This year has been strange for everyone. My favourite analogy which I have heard in several different versions, is that we are all in the same storm, just in different boats. We have all experienced 2020 in different ways.
I am fortunate that I have been busy this year and I am grateful to the continuing support of my clients.
I would like to do a “shout out” too to people and organisations that have been particularly supportive this year: Iona Keen, SW Fed (Bristol Culture and Heritage Mingle), Museum Freelance (Marge Ainsley & Christina Lister), Culture Force (Helen Horler), Tiva Montalbano (World Heritage UK)
Thanks to people who have provided help and support over the year in various projects including Simon Addison at the Roman Baths (Bath & North East Somerset), Chloe Smith, forty8creates, Sue Bush, Touchpoint Design, Josepha Sanna, ARTiculation and there are many more.
I do hope that 2021 is happy, healthy and prosperous year for us all.
We can all swap stories about this shared experience but in truth each one of us has experienced it in a different way.
The effect of the Coronavirus Pandemic will continue for some time (years?) to come and has already hit some very hard. I know of several people who are at risk of redundancy and many freelancers who have seen their income completely dry up. Like a giant game of Jenga, the heritage, arts, hospitality and retail sectors seem ready to topple as the precarious financial support put into place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is gradually removed.
What was it like for me?
Pre-Covid19, I worked from home and used a co-working space 2-3 times a week. I would attend meetings locally and in London. I used my freedom as a freelancer to get to exercise classes a couple of times a week. For me from March onward the world shrunk, as it has for everyone, to my home office. The confinement was made worse by an accident at Easter where I scalded my foot badly so I couldn’t even walk very far!
So what was it really like for me?
The good thing about being a freelancer is the variety of places and people and the projects you work on. In March I was involved in preparing two applications to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and in evaluating another building project which was due to open this summer. The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s closure of all new applications stopped the two projects I was working on in their tracks and so far there seems to be no prospect of these funds reopening while understandably they deal with the devastating impact of Coronavirus on the Heritage sector. Thankfully, one of these clients is keen to work with me on alternate schemes so it’s not all doom and gloom. The third project has been continuing but understandably delayed. This has impacted on both my workload and finances. I am fortunate to have two ongoing clients and I am thankful to both of these for keeping my bank account out of the red. I didn’t qualify for the government self-employed scheme because I had a substantial PAYE project in the qualifying year.
I thrive on being busy and enjoy the buzz of juggling appointments, deadlines and workload and that’s what I missed most. The lack of variety of work and appointments which punctuate the week and provide points to bounce off and help to organise your time made it difficult for me sometimes to focus and led to lower levels of motivation. A Zoom meeting doesn’t provide the same level of energy as bouncing ideas around in a face to face meeting. I missed the side conversations which both provide social bonding and also help to fill in the gaps, something you don’t get in the slightly clunky online format.
As the days all merged into one I found it hard to keep the momentum up and maintain my self motivation. I’ve had to really try hard to update lists and keep looking ahead to ensure that deadlines are not missed and at the same time try to protect weekends so that work didn’t stretch across the full 7 days of the week and I didn’t lose track of time completely.
It’s not all bad though...
Like everyone, once my foot healed, I was able to enjoy walks in our semi-rural town. We live literally on the edge of town and on the edge of the Salisbury Plain. To post a letter I can take a route either through an unmanaged wood and along a country track or along a busy A road. The choice is easy… It was great to take time to note the changing the season blossom changing to fruits and crops growing from green shoots to golden wheat and barley. The bird sound and the variety of flowers in the hedgerows. Enjoying the views. It was also a time to discover the back routes and tracks in and around the town where I live and trying to ditch the car. My garden too has benefited and I have found a lot of solace in my greenhouse completed not long before Lockdown.
Like everyone else I’ve had to up my digital game and learn new skills and platforms quickly. In my other life I am a Churchwarden and along with Zoom services we’ve moved to YouTube and Mailchimp and made much greater use of the website – all of which I manage. I’m still learning, always my favoured method to learn a new skill; learning by doing. The Facebook account has also been more active too. Learning these skills with a lot of older retired people has had its funny moments but many have adapted very quickly to these new technologies.
