The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has been inviting people to visit and tell their stories of their connection with the RAF as part of this national event, run by the RAF Museum.
We were a little late with what became our ‘day’; the national event took place at the beginning of November over one weekend, clashing with our Open Day, but we weren’t deterred. Wiltshire has such a longstanding connection to the RAF, Salisbury Plain being the centre of pioneering aviation from its early beginnings; we felt we really wanted to take part. Luckily the RAF Museum at Hendon agreed, and our RAF Big Stories ‘Day’ took place on Saturday 30 November.
Joining us were two brilliant and specially recruited volunteers who quickly learnt how to use the RAF Museum’s oral history app to record 16 stories from 11 willing participants! The stories were varied and all interesting in their own way, some from the RAF staff themselves; others from living relatives. Those from RAF Lyneham included a navigator’s experience of the Berlin Airlift during 1948-9 when he got covered in coal dust from the goods being despatched, to the return of hostage Jackie Mann in 1993, and working in the maintenance crew during WWII and getting caught out in the blackout cycling from Chippenham to the airfield. Stories from overseas included intelligence training in India and the tortoise who became the mascot of the 20th Squadron in Singapore in 1964, who travelled on the plane with them and became a valued member of the team!
It was a real privilege to hear the stories and enjoy the company of our RAF Big Stories participants, and they told us they enjoyed having some interested people to hear them tell their tales. All the stories will be added to the RAF’s Stories website https://www.rafstories.org The app for recording a story is also available on the site for anyone to download and use. We hope to receive a copy of the recordings to store at the History Centre too, and some of the items the participants brought with them we were able to copy and will add to our collections.
The accompanying display of local studies books, photographs and prints plus archive material drew in over 20 people who enjoyed chatting to each other whilst enjoying looking at the items on show. These included plans of Wiltshire aerodromes, a Christmas menu card with signatures plus programme of entertainments dated 1943, letters regarding problems with mud on the roads and road closures during the building of airfields in WWII and ‘Sparks’ the newsletter of RAF Yatesbury. Books included the recent ‘RAF Wroughton and Wroughton at Work in Pictures’ by the Wroughton History Group and ‘46 Miles: a Journey of Repatriation and Humbling Respect’ about the RAF Lyneham repatriations through the town, alongside the classic text on Wiltshire airfields, Rod Priddle’s ‘Wings over Wiltshire’ to name just a few.
We also included one of our recent Creative Wiltshire lottery funded acquisitions, the limited-edition print ‘Cold War Warrior’ by David Bent. A Swindon based artist, David specialises in aviation art and has the enviable job of being the personal artist for the Red Arrows, joining them all over the world to record their story. He also designed the commemorative logo for the RAF’s 100 year celebration in 2018.
We always love any opportunity to show visitors the amazing breadth and variety of our collections here at the History Centre, which even amazes us at times! Please feel free to recommend us as a place to visit for people to learn more about the RAF in Wiltshire; we’d be happy to help them with their search.
As we begin a new year here at the WSHC Conservation service we have decided to have a spring clean and re-organisation of our materials cupboard. At this point, a new Conservation Corner idea was inspired…
There are particular materials that we always stock that can also be extremely useful for packaging and storing your own precious items at home.
Conservation and archival grade storage materials are free from harmful ingredients that can react with and cause damage to objects they are close to. For example, certain plastics can breakdown and release harmful gases that can increase deterioration of the materials inside. Similarly, newspaper becomes acidic over time and can transfer this to whatever is near it causing damage to paper, metal, plastic, textile and many other materials. To keep precious items safe over the long term the use of suitable packaging is crucial. Below are some examples of these materials and some common precious item storage examples:
Acid Free Tissue:
This is a conservation staple, an excellent packing and padding material for a variety of materials including textiles, most plastics, books, most metals and ceramics.
This kind of board comes in various thicknesses and can be used to make folders and boxes to protect books, documents, photographs and textiles.
Sealed Plastic Boxes:
Polypropylene (PP) or Polyethylene (PE) storage containers are widely available in shops and provided they are made of only the plastics mentioned, are inert and therefore suitable for long term storage of materials that do not need breathable packaging such as metals (including jewellery), ceramics and some plastics.
Polyester pockets are inert and will not yellow or breakdown (please note that pockets made of alternative plastics such as standard stationary plastic pockets are not suitable for archival use).
These pockets are great for storing paper, parchment and photographs. They make them easy to handle and as they are clear, the document can be viewed without removing from the pocket which in turn reduces damage caused by handling.
Archival Photographic Paper Envelopes:
These paper envelopes are made from very pure cotton paper pulp without harmful additives such as Lignin – one of the ingredients that makes paper yellow and brittle quickly. They are great for storing negatives or photographs to protect them from damage.
