As a History and Heritage degree student going into my third year I was given the opportunity to find a summer placement within the heritage sector as one of my modules. Living in Chippenham I knew exactly where I would like to spend my summer, the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
When I walked in and asked if I could join a project for the summer I was introduced to Terry Bracher, Archives & Local Studies Manager, who placed me with Mike Marshman, Julie Davis and Joy Rutter and this exciting project, ‘Creative Wiltshire.’ This collection needed to be, in the first instance, a list of all the creative people who come from Wiltshire such as writers, artists, inventors, designers and musicians.
On my first day I was given an enormous pile of books. Books about Wiltshire, its towns, its industries, its notable people and what it’s been proud of through its history. Although I am a History student not many of the books I have used for research have had the wonderful smell that this exciting pile of books had. I sat for days searching through these books, picking out people I deemed to be creative and researching their names. This was a lot harder than I thought as it is very hard not to get absorbed by the books and get drawn in to the histories of people I didn’t need to know about! I found for instance, by reading about the Lansdown family, the designers and builders of the Lansdown monument in Cherhill, how much it cost and who it was originally built for – not Lord Lansdown! I also got side tracked with the Seymour family who were Wiltshire
based and played such a vital part in our countries’ history.
I myself am not from Wiltshire and did not know the extent of creative talent that this county holds. For instance great architects such as Sir Christopher Wren and modern day writers like Terry Pratchett are Wiltshire men. The list which had already been compiled by Julie and Joy included mostly 20th Century people, many musicians, dancers and innovators. It is much harder to find creative people in the 16th and 17th Centuries as they simply weren’t written about as much. Mostly very rich, noble and royal men were recorded and believed to be important. I am sure that there were many female or poor Wiltshire people who were musical or fantastic poets who never had the chance to learn to write or play an instrument.
Wiltshire has produced hundreds of creative minds, people who have invented machines to ease work in the fields, designed beautiful, intricate objects and produced music inspired by their Wiltshire surroundings and I would like to share a few names with you.
This beautiful painting by Rex Whistler is of his dear friend and my subject Edith Olivier (1872-1948). This fascinating woman looked after her father with her younger sister with whom she made a pact to never marry but only to care for their father. After the passing of her father and sister she surrounded herself with young artistic people such as Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, Siegfried Sassoon, William Walton, and Osbert Sitwell. She lived in the grounds of Wilton Park in the old dairy house, Dayes House, where she entertained and encouraged her new friends. Edith herself was a writer and has many books published. Her first book was The Love Child and many, many more soon followed. Olivier formed a creative hub within Wiltshire to which many ingenious, musical and imaginative minds flocked to and found encouragement and ideas. Not only should Olivier be included in the Creative Wiltshire project but she should also be celebrated as the inspiration behind many more brilliant minds.
When I started this project I had no idea where the word Shrapnel came from and neither had it ever crossed my mind. It is a word used often when bombs explode or after some sort of crash. In fact the man responsible comes from right here in Wiltshire, he was an officer in the Royal Artillery in the late 18th Century and spent all of his spare time and much of his own money trying to improve the efficiency of artillery bombardment. His name was General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842) and he changed the course of history with the many battles that were subsequently won due to his new shell. He lived in Midway Manor in Wingfield, just south of Bradford on Avon and on the pillars holding the gates are still inscribed the battles thought to be won due to his shells.
Two young men from Dinton became famous composers and musicians, they were brothers Henry and William Lawes. Henry (1595-1662) was appointed to Charles I as one of his private musicians and was responsible for the anthem at the coronation of Charles II. He taught music and many poets, such as Milton and Waller, admired him and were eager to have their work set to his music. William (1602-1645) was also a private musician to Charles I but then became chamber-musician to Prince Charles. On his death at the siege of Chester in 1645 the King expressed his sorrow by putting on a ‘particular mourning’ for him. The portrait shown is of William Lawes.
There are so many other people I would like to share with you, and I will, the list I am working on will be published eventually but I will post another blog as the project progresses and I find more hidden gems.