A place is its community and discovering how communities have been shaped and changed over time is a fascinating and enjoyable experience. The understanding of place is at the heart of the new Community History website, helping you to connect with the Wiltshire places and people that matter to you.
The histories include basic information for those interested in local and family history, such as maps, population figures, newspaper and printed map coverage, listed buildings, local authors and registration districts, as well as a series of FAQs for each community.
Nearly 200 of the larger communities have already been extended with the provision of short histories, articles on churches, chapels and schools, booklists and photographs both old and new. The remaining parish histories are currently being researched.
The Wiltshire Community History website, run by the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, is a work in progress, with additional material continuing to be added, and it is about and for the county’s communities. We welcome you to get in touch if you have any historical information you would like to share.
Maps by Andrews and Dury of 1773, and of 1810 for every community. Some also have a map of the 1890s with the modern civil parish boundary imposed.
A Parish History
A brief history from earliest times for the larger town and village. Includes prehistory, estimates of Domesday population, growth, industries, farming, commerce, families, services and utilities. A good introduction to the history of each community.
Churches and Chapels
There is a brief history for many churches and chapels. Most are accompanied by pictures from both past and present.
Histories of schools are provided for many communities; where school log books survive information from them is used to give an account of Victorian life in that school. Images include modern views, early photographs and 100-year-old plans.
The number of inhabitants in each census year is given from 1801 to 2011.
There are over 6,000 images including photographs from the 1850s until today. You can search under subject or place.
Local Authors, Literary and Creative Associations
Details of local authors and creative people, such as Desmond Morris for Aldbourne, Edith Olivier for Wilton, and William Golding for Marlborough and Salisbury, are listed, as are literary settings for novels and poems. For example the Beckhampton Inn is the likely setting for The Bagman’s Story in Pickwick Papers.
The Folk Arts pages contain information about traditional songs, biographies, folk plays and folk events such as mummers’ plays and church ales in the Wiltshire area, including songs collected by Alfred Williams.
Bibliographies and Text Images
For many communities there is a select list of books and journal articles. We have also scanned some older Wiltshire books and have nearly 10,000 pages available on the site. These can be searched by place, subject or personal name.
Every community has listings of local newspapers covering its area from 1736, and reference numbers of maps from the 1880s. The National Grid Reference number provided gives a link to modern maps for each community.
We are also compiling timelines for towns and villages. Using these you can also view events in Wiltshire year by year.
There are links to Wiltshire’s Historic Environment Record (over 31,000 sites), the Know Your Place online historic mapping resource, local history websites and more.
The Wiltshire Community History website can give you a greater understanding of the place where you live, or where your ancestors lived.
All articles are especially written for Wiltshire Community History using both secondary and archival sources by staff, volunteers and students.
A Year in Archives is an annual report from the National Archives about and for the UK archives sector. It brings together stories and case studies from across the sector, showcasing and celebrating archives and their work.
Terry Bracher, our very own Heritage Services Manager, was recently awarded a BEM for services to Heritage and Public Libraries in Wiltshire.
Under his leadership, WSHC has been recognised as one of the top ten services in the country. He oversees our eight miles of archives and a wide range of outreach services, and has been influential in developing local studies work focussing on recognising and celebrating diversity.
He previously worked as Local Studies Librarian for Northamptonshire. During this time, about ten years ago, he chaired a Black History Project which was recognised by the national media as a trailblazer. Thanks to the project and its many volunteers, these once-forgotten histories are now being taught in Northamptonshire schools and information about the lives of black and Asian people is available throughout the libraries’ collection. A partnership brokered with Northampton Town Football Club’s anti-racism project also allowed young people to share stories of local black historical figures.
Terry was also previously a librarian at the Shropshire Records and Research Centre, now known as Shropshire Archives.
We are delighted Terry’s hard work and dedication have been recognised with this honour.
In the summer of 2019, with support from the Alex Moulton Charitable Trust we received a grant from The National Archives to begin cataloguing the archives of Spencer Moulton & Co and the papers of Dr Alex Moulton. The project was due to start in early 2020; unfortunately Covid-19 and the national lockdowns delayed us until January this year, but work has finally started. The project aims to make these nationally important archives accessible to the public, which will help researchers explore Wiltshire’s less well-known industrial heritage, as well as the social and cultural history of Bradford on Avon.