Though I have missed the fixed points in the diary that appointments and meetings create and I have found this made it difficult to keep up focus and motivation, NOT having a lot of things in my diary was also freeing to a certain degree and allowed for more time at home to enjoy the garden and do a few home projects like the dress I started and nearly finished 5 years ago! I just wish the charity shops were open so I could get rid of more clutter…
I am a follower of the inspirational duo who run the Museum Freelance Network, Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister. They have both been freelance in the sector for several years and have been doing a great deal to champion the needs of freelancers working in the heritage sector: check out their website for some great Covid19 related resources. I caught the Being Freelance Podcast with Marge Ainsley which came out in July. This gave me pause for thought. I needed to do something about the sense of drifting without much focus on the future and Marge talked about taking a whole month off to take stock of her business and think about what she wanted for the future. I wasn’t quite ready to take off a whole month but I could manage a couple of days. As I am drafting this Blog I have just completed two days away from home, fully catered in a retreat house. They feed me at regular intervals and the rest of the time I have been able to look at my diary for the rest of the year, think about what areas I would like to focus on and how I can do that. It’s been great and I so needed a holiday as I haven’t been away since February.
My plans include taking a half a day each week to do some personal study and reflection to keep up my skills, learn new things and do some research to ensure that I am up to date with my practice. I hope that the new structures I have planned work out and bed in. Life is so uncertain at the moment but I am determined to learn some new habits!
Where has the year gone? As a freelancer it’s been a bit of a roller coaster year and I had to hold my nerve as I did have a bit of a “dry” patch and subsequent crisis in confidence. But the year has finished strongly and I am really looking forward to 2020.
I’d like to say thanks to a few people and organisations who have helped me out this year. The wonderful Debs Poneskis who really helped me out at a difficult time. The @MuseumFreelance team Christina and Marge whose annual conference in March in Manchester was reaffirming, my former colleague Sarah Simmonds @StonehengeandAveburyWHS who is always encouraging and supportive, the ever wise Tim Burge, Helen Horler @CultureForce and the great team @WorldHeritageUK. There are many more – I hope you know who you are.
In the end 2020 was OK. I enjoyed a variety of jobs, the highlight being my first international work in the incredible Göbekli Tepe World Heritage Site in the Province of Şanliurfa in south eastern Turkey. This largely undiscovered area for UK visitors has a lot to offer. Its proximity to the Syrian border is likely to deter any but the most intrepid visitors for a while but is worth a trip. The site itself is 6,000 years older than Stonehenge and is truly fascinating. A pre-pottery Neolithic Site in the “Fertile Crescent” the artefacts revealed are astonishing for their sophistication. Şanliurfa, or just Urfa, is an ancient city, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It has been controlled by the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs amongst others and also known as Edessa by the Romans and the Crusaders.
Göbekli Tepe itself, despite its age, is a relatively new tourism site having only been discovered in the 1960s and excavated from the 1990s. It was inscribed onto the World Heritage list in 2018 and in the same year a new visitor centre with exhibition centre was also opened. 2019 was designated the “Year of Göbekli Tepe” by Turkish Tourism and the site has seen some real spikes in visitor numbers in the last year which, if not managed, have the potential to put the fragile archaeological site at risk.
I am working with the DMO for the Province and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to develop a visitor management plan for the Site, the first of its kind in Turkey. The team there are great to work with and it’s a great site to be associated with. I look forward to continuing the association as the visitor management plan develops. I’d like to thank ever supportive heritage colleagues at Newgrange, Stonehenge and the Roman Baths who have provided useful case studies and examples of best practice that I can share with the team in Turkey.
I still have capacity into 2020 – do get in touch if you think that I can help you…
Have a wonderful Christmas and a successful and happy 2020.
I’ve been living in Westbury for around 5 years now but my relationship with the town goes back to 2003 when I was the English Heritage manager responsible for the White Horse. It’s a funny old place. Most people simply drive through it on the busy A350 , a route which doesn’t show the town in its best light. There is an historic core which is pretty much hidden from the drivers passing through. This means that not only the commuters and travellers using the A350, but even the new residents of the many houses built in the last 10 years, are unaware of the history of the town in which they live.
Despite nearly doubling in size, like many towns it has suffered a massive decline in its retail offer with just a small number of mostly small independent shops (baker, butcher, chemist, cards and stationery) and a range of charity and fast food shops. It does of course have the wonderful Aladdin’s Cave, Davies store where you can find pretty much everything from a tap washer to a clothes airer, to baking and sugar craft essentials along with plants and garden equipment; without it Westbury would be much poorer.