Always look for storage materials that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) as photographic materials can be damaged by using the wrong materials.
This acid free cotton tape can be used to tie around books with loose covers and boards or to tie around archival boxboard folders and enclosures to secure them when closed.
Some Common Precious Item Storage Examples:
A Fragile or precious book or document
Use an archival enclosure made from archival boxboard. You can find instructions for making ‘four flap folders’ and other archival enclosures online or alternatively ready-made archival quality boxes in varying sizes can also be purchased through conservation suppliers online.
If you have a book that is generally in good condition by has loose boards or covers, you can tie cotton tape around it to hold the boards in place.
Create a cushion with acid free tissue and place medal on top within a Polypropylene (PP) or Polyethylene (PE) storage container
Put photographs in an archival paper album using archival photo corners or put photographs in polyester pockets- these can be purchased in various sizes and with multiple compartments and holes down one side so that they can be stored in an archival ring binder or box. Further information can also be found in my blog here
Wedding dress or special textile item
Line an archival boxboard enclosure with acid free tissue. Place the textile item in the box using acid free tissue to pad out folds so that you avoid creases. Cover with another layer of acid free tissue.
Where to buy archival materials:
There are several places online that sell archival storage items. Some well-known suppliers include PEL (Preservation Equipment Limited), Conservation by Design and Secol but there are other options available. The key thing is to check that they are a reputable retailer and that every item you purchase is of genuine archival quality.
If you have an item that you think may need conservation work or you want more information on how to safely package your heirlooms and precious items come along to one of our FREE conservation surgeries at WSHC from 2 – 4pm on the second Thursday of every month. The next one will be on Feb 13th. Book your appointment by calling 01249 705500.
Sophie Coles, Archive Conservator, Conservation and Museums Advisory Service
Wiltshire Conservation and Museums Advisory Service is based at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. We preserve the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and provide support to museums, heritage organisations and individuals to care for and conserve historic collections and meet professional standards.
In the last quarter of 2019 we received several new archives to add to our resources. From artists’ sketchbooks to property documents, all our new acquisitions further our knowledge and enjoyment of the history of our county. Here are a few recent highlights.
In November we acquired a range of documents from the Wiltshire-born artist Janet Boulton (collection reference 4469). Early in her career Janet worked at the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company in Chippenham, and during her lunchbreaks made sketches of urban landscapes and factory details. We have acquired two of Janet’s sketchbooks plus some of her monoprints and colour collages. These were inspired by her time at Westinghouse and by industrial equipment at a farm at Stanton Fitzwarren. Janet has a long association with the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, going back over 40 years, from her early exhibition Windows and Reflections in 1977 to her 2017 'A Seeming Diversity' retrospective. Janet’s work was also included in a 2019 exhibition at Salisbury Museum. Both these latter events formed part of the HLF-funded Creative Wiltshire initiative.
From Westbury we have a scrapbook donated by the Westbury Town Twinning Association, to add to their existing collection of newsletters, minutes and programmes (reference 4130). This loose volume includes items from the early years of the association in the late 1970s until its termination in 1998, such as newspaper cuttings, photographs, invitations and paper souvenirs.
Elsewhere in Westbury comes an accrual to the archives of the Westbury and District Hospital League of Friends. This new addition (references J2/163/25 and J2/163/26)) comprises pages from a scrapbook packed with newspaper cuttings and event invitations, plus a printed history of the Friends organisation. The group was established in 1954 by George and Phyllis Cundrick, and over the years raised around half a million pounds for the hospital. The collection also documents the Friends’ protests against the threatened closure of the hospital. Sadly the hospital finally closed in 2012 after over 100 years of service to the town, after which the Friends continued to raise money to support healthcare provision in the community.
Our friends at Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury have transferred to us a series of property documents from the nineteenth century concerning properties in the Market Cross and Oxford Street area of the town (collection reference 3678D). These leases, conveyances and other legal documents make reference to various parties from the town and beyond, including the Reverend George Rushout Bowles of Burford House, Shropshire, who by the 1860s was Lord of the Manor of Malmesbury and Westport. These properties changed hands at various points during the nineteenth century, so the collection provides useful information on the buildings and their ownership.
Our archive of the Great Western Railway already includes over 18,000 plans and drawings depicting railway buildings, engineering structures and tracks from all over the British Isles. To this massive collection has been added a modest but welcome accrual of three track diagrams dating from between 1952 and 1968. Specifically, these depict the Amesbury Ground Frame (catalogue reference 2515/410/2205MS), the Salisbury Tunnel Junction (2515/410/2206MS) and the Westbury South signal box (2515/410/2207MS). Another piece of the huge GWR jigsaw has fallen into place.
