!
The documents and creative items will go into the archives, with the books and pamphlets that have been published finding their home in the local studies library. We have yet to make a decision on the digital material, but it is safe to say it will be stored in the most appropriate location. Anything left over after this process will make a valuable addition to the Ephemera collection in Local Studies. We usually define it as a miscellaneous collection of materials that you might often throw out, but believe me, in the future, these items will be a fantastic source of information…
(With apologies to my colleague, Neil Adam, for stealing the title from his blog article)
Hello everyone, my name is Tim Havard and I am the new Assistant County Archaeologist for Wiltshire, a role I began in early August 2021.
I have always been fascinated by history and archaeology. I grew up on a small farm in south Worcestershire almost at the foot of Bredon Hill (an outlier of the Cotswolds). I’m sure that some are aware of the spectacular Iron Age hillfort on top of the hill but I was a frequent visitor here in my youth when my little legs would carry me up the long walk to the top. I spent many happy hours running up and down the banks and ditches here pretending to be an Iron Age warrior.
Much like many hillforts of Wiltshire, a simple photo cannot do justice to how spectacular the site is. The only way to truly appreciate the setting and views afforded is to visit it on foot. There is a large stone at the top of the hill known locally as The Elephant Stone and legend has it that if you walk three times around the stone then you will be cured of any illness!
Whilst living on the farm my interest in archaeology would manifest itself in the form of digging random holes in the ground to see what I could find. My father and grandfather were a little less enthusiastic about my endeavours than I was at the time. They were probably quite happy therefore when I went to Southampton University to study archaeology which I chose over history as it would afford me chances to get out of the lecture theatre.
Following university I worked for a small archaeology unit outside Southampton and then moved to Cotswold Archaeology where I worked for 22 years. This gave me the opportunity to work on many sites in Wiltshire and see some fantastic and rewarding archaeology. Among my fondest memories of fieldwork undertaken in Wiltshire have been a small evaluation trench unexpectedly full of Saxon features, a test trench to investigate the prehistoric and medieval defences of Malmesbury and a watching brief in the shadow of Malmesbury Abbey. However, the highlight of my fieldwork in Wiltshire was undoubtedly the direction a large scale excavation of a multi period site at Wroughton, on the site of the former airfield, in 2018 and 2019 with archaeology ranging in date from the Bronze Age through to World War Two.
Following on from the evaluation, the first feature uncovered was a prehistoric pit alignment.
As the stripped area was extended, further evidence for intensive Iron Age occupation in the form of roundhouses and numerous storage pits were uncovered. The western half of a huge ring ditch, possibly denoting a henge was found. The site was also occupied in the Roman period; a cemetery of 14 burials and a drying oven belonging to this period were recorded.
The site was one of the most rewarding of my fieldwork career. It was not without its challenges though; a wide open airfield site in January and February was particularly inclement; at times the wind was so strong it was not safe to work on site.
As an archive service, preservation is at the heart of what we do; together with collecting records and making them accessible, it forms the holy trinity of archival functions. Record keepers and archivists have been preserving records for centuries and if we were to examine boxes at random in our strongrooms, we would no doubt come across records on centuries old paper, parchment or vellum. Many of these records are still in perfect condition and will continue to be so in perpetuity as they are housed in climate-controlled conditions.
However, it is now widely accepted that paper records are created less and less these days, with many offices proudly proclaiming to be ‘paper free’. Yet the information and data must still be recorded, must still be collected, and most importantly must still be preserved. Herein lies the problem, the media on which digital records are stored are not nearly as stable as traditional record formats. For example, a hardback financial ledger stored in the correct conditions could last for centuries, whereas a thumb drive containing the same information may not last for a decade before it becomes corrupted. Not only this, with advances in technology comes the issue of obsolescence. For example, CDs were the ‘go to’ audio format as 15 years ago, though now how many of us even own a CD player? That’s before we even consider cassettes, audio reels, Betamax and cinefilm. All of these require specialist equipment to work with the content. Audio-visual material in these formats often gets donated to archives and we have plenty here at Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre and it is our responsibility to make them as accessible as possible. While this is sometimes impossible, we will always strive our best and explore all possible options. However, collecting the specialist equipment would not be the best course of action. When possible, it is best to have them digitised, as it is considerably easier to use a digital file, though this still does not solve the problem. We must now consider the concept of ‘bit rot’; that is, when the quality of a digital file diminishes over time and through overuse.