At a recent consultation session I led for the Westbury Neighbourhood Plan it was sad to hear so many older residents talking wistfully of the range of shops that there used to be and which are no more. I guess this would be common in most small UK towns. When asked for suggestions to improve the town it was clear that they simply wanted a return to the past. The change has been so rapid for those people that they cannot conceive of any other more positive future for the town. Many of them clearly felt that there was no hope for the town and that “they” had given up on Westbury.
Undoubtedly Westbury has not benefitted from any major public investment for many years. A failed attempt in 2009 at a by-pass which would have compromised the setting of that famous White Horse appears to have resulted in Wiltshire Council washing its hands of the town. There must have been planning permission for over 1,000 new houses in Westbury in just the last 5 years with more still on the cards but the town seems to not to have benefitted from any imaginative use of Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy from the developers. This growth in the town should have reaped economic benefits for the community but there does not appear to be any and the population growth might have been expected to result in more growth in retail and other services.
Going back to the history of Westbury this is long and rich. Like most Wiltshire towns you don’t have to dig (either literally or figuratively) very deep before finding evidence of the past as a recent blog from the Wiltshire Archaeology Service demonstrates. That historic core hides a pre-Norman centre to the town with a fine Grade I parish church and an attractive churchyard with houses clearly linked to the church community with names like “Verger’s Cottage”. Beyond that are some fine Georgian buildings such as the Old Town Hall and town houses built for the owners of the local mills and other local gentry. The Lopes Arms, a coaching inn dating back to the 1700s. It is an attractive building that has lain empty for over 2 years and would require considerable investment to be able to open again. The ‘Market Place’ hasn’t fulfilled this purpose for some years and would benefit from some radical thinking to make it a more attractive public space which could benefit both residents and businesses alike.
But the new developments are inward looking and often have very poor pedestrian access to the rest of the town. It’s easier to drive to the next town than to walk into Westbury.
Our towns in many cases, it seems to me, have become less human. They are designed for the car not the pedestrian. We seem to spend more time shut up in our homes viewing life vicariously through electronic devices or with our heads bowed staring at a screen and less time talking to others beyond our immediate circle. Our towns need to be better shaped to enable encounters and create opportunities and spaces to join together in community activity.
I have been following the work of the Wiltshire based artist James Aldridge for some time. I first came across him in connection with his work in the Stonehenge landscape as part of the preparation for the Stonehenge Visitor Centre which opened in 2013. There’s another blog developing in my head which connects to his work on walking, art and landscape but for the purposes of this piece I’m interested his most recent projectAsking Andoveron which he has recently published his own blog.
I attended a celebration event for the project at the Andover Museum. It was great to speak to team members from the Hampshire Cultural Trust who led the project, James Aldridge, volunteers and people who have participated in some of the sessions. Everyone was positive about the experience. Some had loaned family items to the exhibition to share their memories of Andover with the rest of the community. James’ workshops had led to the creation of some beautiful work which will be added to the Museum’s collection in time.
I love this quote from his blog:
The hopes and dreams for Andover that the participants in the project shared with James were very similar to the comments made by those people who spoke to us in Westbury. These are the same issues being discussed by the members of the heritage sub-group which I chair, and the steering group of the Westbury Neighbourhood Plan which is being led by Westbury Town Council.
Focusing the town centre on pedestrians and
cyclists rather than giving priority to cars. Linking up green spaces and
Strengthening the relationship between the town
and surrounding landscape
What can we bring into the town centre to
replace the empty shops – homes, work spaces, artist studios, community spaces
and many other ideas
Making the town more inclusive and welcoming
I am slowly turning ideas over in my mind for something in Westbury using some of the great ideas from the Asking Andover project to help the community of Westbury reconnect with and learn to love their town and its community. If you have an idea, please get in touch as it could only be done in partnership with key organisations already working within the community.
I’ve been talking with the team of the Roche Court Educational Trust at the New Art Centre, Roche Court recently. I knew of the education work taking place at Roche Court through a colleague but had never visited. What a wonderful and extraordinary place it is!