The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey have donated a collection of their minutes, newsletters and correspondence (reference 4310). This includes correspondence regarding alterations to the Abbey’s fittings such as the provision of a new organ and the refurbishment of the Parvise exhibition area. In addition, we now have a plan and section of the abbey made by the architect Harold Brakspeare in the 1920s, which outlines proposed repairs to the pulpit, lectern and misericords. The collection also sheds light on a design competition for a new sculpture for the East Wall, held between 1967 and 1969. As well as correspondence, this file (4310/4/2) contains photographs, cuttings, minutes and reports on the submitted designs. The winning sculptor TB Huxley-Jones died the day after winning and a second design, by Walter Ritchie was selected in its place. Ritchie's scheme was approved by numerous official organisations but rejected by the Cathedrals Advisory Committee Inspectors in 1969 and subsequently no commission was undertaken. The space remains unfilled to this day.
And finally we have received a fascinating 1947 sale catalogue concerning the sale of large portions of the Longleat estate (reference 4472/1). The sale was necessary to pay death duties, presumably following the death of the fifth Marquess of Bath the previous year. The sale comprises over 200 lots including many houses, farms and plots of agricultural land, as well as the George Inn at Longbridge Deverill. This is a valuable social history document for its evidence of field sizes and uses, and its descriptions of identifiable properties in parishes including Corsley, Chapmanslade, Crockerton, Sutton Veny and Warminster.
As always, we are grateful to all our donors for contributing their collections to the History Centre. Further details of these and the rest of our holdings can be found on our archive catalogue. The collections themselves can be made available for research in our reading room.
We are coming to the end of our National Lottery Heritage Funded Creative Wiltshire project which ran from 2014 and aimed to collect and celebrate the work of the county’s creative people. Over the course of the project we made many and varied acquisitions for museums across the county; read more about the project, the artists and its acquisitions on the Creative Wiltshire website and watch a short film celebrating the impact of the project for local museums.
One of the final acquisitions we have been able to make is a collection of artwork by Janet Boulton.
Janet is an artist with strong connections to Wiltshire and Swindon. She was born in Swindon in 1936, and studied at Swindon School of Art from 1953-55 before going to the painting school at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts until 1958. Some of the material we have collected was inspired by her time working at Westinghouse in Chippenham in the years immediately after she left Camberwell. She says “during the dinner break I took to making pencil drawings in a small lined notebook, standing around outside in various positions within the works”.
In 1977 Swindon Museum and Art Gallery hosted an exhibition by Janet Boulton called ‘Windows and Reflections’ which showcased her paintings of and through windows.
Janet also worked part time as an art teacher in Swindon at Commonweal and Hereod Burna Schools, and at Swindon College. During this time she still practiced as an artist and one of her paintings ‘End of Term, Commonweal School’ was exhibited at Salisbury Museum’s ‘Creative Wiltshire: A Celebration of Art in Wiltshire’ exhibition in 2019.
We are hoping to continue to develop the themes of the Creative Wiltshire project and to collect artistic material to preserve for public access and inspiration. The kinds of material we are looking to continue collecting include:
Sketch books Drawings and sketches Design ideas/notes – these may be in text format rather than just visual Scrap books Ephemera such as magazine articles, postcards, anything that might have been used as inspiration Preparatory work – working drawings. These may be considered by some to be unimportant because they are unfinished or scrappy, but they are all part of a process. Photographs – these may be of work no longer owned by the artist or of work in progress or of things that inspired future work. Publicity material – this may be a poster for an exhibition, a list of exhibitors, it may have been designed by the artist. Diaries and journals. Samples – this might be a proof of a print, or a sample of a textile, or a fragment of a glaze or paint colour, depending on the artist’s preferred medium. Tracings or cartoon used by artists to plan
We would also be keen to include anything that reflects the life and workspace of an artist; images of a studio or workspace, previous exhibitions, commissions etc.
Finally, if you are looking for some inspiration about how to use archives for artistic inspiration we have put together this Artists in the Archives Toolkit!
"Our day" for the conservators at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre is always interesting.
A common job within our object lab is removal of corrosion from archaeological finds.
This Roman coin, from a hoard of over 1200, is having its corrosion painstakingly removed using a scalpel under magnification, ready for display at Athelstan Museum.
This video shows a piece of thin Japanese tissue being shaped and cut to support a weak area of paper. This is done by placing the tissue on top of some thick polyester and tracing the shape using a needle. It is then adhered to the back of the document using gelatin. Gelatin is not always used but in this case the document has a type of ink called Iron Gall ink that is best treated with gelatin rather than other types of adhesives. A release paper is then smoothed over the top before the area is sandwiched with blotter and weighted down to aid drying.
If you would like to find out more about conserving and caring for your own family photographs, keepsakes and treasures book onto one of our FREE Conservation Surgeries held at WSHC every month. For more information contact the help desk on 01249 705500 (Tues-Sat 9.30-5pm).