Redevelopment of a former tannery site into a mix of housing and business use prompted research into the business that had previously existed there. In the centre of the village of Holt is a local business that provided employment from the 1770s until the latter part of the 20th century. The business was based on tanning and the use of leather as a material. The earliest use of leather can be dated to the Palaeolithic period and is depicted in cave paintings in Spain, showing its use as a material for clothing. The strength of the material also meant that it had other uses, including for buckets and bags, horse tack, fastenings and jewellery to name a few.
The business of J. & T. Beaven Ltd. was at one time a major employer in the village of Holt and generations of local families provided their workforce and passed down their skills. Their story begins with Christopher Beaven who bought the property in 1758, which later became the administration offices for the business. His nephew, Thomas Beaven, moved from Semington to Holt to work in the business, which was then described as a ‘Woolstapler, Fellmonger and Leather Dresser’ Business. Through his marriage he also had a stake in a Fellmongering yard at Westbury, a separate branch of the Holt business. Thomas’ sons, James and Thomas, took over the business after their father’s untimely death in 1810 by drowning in the Semington Brook near Whaddon. Sadly, James discovered his father’s body after he failed to return home. The ‘J’ and ‘T’ in the business name refers to these two sons and they continued the business by purchasing fleece wools from farms in Wiltshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire. They were later joined by the sons of Thomas junior; Albert, who was a sailor and worked in the business after twenty years at sea, Frederick Thomas who worked in the business from a young age and Edwin Charles who really wanted to become a lawyer but returned to Holt to work in the family business. It was very much a family concern and in 1935 could proudly boast that 14 male employees plus the chairman had all served the business for 50 years or more. The local Usher family had over 100 years of uninterrupted loyal service to the firm. This gives an indication of the importance of Beaven’s as a local employer during the 19th and 20th centuries.
I decided start with Know Your Place to find my location and settled on Canon Square in Melksham. Know Your Place is always a good starting point for researching local or building history, the historic maps can be easily compared with the modern day map, and there is the added benefit of information layers including monuments, community pins and Wilkinson postcards for additional insights. You can find a guide on our website on how to make the most out of the Know Your Place.
The 25 inch Ordnance Survey map from the 1880s showed the street layout of Canon Square was much the same at that date as it is today.
Going a little further back in time, Know Your Place also hosts Tithe Maps (above). The tithes were a tax levied by the Church which required one tenth of agricultural produce to go to support the local church and clergy (or lay owners who inherited these entitlements with land following the Reformation). The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act required these tithes to be converted into monetary payments and the Tithe Survey was established to assess which areas were titheable, who owned them, how much was payable and to whom. This information was recorded in an accompanying apportionment, making them a fantastic source for understanding land use, and also who owned and lived where!
We’ve recently reviewed the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme that we have in place at the history centre so that we can effectively protect the archives from the possibility of any damaging insect pests.
IPM is a multi-faceted approach to pest management and our program is used alongside a number of other preventative measures such as good cleaning and housekeeping routines, thoroughly checking new accessions for any hitchhiking pests before they are put into the strong rooms and maintaining a stable environment within the strong rooms so that pests do not feel at home. This way we can continue to protect our archives into the future.
Insects can cause a real problem for historic collections, which can be tasty treats for them to feast on, causing irreversible damage and loss of information.
It is really important to protect the archives against possible pest infestations. A small number can quickly increase to become a big problem if left unchecked and cause substantial damage to a collection.
During the pandemic some collections such as The National Trust have reported increased pest activity due to the reduction in footfall and reduced monitoring and cleaning of spaces, leaving areas undisturbed for pests to thrive. With such large numbers of documents held in repositories such as WSHC it is impossible to frequently check all items individually, so programmes to monitor and reduce numbers are put in place.
We have set up ‘blunder traps’ in the History Centre, strategically located around the strong rooms and other areas of the building, and by frequently monitoring them we are able to get a picture of any pests present and which areas they are visiting.
The traps we use do not control pest infestations they simply allow us to monitor levels of pests. If we find a pattern of large numbers of any particular archive pest, we can then look into dealing with any problems and target them specifically.
