This is a sad blog to be writing, as I’m writing this the day before I leave the History Centre for pastures new. I thought it would be a good way of rounding up what I’ve done over the last four years.
I started at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre as a timid (?) newly qualified archivist, fresh from a course at University College London and all prepared to work a full time job and write my dissertation for my Masters in Archives and Records Management. I had got a job as the project archivist for the high-profile HLF funded project Lacock Unlocked, and started my project in June 2013 working with up to 25 volunteers and the Lacock community to catalogue, make accessible and promote the Lacock archives.
I was certainly thrown in at the deep end with the project – I remember having a very serious meeting with the Devizes U3A group, who knew the archive very well and had listed much of it prior to my arrival, and training volunteers on how to use the database and how to read old handwriting. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, however. I learnt a lot very quickly: I learnt how to manage volunteers, and also how to tackle a large and important archive. I had to do talks to the public, both at the History Centre and externally, about the Lacock archive.
Towards the end of the project I was luckily enough given the opportunity to stay on in a permanent role, joining the rest of the archives team in searchroom duty, accessioning, cataloguing, general talks and so on. It was wonderful to be part of this team, join the rota and have a variety of tasks which have taught me more about the local area. It also enabled me to keep working on the Lacock project, retaining many of the volunteers who even now are still coming in weekly to do work for the History Centre.
I have never made any secret of the fact that I am passionate about the archives of private schools. I wrote my Masters dissertation on the use of school archives and have volunteered in a range of them. So it was a wonderful surprise to be told by Claire Skinner that there was an uncatalogued school collection which I could work on if I wanted to. I grabbed the opportunity eagerly, and immersed myself for the next few months in the archives and history of the Godolphin School in Salisbury, whose archives had been deposited with us and needed cataloguing. I was able to visit the school to put the records in context, which was a great day out. I loved starting working on a collection from scratch, combining two separate deposits of material into one, and finding out so much about the school and its history at the same time. The Godolphin School collection is a wonderful one, combining business records of the school, staffing records, beautiful old photographs of staff and students, and headmistress’ diaries which are extremely interesting – like school log books. These are currently being indexed by a volunteer and will be a great resource for anyone whose family member studied or worked at the school.
Following Godolphin, I then started working on a collection within a collection. Steve Hobbs has been cataloguing the extensive Merriman collection (a solicitors’ firm based in Marlborough) for some time and thought it might be nice for me to work on part of it – a succinct series of material relating to the Popham family of Littlecote. This was an estate collection like Lacock, although a lot smaller, but was another great chance for me to get my teeth into something new and uncatalogued, and find out some really interesting things about local families and local areas. I was able to use my experience from Godolphin to catalogue the Popham archive in the most effective way possible (hopefully), not helped of course by the occasional addition tossed to me by Steve as he was perusing other boxes of Merriman material (I was able to toss some to him too, luckily). I had volunteers who had been working on Lacock material working through estate letters which helped me to allocated letters to the various different estates: the Popham family owned Littlecote as well as properties in Churchdown in Gloucestershire, Hunstrete in Somerset and Puckaster on the Isle of Wight, among others.
My next mini project was to work on the collection of the Moulton family of Bradford on Avon, and I have just completed this. It’s been a fascinating collection because as well as lots of deeds of Bradford and other places in Wiltshire, information on the business started by Stephen Moulton in the mid 19th century in Bradford and family papers, there are also many papers relating to other families, particularly the Greene family of Stratford-on-Avon whose daughter Beryl married John Coney Moulton in 1914. Her brother Downes Greene spent many years in Sarawak and we have lots of letters from him to his parents about his life there, which give a wonderful indication of life abroad in the early 20th century. There are also letters from World War One soldier Charles Eric Moulton, who was killed in 1915.
Other projects I have been involved in are: being the acquisitioning archivist for the Creative Wiltshire project, which has allowed me to advise on and catalogue archives of creative people in Wiltshire: namely Roger Leigh, Ken White, Penelope Ellis and the Pelham Puppets business based in Marlborough. The most extensive collection from this was that of Roger Leigh, whose many photographs of his sculptures make up an interesting archive alongside his early diaries, condolence letters and cards to his widow after his death in 1997, and a dream diary that he kept as a young boy which is just a wonderful example of the extent and detail of somebody’s imagination. Becoming involved in Creative Wiltshire also gave me the opportunity to speak at the Creative Histories conference in July this year, in Bristol, about how the project has helped access to archive and museum collections. It has been wonderful to see first-hand how many more archive collections and objects by creative people have been made available for the public as a result of the project.
Away from the practical archives work, I have also been getting involved in writing articles for Local History News, involved with the South West Region of the Archives and Records Association and attending the Fundraising for Archives course run by the National Archives, which has given me lots of ideas on how to raise money for archive services. I have attended lots of courses and conferences, spoken at some and organised others, and I can really safely say that I wouldn’t have done any of this were it not for the encouragement given me by the managers and staff at the History Centre who have given me opportunities to develop my own career, improve the service here, and benefit the development of archives in general.
