A town through time: Recent excavations in Calne town centre

on Tuesday, 07 December 2021. Posted in Archaeology

We have recently had an exciting opportunity to understand more about the origins and development of the historic North Wiltshire market town of Calne. Throughout October and November, Worcestershire Archaeology (WA) have been undertaking a full excavation of plot of land to the east of the High Street in Calne. The work was commissioned by Churchill Retirement Living for development into a Residential Home for which they had planning consent. The excavation follows an earlier phase of evaluation by WA in 2016 where a sequence of buried features and deposits from Saxon to post-medieval had been revealed.

The site lies in a part of the town is thought to have been an early medieval addition to the Saxon settlement of Calne which largely lay to the south of the river around the parish church. This ‘laid out’ settlement comprised the High Street and market places from which long narrow ‘burgage plots’ were established to provide each property fronting the High Street to have sufficient space to the rear to be able to grow food, keep animals and carry out small scale industry. Historic maps depict the site divided into four or five of these burgage plots stretching between the High Street and The Pippins (formerly Back Lane). In recent decades, the site has been terraced and divided by garden walls and partially used as a car park.

The following is a summary of the findings from WA:

A New Start with a New Placement

on Tuesday, 23 November 2021. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

Hiya! I’m Sejal and I’m a trainee conservator doing my placement with the Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service. I’m excited to start my professional work here and I am looking forward to some amazing projects.

A woman with red hair wearing a face covering stands next to a museum cabinet with 4 skulls and two knapped tools
Showing off my last big project; some anatomical skull models for the Durham Museum of Archaeology

My placement is part of my master’s degree in object conservation at Durham University. My background is primarily based in archaeology and I’ve been on several excavations, but I’ve always gravitated more towards lab work than field work. For my undergraduate dissertation, I spent a month in Portugal, helping sort through discarded ceramics from a seventeenth century kiln. It was like trying to put 100 jigsaw puzzles together at once, but you only have about 75% of the pieces.

A table covered with pottery bowls and plates, some mostly incomplete all with fragments taped together
A nearly complete set of 18th century tablewares from a kiln waste site in Portugal

I’m originally from the United States and have spent the last four years up north for my studies, so I haven’t spent much time in the southwest of the UK. So, I’m very excited to explore the region and the rich prehistory and history it holds. I also hope to visit a lot of local museums and work with a variety of institutions whilst I’m here.

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.

JJ Hunt’s Wiltshire Camera: One Hundred Historic Photographs of Marlborough and District

on Thursday, 04 November 2021. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

George M Barbour
Cromwell House Publishing, 2021
ISBN 978-1-80049-797-9 £14.95
107 pages (unpaginated), hardback

The book cover of JJ Hunt's Wiltshire Camera with archive photo of two men, one in uniform, standing by a horse and cart.This collection of photographs represents the work of Wiltshire photographer JJ Hunt who had studios in Calne, Malmesbury and Ludgershall before settling in Marlborough where he established his photographic studio.

The title of the collection suggests that the photographs relate to north Wiltshire, but in fact they span the length and breadth of the county.

The images include street views, business premises, properties, local residents and events. Notable inclusions feature Draycot House (now demolished), Emma Vaughan, licensee of the New Inn, Amesbury, and the Marlborough mop fair c.1925.

The quality of the images are good and as clear as they can be, given the date of the originals and the laudable commitment by the author to manipulate them as little as possible. The photographs are interesting, and captions provide additional details, sometimes with quotes by JJ Hunt’s family at the time, which add further interest and a feeling of stepping back in time, giving a more intimate connection with the past.

The book forms part of a journey. The author is JJ Hunt’ great grandson and knew nothing of Hunt’s photographic career before researching his great grandfather’s life and work. I felt honoured to be able to join him, as a reader, at this journey’s end. JJ Hunt’s Wiltshire Camera manages to capture a Wiltshire lost to us. It is an interesting and enjoyable look back to a time long gone. A well-produced publication.

JJ Hunt’s Wiltshire Camera is available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre or borrow via your local Wiltshire library, reference AAA.771.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

On a Brambly Ridge near Dilton Marsh

on Tuesday, 26 October 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

About two miles north of Dilton Marsh is the ancient manor house of Bremeridge, which we were fortunate to be able to visit a month or so ago. It was once one of the smaller manors that made up the parish of Westbury. Its settlement dates from at least the late 12th century, and a hoard of gold nobles of Edward III (1327-77), Richard II (1377-99) and others were found outside the back door in 1877. It has a commanding view from its ‘brambly ridge’ of the valley north towards Fairwood and Rudge on the Somerset border.

The National Heritage List for England suggested this was an altered 18th century house, which its exterior features indicated. The only clue to its far more ancient beginnings were its monumental double-skin studded door, worthy of any church. As we looked, we realised that this door was still attached to a vestige of timber-framing that survived after the house was rebuilt in the late 18th century. As we looked deeper, we realised that buried within this substantial building was an original three-bay timber-framed yeoman farmhouse; deeply-chamfered beams, and the original through-passage could all be seen and deciphered in the original plan. It was in the roof that the whole story of the house was told, as it so often was.

Roof trusses in the shape of an A with black charring in the centre of the A shape and beams also running perpendicular to the A.

At one end of the long range was the remains of a cranked collar and tie beam truss roof with angled struts, rather in the manner of goats’ horns. This was an indication that we were probably dealing with a house of the second half of the 16th century. Incidentally, in urban areas such as Salisbury the same kind of roof would not be seen after 1550. It is recognised that a time-lag effect operates whereby new fashions in building are often introduced in cities or other important sites, percolating down to towns and then villages and hamlets in due course. Here we speculate that the farmhouse, long in the ownership of Edington Priory, was rebuilt for a new owner some time after the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541.

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