It’s that time of year when the first emails land in my inbox requesting placements on the History Centre’s popular work experience (WEX) programme.
This year it is a little different – those early requests are arriving, but students are now looking for Virtual WEX!
In my blog from March 2020 – Celebrating Archives – I was eagerly anticipating a year of anniversaries, the highlights of which were to be Salisbury’s 800th birthday and the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Events were planned, projects finalised, and we had an excuse, though none is ever really needed, to dig out some of our archival treasures that show just how connected Wiltshire is to key moments of national commemoration. And letters from Florence Nightingale would have featured in the work experience programme.
And then… the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. All certainty about future events rapidly disappeared as History Centre staff joined colleagues from across Wiltshire Council in responding to the crisis. While statutory services at the History Centre had to be maintained our usual talks and courses were cancelled; we had to close during lockdowns; our regular jaunts around the county to speak to community groups and history societies ended; and as education officer there were no school visits to plan or deliver, and no work placements to organise.
It was clear we needed to transfer what we could online, and I found myself working with colleagues from Libraries and Leisure to create resources that gave Wiltshire residents virtual opportunities to enjoy heritage, arts, literature and physical activities. The result was the Active Communities page on the Wiltshire Council website – a great resource which will hopefully have a legacy post-pandemic.
I also found myself co-ordinating the History Centre’s online presence. Colleagues, missing out on the daily rhythm of dealing with enquiries and customers, turned their energies to our website and social media platforms. They kept regular users updated and entertained, and engaged with new followers. And the hard work has paid off as we see more users, followers, likes and engagements with our various social media accounts.
Necessity drove us online in 2020 providing many challenges, but now there are opportunities in 2021, opportunities the History Centre wants to exploit. Virtual Work Experience is one of those. There will always be a need for real world, physical engagement with archives and books, photographs, painting and sculpture, artefacts and objects, not to mention being in the audience for a live theatre or musical performance. But while we wait for the time when we can return to in-person talks, courses and classroom sessions we need to make the most of the technology available.
I am working on developing a virtual work experience programme for GCSE and A-level students. Our work placements are always popular and each year we are fully booked, but we are limited in how many students we can take – normally two GCSE students in any given week and a couple of Year 12 A-level students. Geography and public transport also play a part and, while I provide a county-wide heritage education service, WEX students tend to come from Chippenham and the surrounding area.
The plan is to use an online classroom platform to deliver Virtual WEX. This has the potential to significantly increase the number of students the History Centre can reach, extending coverage to the whole of Wiltshire and Swindon, and beyond. I will always champion in-person placements and visits to the History Centre to really get hands-on with historical documents – there is a thrill to seeing and touching a document signed by Charles I or Oliver Cromwell or, having learned about Henry VIII in school, holding the marriage contract between Henry and Jane Seymour. But as an advocate for cultural education, online sessions are a valuable tool in reaching and inspiring young minds. And while students will not be able to handle the documents in a virtual session they will still be able to see them and work with them.
A key aspect of our work placement programme is the breadth of experience students enjoy, not only working with archives and local studies collections, but also learning about the work of the conservators and archaeologists based at the History Centre. It is also satisfying to see the students grow in confidence over the course of their week with us and to hear back from schools about the positive impact the placement has had on the youngsters.
We hope that those who see what we do via an online taster day will be in-person users of our services in the months and years to come. This opening up of access also supports the History Centre’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, not only as part of Wiltshire Council but also within the Archives sector.
WEX 2021 won’t be the same as previous years but we hope a virtual experience will give young people an opportunity to see what enjoyable and rewarding careers can be had in the heritage sector.