The New Art Centre was founded in 1958 by the impressive Madeleine Bessborough in Sloane Street, London. She moved her commercial contemporary art gallery out of London to create a spectacular showcase in Roche Court in Wiltshire in 1994. This beautiful house is said to have been originally built for Lord Nelson to retire to. Lord Nelson, as we know, never lived to enjoy his retirement with Emma Hamilton, but the house and grounds are certainly worthy of the nation’s most well-known naval hero. Bessborough has created a beautiful commercial gallery and sculpture park where works can be appreciated in situ both indoors and out.
As you approach the house you are greeted by a selection of stand out sculptures along the drive. My favourites were three of Peter Randall-Page’s monumental pieces: Fructus, Corpus, Phyllotaxus.
I love his simple organic shapes that are so tactile and powerful. The house sits at the top of a dry valley which provides a beautiful setting to show off the art works on display. The fields around the house are home to beautiful russet coloured cattle.
Having a few minutes to spare I was able to explore the grounds where the art works were carefully placed to show them off at their best. I particularly loved the slightly sinister Silent Howler II by Laura Ford; Silent Howler I was there on my first visit but had already been snapped up by the time of my second visit! I loved Ford’s whimsical Dancing Clog Girls too.
Contemporary spaces have been added designed by architect Stephen Marshall. The Artist House, which is modelled on Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge provides space for activities and an ideal gallery space for more domestic scale works and acts as a counterbalance to those on display in the Sculpture Garden.
However, the reason for my visit was to find out more about the ARTiculation competition which was first held in 2006. In essence this is a public speaking competition for students aged 16 – 19 year old using art and architecture as the subject of each 10 minute presentation. It is now a national and international programme with events even taking place in Ireland and in Italy in partnership with the British Council.
I’d urge you to take a look at the ARTiculate website. The testimonies of the young people who have participated in the project speak for themselves as to the benefits of this programme, which is so much more than just talking about art. The great and good of the Art world have been competition adjudicators and this is the one of the strengths of the programme. The link between the Educational Trust started by Madeleine Bessborough and her New Art Centre provides a direct line to contemporary artists like Laura Ford and Director’s of the UK’s foremost museums and art galleries such as Tate Britain, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam and journalists and critics such as Will Gompertz of the BBC.
The programme has taken off and developed over the last 13 years. More than 4,000 students a year engage with the scheme. Strong partnerships have developed with over 50 organisations across the sector. It now features the Discover ARTiculation Challenge which is aimed at GCSE students and helps young people to develop the skills necessary to take part in the ARTiculation Prize . This is delivered in conjunction with the University of Leeds.
The Trust is also developing an ARTiculation Network including Ambassadors, Allies and Advocates to help support the alumni of the programme and to enable the programme to be delivered sustainably to more areas and young people across the country.
The Trust are planning to do some work on evaluating and being able to define the benefits more clearly so as to be able to convince busy teachers that it is worth being part of the programme and to unlock much needed funds.
I would urge any secondary school teacher to take a look at this wonderful programme and see how they can use it to develop life skills for their students. Art is a wonderful rich and diverse subject but at its heart ARTiculation is about developing the “soft” skills of young people so that they can progress into the adult world and the world of work with confidence, having developed skills in critical thinking and being able to express themselves articulately.
Roche Court is available to visit every day please see their website for details
Anyone who has had any association with Stonehenge will know that it keeps calling you back. I only live a short distance from this World Heritage Site and my membership of English Heritage means that I can pop in any time. This time it was to see the new exhibition in the Visitor Centre – Linda Brothwell’s Conversations in the Making
One of the criteria that Stonehenge and Avebury met as a World Heritage Site was Criterion ii “have exerted great influence , over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture, monumental arts or town planning and landscape”. Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site’s case for meeting this criterion is: “The monuments and landscape have had an unwavering influence on architects, artists, historians and archaeologists, and still retain huge potential for future research.”
One of the new elements of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Management Plan 2015, which I co-authored with Sarah Simmonds, was the introduction of Policy 5d: Artists and the creative sector will offer new and inspiring ways for communities and a wide range of visitors to engage with and learn about the OUV of the WHS and the wide range of artistic responses to it both past and present.
To begin to fulfill this we held an Arts Symposium in November 2015 which brought together practitioners, archaeologists, museum and property managers to consider how we could work together to use the arts to interpret, explain and enjoy the historic landscape, building on the incredible creative work of Constable, Turner, Nash, Inshaw and many others. Peter Tyas submitted a guest blog to the Arts in Wiltshire blog after the event.