With so much to consider (the above barely scratches the surface), it is of little surprise that the discipline of digital preservation was born. It was clear that digital preservation practitioners would be required to monitor changes in technology and the affects this would have on the long-term preservation of digital material. The nature of their work, ensuring records survive in perpetuity, is inextricably linked to the work of archivists and it is of little surprise that many archivists now train in digital preservation.
While the majority of the records we receive here at WSHC arrive in paper format, we as archivists now need to be aware of this new discipline, as digital accessions are becoming more frequent. Indeed, some organisations now employ digital archivists, whose remit is solely focused on digital records and digital preservation.
On Tuesday evening on the 27th July I led a free walk around Lacock for the Festival of Archaeology. It was a showery day and I had my fingers crossed for a dry walk, which unfortunately didn’t work! We had to shelter at least once while the heavens emptied a torrent on us. The village is a huge draw for tourists, not just for the Abbey, but also to see the where so many dramas and movies have been filmed, Harry Potter not the least, both in the village and in the Abbey. What makes Lacock so special? The newly-revised Pevsner volume on Wiltshire edited by Julian Orbach states that Lacock village is ‘one of the best in the country, compact and without any loss of scale anywhere, and with a wealth of medieval buildings, both apparent and disguised. The extraordinary degree of preservation is thanks to the Talbot family who owned nearly every house until they gave the estate to the National Trust in 1958’.
Outside 2-5 High Street, Lacock – a range of medieval timber-framed hall houses. Image credit: Tom Sunley
The village as it stands is said to date substantially from the early 14th century, though there is a documented settlement before then, probably soon after Lacock Abbey was founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as an Augustinian nunnery. At the same time she also founded Hinton Charterhouse Priory in Somerset, about 20 miles from here. Both were in memory of her husband William Longspee, whose tomb can be seen in Salisbury Cathedral.
The village was started soon after the Abbey and is said to have been completed in 1247. Very little of this original village remains, though there are 13th century fragments of what look to be the very first building on the site inside at King John’s Hunting Lodge in Church Street. Every one of the buildings lining the four core streets are listed, and there are more grade II* buildings than you can shake a stick at, something of a rarity considering the normal rate of development elsewhere. Here you can see seven centuries of buildings in a 10-minute walk around in a variety of materials: ancient crucks, timber-frame, rubblestone, fine ashlar and brick. What you won’t see is concrete or anything after about 1926, the date of the extension to the 18th century Red House in Church Street.
Dr Kay S. Taylor, 2015 ISBN 9781906 641818 72 pages £6.95
The publication is one of a number of books in the series ‘Chippenham Studies’, aiming to describe subjects and places in the town and its vicinity.
Although the focus is understandably on the mill itself; the people who owned it, events that occurred such as the night attack and fire that destroyed the mill buildings in 1816, and the premises themselves, what is also included is a history of the manors associated with the mill, including Rowden and the Monkton Park Estate.
The twists and turns of ownership are laid bare alongside economic difficulties such as the impact of the corn law.
Also included is the information of the mill scale model of the C19 created by Michael Brotherwood in 2003.
Details abut the former uses and owners of properties associated with the mill and the redevelopment of the site which included the Island Park and the sad tale of the plane tree and the mill stone were fascinating. The photographs used to illustrate the text have been well chosen and varied, and the use of footnotes and a bibliography and index are a huge bonus for researchers.
The author notes that the mill was an iconic part of the town’s former landscape. This book is an interesting and detailed reminder of what was lost.
From Domesday to Demolition is available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre or to loan via your local library.
I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Anne Carney and I took on the role of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Partnership Manager in December 2020.
A little bit about me. I grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles and I have now lived longer in England than in Ireland. I spent a large part of my childhood in Downpatrick surrounded by a range of historic sites which I must admit I took for granted at the time.
Some sites, such as Saul Church and Struell Wells are associated with St Patrick who came to this part of Ireland in 432 A.D. For me, however, the more memorable sites are the megalithic tombs, standing stones and the stone circles that litter the landscape. My dad didn’t seem to get much time off work but I remember that he always took my sister and me to one of these sites for a picnic each Easter. My favourite was the stone circle at Ballynoe. This could, of course, have been because my sister and I got to eat our Easter eggs in amongst the stones! To reach the stone circle you had to walk along a magical sunken lane, which in my young mind fairies lived and I still remember the sense of wonder I felt coming out of the green tunnel into the field with the stones. I also remember being annoyed that my dad (whom I thought knew everything) didn’t know who put the stones there or why. It would be some years before I would find out more about these types of monuments.