December 1903 saw the introduction of the Motor Car Act. A requirement of the new act meant that owners of existing and new vehicles had to register their motor vehicles with the local authority. Under the act, each registered vehicle was assigned a registration number, which had to be displayed at the front and the back of the car. This caused many car owners to complain, who felt they were being treated as if they drove Hackney carriages. The first car to appear in the newly opened vehicle register was a vehicle not owned by a wealthy landowner, as you may expect, but was, in fact, owned by Wiltshire County Council. This vehicle was purchased in 1902 and was used for official county business; in effect was the County Car.
“AM-1 was registered on the 12th of December 1903 to Wiltshire County Council, Charles Septimus Adye, the County Surveyor, County Offices, Trowbridge. 10hp Benz Parsifal; four seated tonneau body, painted blue with yellow lines; 17¾cwt; County purposes”.
Cinema as an art form has its origins in the late Nineteenth Century, when a range of techniques were developed to give paying audiences the impression of moving images beamed onto a screen. Most techniques deployed a machine through which a sequence of connected photos were driven. These amusements were usually presented by travelling exhibitors, who toured society gatherings, music halls or fairgrounds. By the 1900s photographs had made way for cellulose nitrate film which though effective in purveying motion, were also highly flammable. Following several fires the government was prompted to regulate this fledgeling industry
The resulting Cinematograph Act of 1909 gave local councils the power to grant annual licenses for the exhibition of films, provided safety precautions were in place. Breaches of these safeguards could result in a fine of £20 – a considerable sum to any proprietor. Demand for moving pictures was huge and following the Act various entrepreneurs invested their money in creating permanent cinema buildings. Though by no means complete, here are a few fine examples of early picture houses in Wiltshire.
In 1910 two rival companies established cinemas in Salisbury, both located on Endless Street. On 24th August 1910 planning permission was submitted to build a new Electric Theatre situated at the north-east corner of Endless Street and Bedwin Street. The request was made by the Grampino Syndicate, based in London’s Crystal Palace, and was approved by the City of New Sarum on 1st September. Designs for the venue, to be known as the Queens Hall Cinematograph Theatre, show an impressive classical frontage, with three sets of welcoming doors. This was a single-screen venue, with seventeen rows of seats on the ground floor, plus a further six rows on an upstairs balcony. The upstairs foyer also had a small sweet shop, demonstrating that even at this early date refreshments were seen as an integral part of the movie-going experience.
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.
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…
The 1950s were wonderful years for science and engineering, where anything was possible. Sputnik 1 was launched into space, the first passenger jets entered service, and people apparently flew around on their own personal helicopters:
Alex Moulton was also very busy in these years. He might be best known for his work on the Mini (the suspension he designed for the Mini owed its roots to his work on ‘Flexitor’ suspension for the Austin Gipsy in the 1950s), but he was a prolific inventor who was interested in almost all areas of engineering design, from steam-powered cars to wheelchair suspension.
Moulton enjoyed novel or interesting engineering challenges, and the “Heli-Vector” personal helicopter above certainly caught his eye as he made a cutting of the article and filed it away for future reference. But Alex Moulton was as much a sportsman who enjoyed physical challenges as he was an engineer, and so when he read an article in a 1955 edition of The Aeroplane which talked of a pre-war German experiment with human-powered flight, the seeds of an idea took root.
Moulton’s personal papers contain a small file of material on human-powered flight. The material mainly consists of correspondence with scientists and engineers working in the field, and Moulton’s letters show his passionate enthusiasm for the concept. In fact, he joined the Low Speed Aerodynamics Research Association in 1956, and wrote to its Director of Research to say “I would like to support, in any way possible, activity in the direction of studying and achieving Man Power Flight”. The papers also include numerous studies and reports which aimed to prove that, theoretically at least, human-powered flight was possible.
A 1955 article in The Aeroplane set out the calculations: “a pre-war German design, the Haessler-Villinger, had an empty weight of 77lb and required only 0.82 bhp to fly at 30mph” whereas a new, more lightweight and aerodynamic, design could be flown at 30mph using only 0.68 horsepower. It was theorized that two people could produce just under 1 horsepower if power was generated by the pilot using their legs only (presumably their arms were being used to fly the plane!) and the co-pilot using both their legs and their arms. If you think that generating power using your legs sounds suspiciously like a bicycle, then you’d be right:
Early ideas for human-powered aircraft seem to have been based around creating what was effectively a tandem bike inside the cockpit, with the addition of a linked handcycle arrangement for the (presumably very fit) co-pilot. Perhaps it was the centrality of the bicycle that attracted Moulton’s interest. He began corresponding with several people involved in the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s Man Powered Aircraft Committee (MAPAC), principally a member of MAPAC called David Rendel. MAPAC considered two main designs for the aircraft: a fixed wing design, and an ornithopter (an aircraft with flapping wings, similar to those of a bird). Both were to be pedal-powered.
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.