At that meeting and others, using the Visitor Centre for exhibitions of contemporary art was discussed, and something that I was personally keen to see, so that this tradition of drawing inspiration from the amazing landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury could be shared with both local residents and international visitors to the this iconic archaeological monument. I was delighted when I heard about the exhibition and that this vision was finally coming to fruition so of course I had to come and see for myself.
I had the gallery to myself for the majority of the time which meant that I could enjoy this carefully lit exhibition in peace. Each of the 40 vessels is given plenty of space to demonstrate the range of texture, shape and colour that Brothwell has carefully crafted. Some of them sang out like brightly coloured jewels which is hardly surprising given her training in jewellery, metalwork and silversmithing.
The creation of 40 vessels for this exhibition has been inspired by speaking to ten makers who live and work in the community; key cutter, hairdresser, tattooist, and leather worker, among others. She has also been inspired by prehistoric tools and pottery vessels in both Wiltshire Museum and the Salisbury Museum.
Tools, vessels, making and using our hands; these are the threads that link people and place through time. These are Conversations in the Making.
Commissioned by Ginkgo Projects for Bloor Homes in partnership with English Heritage Linda Brothwell’s exhibition (the first contemporary art exhibition at Stonehenge) provides an intriguing new way to think about the landscape surrounding Amesbury and Stonehenge and the archaeological objects found here.
“Stonehenge has inspired art and artists for centuries – from those who illustrated medieval manuscripts, to the Romantic paintings by Constable and Turner and more recently artists such as Jeremy Deller. So it’s really exciting to host a contemporary art exhibition at Stonehenge for the first time. Linda Brothwell’s work, which looks at tools and vessels as a thread linking people and place over time, will provide an intriguing new way to think about Stonehenge and the archaeological objects found here. A visit to the new exhibition coupled with a trip to Wiltshire and Salisbury Museums to see some of the ancient objects that have inspired Linda’s work would provide a fascinating picture of Stonehenge and make a great day out.”
Susan Greaney English Heritage historian
It’s really positive to see the use of the Stonehenge Visitor Centre temporary exhibition space for this purpose; joining the historic landscape, community and art together in this way and introducing contemporary art which reflects the landscape and its archaeology. I hope that this will be the first of many such exhibitions. Stonehenge and Avebury has had such a powerful effect on artists in the past and will certainly continue to do so.
The exhibition is on until 24 November. Do take the time to take a look at this exhibition and to visit both the Wiltshire Museum in nearby Devizes and The Salisbury Museum which should be an essential part of any visit to Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.
One final link that some may find interesting is the project 30 objects / 30 years These objects were put together by Courtney Burmaster as part of her work experience while undertaking her Masters at UCL. This collection of objects demonstrate the range of objects found in or inspired by the landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury.
I had the pleasure of visiting Chippenham Museum recently and was able to catch the Sarah Purvey retrospective ‘A Decade On‘. This is part of a programme of short exhibitions celebrating the huge wealth of creative talent in Wiltshire. The exhibition was held in the Museum’s elegant temporary exhibition space.
I wasn’t familiar with Sarah’s work but my father for many years was an enthusiastic amateur potter so I am always interested in artists who use this media.
Finding that Sarah was in the gallery was an added bonus. She told me it was so lovely to have her work on display in her ‘local’ gallery and confessed that she had popped in several times during the exhibition period. She was due to hold a ‘meet the artist’ event the following day.
I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Sarah about her work. Interestingly she didn’t see them as ‘pots’ or ‘ceramics’ they are artworks. She views her two and three dimensional works as different ways of expressing herself. Her palette is mostly monochrome (“I don’t do really do colour!” she joked) but I loved her piece ‘Balance’ where the raw colour of the clay really stood out amongst the other more muted drawings and sculptures.
The sculptures are coil pots and the elegant wave like pattern inside the pieces created in their construction echo many of the painted surfaces and paintings.
“Based in Calne, Sarah Purvey creates powerful, sculptural ceramics which combine monumentality and subtlety to unique effect. Her sculptures and drawings are united by a bold and confident use of mark making, and their expression of the inner journey and personal landscape of the artist.”
sarah purvey ‘A decade on’ exhibition programme – chippenham museum
This exhibition is part of a summer programme ARTSPACE@Chippenham Museum running until 27 July organised by Mel Barnett, the brilliant Curator of the Museum. Mel is determined to draw attention to the creativity and the talent in Wiltshire and this rapid-fire programme is a great way to do it. See the image below for the remaining programme.