In the early hours of the 26th October 1664, Mary Waterman, wife of John Waterman from Fisherton Anger, gave birth to triplet girls, Mary, Martha and Efflett. What makes this birth even more remarkable was two of the girls, Mary and Martha, were conjoined. A description of the twins is provided in a letter from the Salisbury Oculist Dr Daubeney Turberville to Robert Boyle - a founding member of the Royal Society:
“On Tuesday night last, these was borne in Fisherton adjoining to our Town of Salisbury a monstrous Issue in part, the women has three children girls the one very well formed & fat, the other two as you may call them hath but one Body, continued handsomely to their shoulders, from whence growth four Arms completely …ade, two necks & two heads very well featured with all the parts, but they are contrary posited, one at one end of the Body & the other at the other, out of the side there is a Belly, Navel, a woman’s part, & one Fundament, and two complete Legs, & thighs, feet, & nails, they were at writing here of very lusty, & doe take their food, sugar & water, look about & wag all parts, the one is more sleepy then the other, both very pretty”.
The baptism register of Fisherton Anger only confirms their baptism, with no mention of their physical condition. Interestingly it was one of the ‘Monstrous’ twins rather than the ‘normal’ daughter who was named after their mother.
John was an ostler and described as the ‘labouring poor’. A physician, William Hann, who had witnessed the birth, described the Waterman home as a ‘poorly appointed dwelling, ‘full of holes’ and the girls as having only a linen cloth for its covering, which was taken off at the desire of every new spectator’, which had already brought ‘a thousand’ people to the Watermans’ door; making this a very cold environment for the newly born girls. Hann wrote to Robert Boyle to inform him of the twins’ birth and how he first heard about the birth at Fisherton, whilst at a local coffeehouse he overheard Mr Kent, minister of Fisherton, say that he:
"could justify the baptizing it with two names, adding, that it was a question to be debated by divines, whether it were to be reckoned as two persons, and whether it had two souls".
“On Sunday last (says he) the wife of one Waterman an Ostler in Fisherton was in Travell the whole afternoon, & about 11 of the clock at Night she was delivered of a Daughter every way well shaped & proportioned, about an hour after she was delivered of another strange misshapen Birth, having two heads, the one where of was at the place of the Feet, 4 Arms& 4 hands, both the heads arms, & hands well proportion[e]d as low as the Breast, about the middle of the Body there came forth 2 feet Legs Thighs, & Buttocks, with the parts of a woman, & the Arms (& all these by one side) & 2 or 3 Inches above the pudendum the Navel grown out”.
The twins, at first seem to thrive, but died after two days within minutes of each other. Sadly, Efflett also did not survive for very long; she was buried on the 2nd November, only seven days after her birth.
Robert Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society of London which was founded in 1660 for ‘Improving Natural Knowledge’ with two other members, Sir Christopher Wren, who, incidentally, was born at East Knoyle, 18 miles west of Fisherton Anger, and William Petty. It was granted a royal charter by King Charles II who was a patron of the arts and sciences. It is Robert’s correspondence with William Hann (now archived at the Royal Society) that detail the decision to dissect, embalm and have the twins displayed. The Watermans were clearly not wealthy, and the financial incentive to have their daughters displayed was most probably the key factor in their agreeing to this proposal. John initially refused to allow the dissection of his daughters, saying that ‘if he should suffer it, he should offend God’
In the early 1930s, Christopher Fuller (later a director of Jaggards, Corsham) and Duncan Sandys (who would become Winston Churchill’s son-in-law and MP for Norwood) travelled together in what Fuller called ‘a very comprehensive tour of all the more important parts of the entire Soviet Union’. Travelling by foot, plane, train, car and horseback they crossed 17,000 miles of Soviet Russia to explore conditions in the country and the success, or failure, of the Communist experiment.
Fuller kept an extensive diary of the trip, which we hold in our extensive collection on Jaggards (1196). Fuller’s diaries (1196/52) are also complemented by around 200 photographs that he took on his journey (1196/53BW) which include images of Leningrad and Moscow, but also of the labour camps that the travellers visited during their trip.
Though the pair visited the major cities, a key aim of their trip was to take in as much of rural Russia as they could, to get a sense for the life of the average Russian ‘peasant’. As such the diaries are not only a fascinating first-hand account of the conditions that ordinary Russians lived in but are also revealing of the extent to which the realities of the heartlands of Russia were almost unknown to the British political class at the time.