Many of us are quite used to reading sources only for the information that they explicitly give us – burial registers tell us the dates of burials, and so on. But quite often those same sources can be very revealing about other issues, things that aren’t explicitly stated. The same burial registers can reveal an accident or epidemic in a village, for example, if there are a more of burials than usual within a few days of one another.
Thinking sideways about the sources in this way can lead us to a much fuller picture of life in the past than we might otherwise have had. In particular, it allows us to build up a picture (sometimes directly, sometimes by inference) of what everyday life was like for ‘ordinary’ people in the past – something that few historical sources do. In this blog, I’d like to highlight a few interesting examples of this from within our collections.
One of the most difficult things to discover about the past is what people wore in their everyday lives. Most of the clothing that has survived through to the present day tends to be high-status clothing, either belonging to an ‘elite’ or only worn on very special occasions. Even in the age of photography, it can be surprisingly hard to get a sense of what people wore: until relatively recently photographs were expensive and out of the reach of most people. A consequence of this was that having a photograph taken was often only done for special occasions, and was frequently quite a formal event that people wore their best clothes for, so the images don’t necessarily reflect what people wore every day.
One of the more unusual ways of finding this information is through photographs of people who had just been arrested, in the police force’s criminal records. We have quite a few of these images in our Constabulary collection (F5), and they usually include a photograph of the offender, alongside a summary of their details and the crimes they were convicted of. They’re mainly used for researching details of the crime(s) committed, but they’re also incredibly useful for giving us a snapshot of everyday clothing at the time, as well as the ways in which fashions changed over time or across social groups, as you can see from these two images taken eighteen years apart:
Interestingly, they can also tell us about tattoos and body art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the records also include any identifying marks, as in this example which shows the convict having a tattoo of a woman and a man on his right and left forearms:
Another thing that can be quite hard to discover from surviving sources are the more mundane elements of daily life. Often what has survived are official accounts, which don’t offer much of a window into the realities of the everyday. One of the best sources to use for this are wills. These, of course, tell us a lot about people’s possessions (which can be revealing in themselves, as we’ll see), as well as helping to confirm the names and relationships of relatives making them an important source for any family history. Very occasionally, however, they can reveal something of the nature of those relationships, particularly if family members had fallen out with one another.
This will from William Edwards in 1732 refers to ‘the many and great troubles expences [sic] and vexations occasioned me and my dear wife by the undutiful and disobedient behaviour and perverseness of my son William’, and left him ‘one shilling and no more’:
Wills also offer a glimpse into private living arrangements. In 1763 Richard Townson left his possessions to ‘unto Anna Maria Byer who lives and cohabits with me (and is Really and truely my wife)’, where most sources talk of married couples.
They can also reveal some of the more sinister elements of private life that aren’t captured in other records. In 1625 Richard Dawers left his daughter Anne (and her children, should she have any) £20 in trust so that her husband could not access it. ‘The cause of debarringe my sonne in law to have any medling or dealing therewith’, he wrote, ‘is in regard to his unkind & churlish dealinge with my daughter his wife, duringe my life time, that I doe much feare, if god give him not more grace, it shall goe worse with her after my death’.
On a lighter note, sometimes wills offer an insight into some of the more mundane parts of everyday life. Francis Lambe left his daughter daughter a pair of ‘waffinge irons to make waffers’.
Last but not least, my favourite: in 1596, Thomas Warr gave his daughter Alice ‘a cowe knowne by the name of Whurlock’ – proof that giving animals odd names isn’t confined to the present day!
As the Victoria County History continued its investigations, it found that the survival of several large freehold estates into the late 18th and 19th centuries was represented by a number of high-status buildings of an early origin, including Marvins and Hedge Cottage, mentioned in earlier blogs. To the north of the river Wylye, which runs through the Deverills, is the 16th-century Pope’s farm, once called Bodenham’s. In 1603, Bodenham’s farm comprised 200 a. of arable, 40 a. of meadow, 60 a. of pasture, and 10 a. of woodland. Today it is a charming country farmhouse with a garden with the lands farmed by the Stratton family based at Manor Farm down the road.