This season of exhibitions and the Creative Wiltshire programme are celebrating the ongoing inspiration that Wiltshire provides to artists of all kinds. If you want to find out more why not visit The Salisbury Museum’s current exhibition Creative Wiltshire: A Celebration which provides an “eclectic and visually stunning celebration of art in Wiltshire“?
Chippenham Museum is free to enter and supported by Chippenham Town Council and the permanent collection provides an interesting timeline of this ancient town that dates back to Saxon times and beyond and reminds us of those industries and crafts that have disappeared. Any new (or old) resident of Chippenham should make the time to visit this wonderful record of the town’s history. We should all understand more about the history of the place we live in.
I particularly love these yellowing clippings that tell the story of the foundation of the Museum in the 1960s.
Do make the time to visit the Museum. The volunteer welcome team are friendly and there is plenty to see. The ARTSPACE@Chippenham programme will provide plenty of opportunities to return.
The Easter weekend sunshine coaxed me out to finally make a visit to the Caen Hill Locks near Devizes that I’d been promising myself for ages. Plainly many others decided to do the same as the car park was busy on Easter Monday.
On arrival, I was delighted to find the Diamond Jubilee Wood funded by the Forestry Commission as part of a national scheme to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and full of native species which will in time create a rich habitat for wildlife.
The Locks themselves are undoubtedly impressive. It is one of the longest continuous flight of locks in the country, with a staircase of 16 locks the centre piece of a series of an incredible 29 locks in total. These were designed by John Rennie to solve the fact that the Canal has to negotiate a 273 ft drop within 2.5 miles as it travels through the Vale of Pewsey.
We talked to a party taking their boat through the locks. They thought it would take them at least 3 hours to complete. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted! This marvellous piece of engineering was created between 1794 and 1810, with the Caen Hill Flight the last stretch to be completed. The locks also have unique side pounds where boats would have waited as they traveled up and down the Canal. It’s heard to imagine this part of Wiltshire as a motorway of the 19th century carrying goods to and from London and Bristol along the Canal before trains and better roads meant that they had fallen out of use by the second half of the 20th century. The pounds are now havens of wildlife as they are not deep enough for boats to use now. The nesting swan close to the towpath would never have found a spot here in the heyday of the Canal.
I remember as a child in the 1970s being taken to somewhere along the route of the Kennet and Avon by my parents who were interested to find out more about the restoration of the canal which was then in its early days. I don’t know which stretch we visited but I do remember seeing the drained canal, the rubbish at the bottom of the channel and the people working hard to repair and clean up the canal so that it could become usable once more. Here I am in 2019 looking at the fruits of their labours.
We walked right into town to the Devizes Wharf where we watched as the MV Kenavon Venture set off to give visitors an experience of travelling along the Canal. This is yet another heritage attraction in Wiltshire dependent on the assistance of volunteers. Canal and River Trust volunteers at the floating visitor centre were friendly and knowledgeable and The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust run the Kenavon Venture and the small museum at Devizes Wharf. Their AGM is coming up soon and they have some volunteer vacancies if you would like to get involved.
A WWII pillbox tucked away near the Marina reminded us that the Canals were an important part of our infrastructure that needed to be protected in case of invasion by the German army.
Devizes is undoubtedly an excellent destination for visitors and one which is often overshadowed by the more famous destinations in Wiltshire such as Salisbury, Stonehenge or Stourhead. The Canal and its Museum, the Wiltshire Museum with its nationally significant archaeological collections, the Wadworth Brewery and Devizes market and independent shops mean that there is more than one day’s worth of things to do here. It’s close to the Avebury part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site and there are plenty of excellent walks to other sites such as Roundway Down or Adam’s Grave at Alton Barnes.
It also has a thriving cultural scene with its Arts Festival and annual Carnival, independent cinema and plenty of nice places to eat.