Spencer Moulton were pioneering rubber manufacturers and the firm was founded, as Stephen Moulton & Co, in Bradford on Avon in 1848. Stephen Moulton was a friend and agent of Charles Goodyear, and one of the first people to bring vulcanised rubber to this country – before vulcanisation, rubber had a tendency to melt when it was too hot or become brittle when it was too cold. Moulton’s factory site in Bradford on Avon eventually grew from a single converted mill to a sprawling complex that occupied a large portion of the town, and the firm eventually supplied rubber products to the British Army, the rail, motor and aviation industries, as well as developing their own line of sports products, becoming the town’s largest employer in the process. Thought to be one of the most complete company archives in the UK, the collection covers the company’s founding in 1848 through to its acquisition by Avon Rubber in 1956 and totals more than 9 cubic metres of material.
Dr Alex Moulton was Stephen Moulton’s great-grandson and a pioneering engineer, inventor and designer. Alex Moulton’s passion and talent for engineering manifested itself at an early age when built a steam-powered car as a teenager. He then went on to work for the Bristol Aeroplane Company during the Second World War. In 1945 he joined the family firm as an assistant to the works manager, eventually becoming a member of the Board of Directors. He left the firm in 1956 to start his own company, Moulton Developments, and from there he worked with Alec Issigonis on the suspension for the Mini (his suspension systems have been used in more than twelve million British cars), and in 1962 he launched the small-wheeled bicycle which was to become one of the most popular bikes in the country and, along with the Mini, an icon of 1960s British design. The collection covers Alex Moulton’s life (the earliest material comes from his school days at Marlborough) and consists of around 4 cubic metres of documents.
We may have been delayed in starting due to Covid, but luckily it hasn’t hindered our progress and we’ve already made great strides. Ironically the project officially started the day before the third national lockdown began, but we were fortunate to quickly be given permission for an archivist to work on cataloguing the project over the lockdown period. Since mid-January we have catalogued more than 240 volumes (including an almost complete run of wage books from 1850 to the 1940s), 3600 plans and over 700 bundles of material, and the collection has already thrown up some exciting material.
The documents from the Spencer Moulton collection offer a fascinating glimpse into the industrial history of Wiltshire, from the development of the factory site to details of rubber compound testing. The three photographs below show the production of railway buffers (shock absorbers based on rubber springs, fitted at each end of a train carriage), one of Spencer Moulton’s main products from the nineteenth century onwards. The images seem strangely out of place for supposedly ‘rural’ Wiltshire, and offer an evocative glimpse of life inside the Kingston Mill factories.
The archives also contain many photographs of Moulton bicycles and their riders around the world. Alex Moulton’s experience with rubber suspension systems whilst working for Spencer Moulton served him well when he set up his own firm, with the small-wheeled Moulton bicycle. Moulton felt that smaller wheels would increase acceleration and decrease rolling resistance, making the bicycle faster overall. However smaller wheels and high-pressure tyres also made for a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride, so a front and rear rubber suspension system was added to improve comfort (foreshadowing modern mountain bike suspension by at least two decades). It certainly seemed to work: in August 1986 Jim Glover rode a Moulton bicycle with a full-fairing (an aerodynamic cover around the frame) to break the human-powered speed record over 200 metres, averaging 51.29mph. In 1988 Dave Bogdan rode a Moulton in the Race Across America (RAAM). He covered 3,073 miles (4,944km) in 10 days 15 hours and 1 minute – an average of 289 miles per day, finishing in 8th place.
The archives also have much to offer for women’s history. Much of the attention on the firm has focused on the men of the family, but Alex Moulton’s grandmother Alice Blanche Moulton (née Coney) was an impressive and influential figure in her own right. Her son Eric was killed in action in World War One, her husband John Moulton passed away in 1926, and her second son John Coney Moulton died of appendicitis in 1926; Alice was left to manage to family estates and bring up three young grandchildren alone. She successfully steered the estate and family through the turmoil of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and brought up Alex Moulton, his brother John and sister Dione – truly an incredible lady. Alex Moulton’s records contain several of Alice’s photo albums as well as some of her personal diaries and accounts.
The family estate was centred around The Hall, a Grade I listed building built around 1610 for the clothier John Hall. It was bought by Stephen Moulton in 1848 and remained in family ownership until Alex Moulton’s death in 2012. The Moulton archives are a rich source for building historians, as they contain drawings and photographs of The Hall throughout its long history, building plans and a great deal of correspondence about proposed alterations to the building.
Now in the care of the Alex Moulton Charitable Trust, The Hall is surrounded by formal landscaped gardens (including Californian Redwoods planted by Stephen Moulton) and outbuildings, some of which were designed by the architect Harold Brakspear. The Hall’s gardens will be open every Friday in May and are well worth a visit; tickets can be bought on the day but booking is advisable as spaces are limited.
Tom Plant, Project Archivist Breaking the Mould: the Spencer Moulton and Dr Alex Moulton archives