As part of our new Facebook page we have been running a weekly feature using local newspapers from 100 years ago, “The Times This Week”. This has provided a unique perspective on Wiltshire’s history, charting the development of events 100 years ago in real time, and revealing otherwise forgotten stories of Wiltshire’s past.
Lovely incidental stories have emerged such as the two Bradford workmen engaged in painting the Gasometer who neglected to note the vessel was charging and so increasing in height, and upon finishing the job found themselves stranded with their ladder some distance below them! Eventually their plight was noticed and they were rescued through the provision of a longer ladder.
Unsurprisingly, the primary focus for much of the newspaper was the War and the paper has revealed insights into lives on the front line and on the home front.
Letters to Home
In a letter to his aunt, Percy Howell gave a detailed account of Christmas in the trenches and the famous Christmas truce. The two lines of trenches only being 200 yards apart, Howell describes hearing the German band singing on Christmas Eve, of joining in with the singing and starting a conversation. He stated ‘they did not fire a round, and of course, we were not allowed to fire either.’ After continuing the conversation throughout the night, the Germans began to come out of the trenches. He describes how, ‘on the guarantee that neither side fired’ they met half-way, shook hands, and shared cigars. He states how they Germans are ‘as fed up as we are’ and that they were ‘as friendly on Christmas Day as if they belonged to the British Army’.
Howell ends with a sobering:
“I can tell you it seems good not to hear the roar of big guns. Anyone joining us today would hardly know there was a war on, but by this time tomorrow I expect we shall have to keep our heads under, or we may stop a bullet.”
Other letters home have a rather different tone, such as a slightly cheeky letter from Private W.P. Bright of the R.A.M.C., British Expeditionary Force to his former employer Mr. J.H. Buckle of the High Street in Chippenham.
Obviously on good terms, and taken in the right spirit, a football was duly dispatched by Mr Buckle.
Reports from Returned Soldiers: A Remarkable Story of Daring Escape
On Saturday December 12th 1914 The Wiltshire Times published a report from Sergeant-Major Burke stationed at Corsham with the 3rd Battalion, Scots Guards. It is a remarkable story and extremely vividly recounted and is worth describing in detail here. It tells of his escape through enemy lines, thanks to the kindness and bravery of strangers…
Lacock is known for its famous Abbey, photography and the movies filmed there but just as important are the people who actually live, and have lived, in this wonderful village. Lacock is not just a tourist destination but a living, thriving community which is often overlooked by visitors. The Lacock Community Archive will provide an outlet for villagers to share their stories and memories through oral history, photographs and documents. We will be providing a series of free events for the residents of Lacock over the forthcoming months as part of this project.
As part of our first event we will be displaying copies of photographs of Lacock taken by Harold White from his English Villager’s collection (published 1945). The picture below is of Reverend Jeeves (taken by Harold White), vicar of Lacock at the time. There are, in fact, several photographs of the Rev. Jeeves which raised our interest and encouraged us to discover more about his life and how he came to be in Lacock. Kym Wild, a postgraduate student from Bath Spa University, began researching his life.
In June 1915, armed only with a bicycle, her wits and a burning journalistic ambition, a young woman named Dorothy Lawrence set out from England determined to reach the frontline of fighting in northern France.
“I’ll see what an ordinary English girl, without credentials or money can accomplish. I’ll see what I can manage as a war correspondent!”
Sleeping in ditches, haystacks and flea-bitten dugouts, Dorothy wheedled, charmed and hoodwinked her way past suspicious gendarmes and the unwanted attentions of frustrated soldiers, to spend ten days under heavy shelling in the French town of Albert shortly before the Battle of Loos.
Hello, my name is Jade and I am currently on Placement at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre from the University of the West of England, as part of my History degree. I am working on a project that is looking at the possibility of children during World War One being evacuated to rural areas, such as Wiltshire. We do not know very much about this as it wasn’t government organised, and there are little records remaining. It seems that there was quite a large influx of Children from London following air raids in 1917, when Zeppelin airships were superseded by the deadly Gotha Biplanes. In the first raid in May 1917 there were 95 casualties and on the 12th of June 1917 100 bombs fell killing 162 civilians, including 16 Children at a school in Poplar which received a direct hit. This seems to have caused an unofficial evacuation of children and families.
As already described in a previous blog, Miss Frances Baker of Brown Street, Salisbury, was the Honorary Secretary of the local branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild. According to the box of letters held here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, she must have been a tireless worker on behalf of the Guild and the soldiers, sailors and airmen of Salisbury who were away fighting at the front.
As well as sending regular ‘Parcels of Comfort’ (monthly, in some cases) she also wrote regular letters. Most of these seemed to be to young men she had known, through her connection with St Martin’s Church, and the ‘Band of Hope’.
The ‘Band of Hope’ was a children’s Temperance organisation, set up in Leeds in 1847, to educate children in the evils of alcohol. A huge social problem amongst the population in the nineteenth century, drinking exaggerated the issues around poverty and so Temperance societies sought to influence the young, and thereby instruct those around them.