The volunteers were able to provide information for visitors on the history of the Canal and things to see and there were a selection of both free and paid-for publications available that were informative, attractive and easy to read. There were clear signposts and information boards to help orientate the visitor. The Canal is a wonderful place to relax, enjoy nature, wonder at the engineering skills of our Georgian ancestors and to give thanks for those volunteers who worked so hard to restore the infrastructure so that we can all enjoy it now. They have a nice cafe too! I’ll definitely be back.
One of the joys of freelancing is that you get to travel around, meet new people and discover new places and stories. I guess I’m basically nosey and I’m lucky to be able to have these opportunities to indulge my curiosity. I had reason to go to Malmesbury on the Wiltshire / Gloucestershire border recently. It’s a town with a huge amount of history and it knows it!
The town’s Neighbourhood Plan 2015 recognises the essential historic character of the town with its hilltop silouhette, central place of the Abbey and the ancient network of streets at the town’s centre
The setting to Malmesbury and its Abbey in particular will continue to be the most distinctive feature of the town’s appearance. This aspect will be protected and enhanced over the coming years. Its historic buildings and the pattern of its streets, paths, public spaces and alleyways will be conserved and the public realm enhanced.
Malmesbury neighbourhood plan 2015 volume 1 A7.1
I first went to Malmesbury a couple of years ago with colleagues from the Wiltshire Archaeology Service to see some of the projects that they were working on. This included a house under restoration whose garden, an old burgage plot, met the towering town walls. The views were spectacular. It’s one of the many towns in Wiltshire where you just have to scratch the surface to discover something fascinating and ancient.
On this visit I discovered Malmesbury’s beautiful Market Cross, which Pevsner describes as “one of the finest in England”, had been damaged by a recycling lorry late last year. This Grade 1 listed structure was constructed in the late 15th century and has some fine carvings. The photograph below shows the extent of the damage. A post on the Malmesbury Town Council website dated 12 February 2019 notes work is progressing and that this is a ‘lengthy process’. Having cared for historic buildings with English Heritage I feel their pain and frustration with the time that a repair of such an historic structure will take. However, it seemed that there was a missed opportunity here.
It may be that I am unaware of such a project, but it seemed that the time that a conservation project like this takes could be used to its advantage and that some community engagement could be undertaken to help the residents of Marlborough understand the Market Cross better. A Town Council minute notes that the Civic Trust wanted to undertake an aerial survey in 2017 – I do hope that this was completed as the survey will be useful in ensuring that the work restores the Cross to its former state. Some really fun and creative work could be done by local schools and groups to help them discover more about the Cross and the history of the Town. What about an inter-generational reminiscence project asking people about their memories – after all how many sweethearts must have met here?!
After pondering this, on the recommendation of a friend, I sought out the Moravian Chapel. I had read about this fabulous community project run by the Friends of the Athelstan Museum. Although closed, our attempt to enter had not gone unnoticed and one of the volunteers graciously showed us in. I was not disappointed, this is an exemplar project and the quality of the work was evident. It’s a beautiful and flexible space which still retains the character of the Chapel but can be used for a variety of community events. As a result of their work this beautiful heritage building has a long term future.
Finally I took a trip to the Athelstan Museum itself. I had heard lots of good things about them and was not disappointed. This Museum which is entirely run by volunteers offered a warm and knowledgeable welcome from the volunteer on duty when I arrived and excellent displays, well presented on the various aspects to Malmesbury’s long history – and its all free.
I particularly liked the hats which featured Malmesbury lace and the temporary display on the pubs of Malmesbury as well as the timeline and features on specific events and people such as Thomas Hobbes.
Sometime after my visit I happened to meet up with a colleague that I knew had worked with the Museum. He confirmed that the team there run the Museum well and that he often uses them as an example of best practice. They are an Arts Council Accredited Museum and from my discussions with the volunteers on duty their members are actively engaged in research into various aspects of the history of the town, including the Market Cross. They definitely had a sense of place. It’s so important for us to understand where we live and how it has developed and changed over the years and the Athelstan Museum does an excellent job at sharing this with residents and visitors alike. (Oh and they have a nice shop too!)
I attended the annual Wiltshire in Archaeology Conference last weekend. This is arranged by the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society (Wiltshire Museum) and the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group. It’s been a highlight of the year for me for several years now. I first attended as part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Coordination Unit. We were one of several organisations who took a stand at the conference. It was always a good opportunity to talk about the work of the Coordination Unit and future plans for the World Heritage Site and to distribute the annual newsletter Megalith.