Pope’s Farmhouse is another set of buildings that simply do not reflect their origins. The farmhouse is now divided into two dwellings, with the second part called Pope’s Flat. They are a much-altered originally early 16th and 17th century farmhouse that was rebuilt in the early 19th century and remodelled again in the period 1970-75 by the Strattons. This gave a classical rendered elevation with a Doric-style open porch on the south side flanked by canted bay windows. It wouldn’t look out of place in an 18th century town square. However, look around to the west side and you will see its earlier origins in the tall, two-storey 16th-century rubblestone range parallel to the road. It has a blocked arched window and an old, blocked fireplace. If you venture through the pedestrian Tudor arch on this side, you would see that the interior courtyard shows its older origins. The window heads have remnants of a plain round arches of a type favoured in the 16th century.
on Wednesday, 20 November 2013.
Posted in Archives
We hold an amazing array of maps here at the History Centre and I ‘plan’ to take you on a tour to discover which may prove to be the most useful for your research, whether it be the history of your family, house or parish.
Tithe Map One of the most widely known of the maps that we hold here. These awards were drawn up between 1836 and 1852. Once ordered up by parish name, you will be presented with a map and schedule which includes the name of the landowner, the name of the tenant, acreage, rent paid and details of the makeup of the land, eg. if there is a garden, orchard etc. The schedule gives a number for each property which can be used to locate it on the map. These are great source for those interested in locating a property, getting details of ownership and also the study of property/field names.
Enclosure Award Open fields, common and waste land were systematically ‘enclosed’ from 1750 onwards by Acts of Parliament. Commissioners drew up an award showing how the land was to be redistributed. As is the nature of these awards, the focus is on rural areas rather than towns or villages.
Andrews’ and Dury’s maps of 1773 are worth a look at. They are small in scale and so won’t show individual properties but do give an idea of how a settlement looked in the late 18th century. You can view them on our Wiltshire Community History website.
1910 Inland Revenue Evaluation Books This evaluation was done in readiness for a tax which was never levied! They are very useful to us, however, as they provide a description of the property, rent paid and the names of the owner and tenant. The maps which are produced with the books are the 25” OS versions which have been annotated.
I thought it may be of interest to take a look on your behalf at the kinds of original documents visitors order out when they visit our search rooms, to give you an idea of the wide range of requests we receive for documents each day. I chose Tuesday 22nd October at random, and got peeking!
Many visitors pre-order material so that it is waiting for them when they arrive (a good idea if you have a lot to look through).
One such researcher was looking at some Great Western Railway plans for the stables next to Paddington Station.
They included a tenancy agreement for stalling dated 1905 (Ref: 2515/210 Box 128) and the elevation to London Street by the Engineers Works office in 1912 (2515/403/375).
Ordered out on the day was material from the Earl of Pembroke collection (Ref: 2057) including the account of H.M. Holdsworth with the Right Honorable George Robert Charles Earl of Pembroke for the estate of Wilts for one year as to rents to Michelmas 1880 (Ref: 2057/A1/99). Estate surveys (Ref: 2057/563) and a wages book (Ref: 2057/A5/32) were also of interest, and wages books may also give the name of an ancestor who worked on the estate.
It is about two months now since I started working on the Lacock collection and every day I am finding something noteworthy in the boxes. The collection contains a range of beautiful and informative documents: legal documents and correspondence are particularly good at providing valuable insights into the Talbot, Davenport, Feilding and related families who are associated with the Lacock estate. Different documents appeal to different researchers according to their area of research but also their personal preferences. An example here is a series of letters discovered as part of the Davenport collection.
Henry Davenport (1678-1731) was married twice, the second time to Barbara Ivory, the younger sister of John Ivory Talbot who was one of the owners of Lacock. Later, the Lacock estate would come into the hands of Henry and Barbara’s descendents, first in trust to their daughter-in-law Martha (Talbot, who married their son William) and then to their grandson William Davenport Talbot. Sharington Davenport (1709-1774), Henry’s son by his first wife Marie-Lucie Chardin, attended Eton and many letters have survived from his school days and into his time at Cambridge, written to his father and stepmother Barbara Davenport from him and also from his tutors and servants at Eton. These letters are fascinating, and show his character as a slightly rebellious and highly amusing schoolchild, also displayed from various letters written to his father by his aunts (spinster sisters Arabella and Leticia Davenport). Henry Davenport kept many varied letters especially from family memmembers and Sharington’s schoolboy writing is particularly clear and consistent.