Since becoming a freelancer I have continued attend. It’s a great way to find out about what’s going on in Wiltshire’s wonderfully rich archaeological landscape, catch up with colleagues and keep up to date on the latest trends and developments.
The format is tried and tested now and always begins with an excellent round up from Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger, County Archaeologist for Wiltshire, of the projects and development led archaeology that her team have dealt with over the last 12 months. It never ceases to amaze me that we are constantly adding to our knowledge of the history of Wiltshire with not just new Roman villas but whole communities still being discovered. The chalk soil of many areas of Wiltshire means that the archaeological deposits are often very close to the surface and consequently vulnerable to ploughing or animal disturbance.
For the conference this year there were two particular stand outs. Firstly the work of the Map of Australia Trust (MOAT). This project has restored the map of Australia at Compton Chamberlayne which was created by Australian troops during the First World War. Spearheaded by the inspirational Helen Roberts who grew up in the shadow of the Map, the project was entirely run by volunteers with support from Historic England who undertook a landscape survey of the monument before restoration work began. This Scheduled Ancient Monument is now off the Heritage at Risk list and should be maintained for years to come by the Trust. Not only did Helen and her volunteers restore this monument but the project also sparked a wider interest in the history of this area during the First World War where a large number of Anzac troops passed through the camps established at the foot of the Salisbury Plain at Compton Chamberlayne. They will be marking Anzac Day on 25 April so why not join them?
The project demonstrates how a small number of people can make a positive difference. The ever increase in digital communication and our busy over pressured lives often lead to lack of involvement in our local communities. It was clear from Helen’s presentation that those who participated really benefitted from being part of a group that was making a literally visible difference. With so many good community projects out there crying for volunteers to commit just a small contribution of time how do we encourage more to discover that they get back so much more than they give and that they will feel so much better for it?
Linked to that idea the other stand out theme for me were two projects that further demonstrated the impact that archaeology and historic landscapes can have on our wellbeing. I think that the benefits of culture and heritage on wellbeing is now well established in the sector. There are numerous case studies and reports that reflect this. Social prescribing is being used more and more to tackle social isolation and mental health issues.
Daniel O’Donoghue of the Richmond Fellowship and Laura Drysdale of The Restoration Trust spoke about the Human Henge project which I have been following since it began in 2016. The Human Henge Project involves English Heritage, the National Trust, Bournemouth University, Wiltshire Council and the local NHS mental health partnership and is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This is a project which demonstrates how organisations working together as partners can produce extraordinary things. By its nature Human Henge has only impacted on relatively small numbers but the benefits have been already recognised and I understand that there are plans to roll this out to other parts of the country.
The project introduces people with mental health problems who may not normally access heritage sites to the wonderfully fascinating landscapes of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Experts give their time to interpret and explain what they know about the ancient landscape. The participants are active, not passive, partners in the process who are valued and take part in the debate on how the ancient landscape was used throughout the 10 week programme. It uses guided walks across the landscape and music to help people explore the historic landscape. The funding enables key barriers such as entry fees and transport to be overcome.
By its nature Human Henge has only impacted on relatively small numbers but the benefits have been already recognised and I understand that there are plans to roll this out to other parts of the country.
Finally, Richard Osgood (2019 Archaeologist of the Year) of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation gave us an overview of the much lauded Operation Nightingale. This project has supported many serving soldiers and veterans to recover from physical and mental injuries through archaeology. Richard says soldiering has many parallels with archaeology and the participants love the camaraderie of sitting around the camp fire spinning yarns as well as the experiences of excavating a range of different sites. I am most familiar with the Barrow Clump excavations just north of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. There have been spectacular finds there but the Project has also worked on First World War practice trenches on the Wiltshire/ Hampshire border and on a Second World War aeroplane crash site. Again, the impact of archaeology on the wellbeing on the participants has been well demonstrated and several have gone on to train and work as archaeologists with commercial units. So it has not only provided healing but employment opportunities too.
The past is an endlessly fascinating area and everyone can find something to absorb them and take them away from their own personal issues. The physical nature of walking or excavating a trench takes us out of ourselves and provides much needed vitamin D and exercise. Being with others and being part of a communal activity helps put things in perspective. Reaffirming a sense of place and identity. All these and more can help us re-balance our lives and feel better.